Hunting For Sports: Guest Writer, Artist And Plant Dad Tyler Thrasher Speaks About Searching For Rare And Unique Plants

Hunting For Sports: Guest Writer, Artist And Plant Dad Tyler Thrasher Speaks About Searching For Rare And Unique Plants

Not hunting for “sport” or the act of relinquishing beautiful life from a majestic creature. I’m talking the thrill and act of foraging through countless house plants looking for any and all unique or hidden mutations.

Let’s just cover what a “sport” is to begin with. A sport can be any persisting or visible change/ mutation within a plant. Ideally a sport should be any trait or change that can be isolated and grown independently.

An example of a naturally occurring sport is the nectarine. A hairless variety of peaches that literally stemmed from its fuzzy cousins. This interesting mutation was isolated and propagated as an entirely new plant consisting of just a few key mutations. The thornless blackberries that are grown and harvested are sports as well. You can imagine how one might’ve felt when they discovered a single thornless branch shooting from a bundle of infinitely tiny needles. Agriculture has built its success from the notion of sports. A single advantageous mutation could yield larger growth, stunning foliage or prove to be far hardier than the original crop.

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So why put all of this effort into looking for random mutations? Either you’re a collector or a seller.

Every year, some new hot house plant is being showcased, tissue cultured and mass produced on a wholesale level. Often times these new plants have been tucked away in secret greenhouses for a decade or more as they’re propagated, observed, and scrutinized to ensure non bias horticultural significance. What exactly is being scrutinized? Sports.

If you’re in the business of selling plants, nothing will solidify your career more than offering a new plant to the trade. When the ZZ “Raven” (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) was first offered to the public, collectors and growers crumpled in excitement at the idea of a solid black variation of an already popular and easy to grow houseplant. It was showcased with pride and became a Pinterest favorite overnight. That very plant was a single mutation that sprouted from a normal Zamioculcas zamiifolia. The grower noticed that one of the growth points was far darker than the rest of the plant, but was seemingly healthy and robust. After isolating the odd shoot, it was quickly propagated and the phenotype was preserved. Due to demand and advanced propagating methods, this plant went from one that was incredibly hard to find and straight to shelves at Home Depot. This can be a grower’s dream, both botanically and financially.

When a sport is isolated and propagated for a handful of years, that very plant can be submitted for a patent. This patent would ensure that only the grower of that sport could dictate the distribution

and propagation of that very plant. While this can be a very costly and tedious precaution, it would be the only between you signing a contract with a large corporation via your plant, or a fellow grower you gifted an early cutting to.

It pays to be weird. Literally.

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In some cases a sport mutation can fetch hundreds of dollars more than their “normal” counterparts. A mature Haworthia maughanii can sell for roughly $15 to $20. However, when a pup sprouts from the mother plant showcasing heavy orange and yellow striping, that same plant will sell for $700-$1,000 EASILY.

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From a collector’s stand point, there’s nothing more ideal than having a plant that is considered “one of a kind”. You get to determine the scarcity, control the propagation rate to a degree and you even get to control the value (hopefully within reason). As a collector you may even reserve the rights to name that very plant once its been isolated and propagated. There are a variety of sports that exist within the trade that are very much isolated and beautiful freaks. Perhaps the grower decided against propagation and instead opted for an incredibly unique and singular plant. Some sports are quietly shifted from grower to grower, weary of attracting hungry and money filled eyes. I have friends in Oklahoma who shift Adenium around like they’re illegal. Come to find out, some of the varieties they’ve cultivated seem to attract very determined and physically pushy buyers. The sort of buyers that board a plane for 12 hours and show up unannounced to your home with a suitcase full of money and a translator all because you shared a photo on Facebook (this has literally happened.)

Whether you’re a seller or collector, I’m going to walk you through how I personally hunt for sports and what I look for.

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The most important rule for sport hunting is QUANTITY. If we’re searching for statistically unlikely random mutations, we need as many possibilities as we can manage. While small businesses and plant shops are wonderful, you’re quite frankly unlikely to find a sport while hunting in one. You’re MOST likely to stumble on one at a wholesale business or operation, where the numbers could yield un-spotted and hidden mutations. An example would be the variegated Monstera deliciosa variety I’ve been propagating for the last 3 years. My local greenhouse received a shipment of normal green Monstera. I went with the intent of adding a normal variety to my home, only to discover a single white stripe adorning a leaf tucked deep underneath the canopy of dozens of Monstera.

There are various different mutations to look out for such as variegation, fasciation, cristates, monstrose varieties, different pigments or patters, and even twisting and curling leaves.

While sports can be temporary, what you hope for is consistency! When you find a sport tucked away at your favorite plant shop, the first thing you should do is check for that consistency. Is that particular mutation apparent on multiple leaves? Is the newest leaf or bud consistent with the mutation? Is the mutation visible on other parts of the plant? If one or any of these are a “no”, is there a feasible way to isolate that one spot and reproduce it on its own?

If its difficult to determine, perhaps simply buy the plant and buckle in for an incredible surprise or an over-hyped disappointment. Much like 2020

Grow Good

Tyler Thrasher