Thursday, June 24, 2004

Blue Rose On The Horizon

One of our advertisers, Growquest Nursery recently ran a story on their website about Professor Peter Guengerich and Dr. Elizabeth Gillam at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who discovered an enzyme that turns plants blue. They have implanted the gene that produces the enzyme into bacteria. Now they are hoping to implant the same gene into roses to produce, ta da... a blue rose.

They will be releasing their finding in the "next" issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. The article also quotes a skeptical Dr. Peter Beales, noted author of Botanica's Roses: The Encyclopedia of Roses and president of the Royal National Rose Society, "It might be a novelty for a year or two then it will probably disappear into oblivion."

Meanwhile, those wily Japanese (or is it the wily OZzies?) have been doing some breeding of their own. According to the Japan Times, the brewer and distiller, Suntory Ltd., and Florigene Ltd., an Australian biotech firm 98.5% owned by Suntory, have successfully implanted the gene that produces delphinidin, the blue pigment in pansies into a rose. They claim the pigment in the petals of their blue rose is nearly 100% delphinidin. This duplicates their feat of producing a blue carnation in 1995 that they market under the name Moondust. Read the story in The Japan Times Online

Well, your intrepid reporter had to check this out. There is a carnation called Moondust, but it's mauve, not blue. In 1997 Florigene introduced a darker purplish carnation called Moonshadow (does that name sound familiar, rose lovers?) In 2001 they introduced carnations in a variety of colors from lavender to almost black and names like Moonaqua, Moonlight and Moonvista. I couldn't find anyone offering these for sale in the US as living plants but Steve White of Tessealaar Flowers says he sells as many blue carnation cut flowers as all the other colors combined.

Now, some of you may thinking, "But this isn't new, I've seen blue carnations since I was a kid." The blue carnations that have previously been available were created by placing white carnations in water colored deep blue with food coloring. The flower sucks up the blue dye and gradually turns blue. But it doesn't grow that way.

Making it grow blue has been a dream for Mike Dalling, who founded a biotechnology company called Calgene Pacific in Australia in 1986. By 1991 they had isolated the delphinidin-producing gene from petunias and began injecting it into carnations. By 1995 they had developed Moondust and had failed repeatedly to duplicate that feat with roses. After Calgene patented their blue carnation they bankrupted a Dutch firm called Florigene that had also been trying to develop a blue carnation. Calgene bought their assets and changed its name to Florigene. So now Florigene is taking over the world, right?

Not hardly. According to this article in The Age life has been tough for bio-engineers. According to Mike Dalling, "Like a lot of start-up companies, we were always broke. There was relentless financial pressure. We thought that once we had a blue carnation the world would be at our feet. But instead, we lurched on." In 1994 Dalling left Calgene to join rival biotechers Nufarm. By 2000 Calgene, now called Florigene was on the brink of bankruptcy and was taken over by Nufarm. Then they skidded downhill until the Florigene division was sold to Suntory in December, 2003.

It's hard to import genetically manipulated plants so that leaves an opening for American Guengerich and his research partner Gillam (surprise, Gillam is also from OZ!). Their problem right now seems to be to contain the blue color to the petals. So far they have seen blue stems, blue thorns and blue leaves according to this article in The Tennessean. Anyway, it looks like a real blue rose is on the horizon. This could be the event that revitalizes interest in rose growing, which has been on the wane in recent years.

Useless Carnation Trivia: The carnation is the national symbol of Slovenia. Koreans put three carnations in a young girl's hair to tell her fortune. If the bottom bloom dies first the girl will have a hard time her whole life. If the top flower dies first only the end of her life will be hard. If the middle then she will have trouble in her youth but then life will improve.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Have a Rosy Karaoke Party

I gathered up a couple dozen rose songs. They're all instrumentals so I hope you know the words. The easiest way to listen to them is to download them. They are all midi files and are pretty small. You could fit them all on a floppy disk.

To download them right-click on the link and choose "Save Target As" in the little pop-up box. Then click 'save'. A tip of the hat to Captain Dave of Fresno, CA who compiled these songs. The ole captain even paid the BMI license fees for you. Can't say how long Dave's generosity will last so get 'em while you can. If you have Quick Time or Windows Media Player you should be able to listen to 'em but ol' Dave recommends Crescendo.

  • A Ring to The Name of Rose

  • After the Roses Have Faded Away

  • China Roses

  • Eighteen Wheels and A Dozen Roses

  • La Vie En Rose

  • Lollipops and Roses

  • A Little Gift of Roses

  • Meet Me Tonight Mid The Roses

  • My Rose of Waikiki

  • My Wild Irish Rose

  • I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

  • Paper Rose

  • Red River Rosie

  • Red Roses For A Blue Lady

  • Room Full of Roses

  • Rose Bud

  • Rose Garden

  • San Antonio Rose

  • The Rose

  • There Is A Rose in Old Erin

  • The Rose of Tralee

  • Yellow Rose of Texas
  • Bareroot Roses are Back at 99 Cents Stores

    They arrived last week. I didn't see them in their ad so I think they'll have more for the next couple of weeks, maybe into July. In the past they were from Jackson & Perkins. I'm not sure where they're from now. The tags (when they exist) say vague stuff like "red hybrid tea". At the price you can't beat it, I guess. I bought them years ago but I could almost never figure out what variety they are so I gave them away to people who don't care.

    Unfortunately, I don't have time now to grow roses I don't care about, and these are going to take some care to get them going. If you want to try them I recommend planting them in a 5-gallon or larger pot with decent potting soil (decent means the cheapstuff at Home Depot, like Super Soil or Earth-Gro) after soaking them for 24 hours. Set them out in the shade of a tree where they'll get a very small amount of sun. Another possibility is to put a plastic grocery bag over the potted rose to hold in the moisture until they get roots established. 99 Cents stores don't take very good care of them once they open the box so you need to take the extra step. Even with my best efforts I only got an 80% survival rate.

    I dunno. Every year they sell them and they have plenty of buyers. I always see people with bareroots in the checkout line when they are selling them. I've seen people plant them in their garden plots at Wattles Garden and it seems like they usually die. It's late here in LA for bareroots. J&P won't ship them to California after May. Feel like gambling? They have a store locator on their 99 Cents Only website.

    Tuesday, June 08, 2004

    "Why Don't You Eat Your Roses?"

    That's what my dear wife said to me recently when I inquired about the availability of a meal in our house. I took her literally of course, nerd that I am, and began speculating about the possibilities. I've eaten flowers before. Courgette blossoms and pasta is an Italian delicacy I have enjoyed on a few occasions. Artichokes are large thistle flowers that are eaten in the bud stage. I grow both in my garden.

    Once upon a time tea parties in the rose garden were the only socially acceptable way for 'decent' women to meet men. Combining the rose garden into the tea seems like a 21st century speedup. Lots of websites offer rose tea recipes: A Summer Rose Tea (with Rose Jelly and Rose Scones), Annie's Rose Petal Tea, Middle Eastern Rose Petal Tea, and Nate's Flower Tea. However, man cannot live on tea alone, and I'm also pretty sure my wife doesn't want me speculating about meeting women at tea parties.

    How about a substantial breakfast of pancakes with Rose Petal Syrup? Or maybe a nice summer brunch consisting of Rose Petal Brulee with Berry Compote and Rose Petal Ice Cream with Mint Swirls for dessert?

    Then for lunch I could take it easy with some soup and a sandwich ... make that some Rose Petal Soup and a Pound Cake Sandwich and Rose-Scented Vanilla Custard, with some Rose Petal Fritters on the side.

    That ought to hold me until dinner when I could be having Quail in Rose Petal Sauce following a salad with oil and Nelsons Rose Vinegar dressing, followed by some more of that rose petal ice cream left over from brunch. Probably I would substitute squab, game hen, chicken, or some other bird available at the local Piggly-Wiggly for the quail. (Yes! I know Piggly-Wiggly is gone and Yes! I have been to the market much more recently.)

    I still haven't sprayed any of my roses yet so they are all safe to eat. Sorry, can't blog now, gotta go collect some roses...