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Mixed Signals: the breeding of Gardenia jasminoides

When we in the US think of Gardenia jasminoides, what comes to mind is a ruffled white Southern belle found inhabiting gardens below the Mason-Dixon line. As with most double flowers, this many lobed version of Gardenia jasminoides is the result of cloning and not natural sexual reproduction. In fact, double flowered gardenias often display irregular, incompletely formed sexual parts at their centers. Originating in Asia, the wild plant features a flat face. It has only five to eight petals and also bears five to eight stamens with pollen producing yellow anthers, and a yellow, ribbed stigma that is divided in half or into thirds. If one looks closely at the cultivated cynosures, their white petticoats peel back to reveal only one or two fully formed anthers, some stunted and sterile ones, and vestigial brown stamen nubs, sometimes undifferentiated from stigma, which take on the appearance of frozen tentacles. A few petals themselves might be conjoined with embryonic lines of brown stamen. This is because stamen genetics evolved from petal genetics. The double flowered varieties have turned off signals for stamen production, resulting in the classical symptoms of narcissism: proliferation of attractive petals to conceal a central lack.
© 2021, Abby Hinsman for Wild Veil Perfume.