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Hosta Genetics

A basic look at the mysterious world of Hosta genetics and inheritance.


By Joshua Spece
Last revised January 22, 2008

Hostas follow their own, mysterious set of rules when it comes to genetics and inheritance.

Not much has been written on the topic of Hosta genetics and for good reason. Little is know about why Hostas look and behave the way they do. Most everything you learned in school about genetics and inheritance does not apply to Hostas. Hostas do not follow the basic principals of genetics.

Most genetic traits of a Hosta seedling will fall somewhere between the traits of its parents. If one parent has round leaves and the other parent has long, pointed leaves, the seedlings will usually show a range of leaf shapes. A few may have round leaves and a few may have long, pointed leaves. Most of the seedlings will fall somewhere in between the two extremes, though. Leaf shape, leaf substance, leaf texture, petiole color, plant form, plant size, vigor, flower color, flower size, and flower fragrance (among others) are all characteristics that can more or less be predicted to be a blend of each parent to some degree.

Leaf color

Leaf color appears to behave like most other Hosta traits - a blend somewhere between the two parents. The pod parent may be more dominant than the pollen parent when it comes to leaf color, but not always.

Hosta Trail of Tears
Generally, the center of the leaf of the pod parent has the most influence on the color of the seedlings. For example, seeds from Hosta 'Frances Williams' (blue center, gold margin) give a high percentage of blue seedlings, a few gold seedlings, and an occasional green seedling. White centered pod plants usually result in white or very pale yellow seedlings. These are called lethal seedlings, because they rarely develop enough chlorophyll to sustain themselves.

Variegation

One thing we do know for certain about Hosta genetics is that only the pod parent can pass along variegation. More specifically, only streaked Hostas will produce variegated seedlings with any reliability. See the article about Streaked Hostas for a more in-depth look at the role these plants play in hybridizing.

Hostas with speckled leaf centers ('Revolution', 'Allegan Fog') will often pass on the speckled coloration to their seedlings, much like a streaked Hosta.

This is not to say that variegated seedlings from non-streaked plants are unheard of, just rare. Hosta 'Dorothy Benedict', one of the most legendary Hostas of all time, is the result of self-pollinating 'Frances Williams'.


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