Is improving Codonanthe devosiana possible?

Codonanthe devosiana - photo: Gary Hunter

“Can we make a species better than it already is? Is it possible to improve on a species that has survived for untold millions of years in the wild”, asks Gary Hunter in Gleanings, the monthly newsletter of the US based Gesneriad Society. He explains in his article how he learned the original definition of a botanical ‘species’ as a plant found in nature that is uniform in its characteristics and comes true (identical to the parent) when self-pollinated. “So if they are all identical then how can they be improved? It seems that the modern day definition is not as rigid and some species are variable and in some cases can have different colored flowering forms within the species.”
Commercial value
In Gleanings he tells how he wants to improve Codonanthe devosiana, a small trailing plant with small bell-shaped white flowers and orange berries. Well grown plants will self-branch and get a flower at every leaf axil. He assumes that it could be a commercial plant in the terrarium market if crop time could be speeded up.
No one has tried yet
“Since no one has tried to improve Codonanthe devosiana, the story is not yet written. But nothing can be lost in trying since all plants, fast or slow, can be sold. If somehow flower size improves then all the observation will pay off. My proposal is to grow quantities of seed crops of Codonanthe and select for speed and flower size. In every measurable step, we select the best. Save the first to germinate and from them, the first to flower. If flower size improves, of course, you save them. You record the times so we can see if any improvement is made in successive generations.”
Select for the brightest pink
Does science support this plan? Hunter thinks so. “Plants have been improved by intercrossing species within a genus. This is self-pollinating a species and hoping for variability. In nature seed germinates at varying rates to insure survivability, so we will just select the fastest. There is a pink-flowered form of Codonanthe from Brazil that we are attempting to establish. The goal there will be to select for the brightest pink. Then cross the white with the pink and see if we get hybrid vigour and a big, bright, pink flower on a tough little trailing plant. But that’s a different story.”
Multi-year project
It is a matter of fact that Hunters story already was published a year ago in The Newsletter of the Delaware African Violet and Gesneriad Society. In Gleanings he provides his article with an update. He realises in meantime that it is going to be a multi-year project. He will certainly not refuse help from others who likes quirky challenges. Success will lead to fame and fortune. “Fame at least in the Gesneriad world”, he states with a smile.

Codonanthe devosiana Pink form - photo: Gary Hunter