JARS v46n4 - Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Yak: Hybrids or Not
I have been bemused over the past few months by letters from E. White Smith, "Ken Janeck - Species or Hybrid?" in Vol. 45, No. 4, Fall 1991, and George Ring, "More Clues" Vol. 46, No. 2, Spring 1992. I had similar questions in my mind in the early 1980s and was able to answer some of them in an article, "The Nature of R. yakushimanum Clones," Vol. 42, No. 4, Fall 1988. My findings, however, have largely been misunderstood. Maybe I should explain what happened and readers can go back and look at what I said in a new light.

David Leach had introduced a couple of the plants, 'Mist Maiden' and 'Pink Parasol', in question, so, out of courtesy I mentioned to him what I was doing to see what his reaction would be. He was dismayed at what I had found and told me he disagreed with my conclusions. So I said, naively, why didn't he write his reactions to what I had done and publish it also in JARS. Both accounts were published together the following year without my seeing the Leach reply beforehand.

I was at the time a working scientist (I am now a scientist of leisure), and followed the traditional scientific format: 1. Observations, in this case puzzling differences between plants labeled "R. yakushimanum" . 2. Hypothesis, ideas about what these differences might mean. 3. Tests to confirm or deny these ideas. 4. The application of the test results to reach a conclusion. This was in effect the plan of the 1988 article. I thought that readers would easily be able to follow the sequence of what I had done, but I failed to take into account the low level of understanding of the nature of science and the extent of what has been called the "de-education of America." The latter term refers to the deprivation of sections of the population of the means to make their own judgments about things. In other words people have to rely on the opinion of others. I found to my chagrin that, when presented with the two articles, people said, "Well, we can't understand the arguments but if we have to choose then we go for the opinion of the famous American, David Leach, and not the unknown Canadian, Joe Who?"

In my article I presented evidence including leaf size and pollen quality to support the contention that certain plants are hybrids of the form R. yakushimanum X something else while others are R. yakushimanum itself. In his rebuttal of my evidence David Leach pointed out, quite correctly, that leaf size is a variable characteristic. If you take a large-leaved form and grow it in dry, sunny conditions the leaves will be smaller. Conversely a small-leaved form in humid, shady conditions will bear larger leaves. Sure they will. Agreed. But that is not what I did. The leaves I demonstrated were average leaves from plants grown adjacent to each other under similar conditions and standard sampling techniques. I was not in the business of fudging the results.

Similarly with the pollen evidence. Keeping a plant really hot or freezing it at the critical time will render the pollen sterile. But again, this had not happened. The two pollen types that I found: perfectly good and almost totally bad, were critical evidence for my case. In fact, if I might drop my scientific demeanor for a moment, I was cock-a-hoop to have found such a remarkably clear distinction. Rarely have I come across such a black-and-white difference in a study. If only all research were so clear! Yes, yes, as my picky colleague points out there are cases where other things happen, and as a plant cytologist for over 30 years I am well aware of them. The fact is that in this case there is an absolutely clear distinction between the species and the hybrids. I invite anyone to confirm by observations; after all the test of good science is that the results should be repeatable. I can guarantee that the work I did is repeatable without having to cook either the plant or the results.

So the answer to E.W.S. is, yes, 'Ken Janeck' is a hybrid. Go back and read the article and ignore the joshing that goes on between a couple of scientists.

Joe Harvey, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Too Much Phosphorus


I read with interest the comments on use of phosphorus in the "Tips for Beginners" column in the Summer issue of the Journal. "No need to be concerned about applying too much; a rhododendron is not a phosphorus glutton. It will feed on no more than required," it said.

Whether our rhododendrons are phosphorus gluttons or not we do not know, but we do know that, back in the early '80s, when we routinely gave our rhododendrons a fall feeding of phosphorus, we were experiencing a purple leaf spot problem on a number of varieties.

After consulting with friends we decided that excessive phosphorus was the likely culprit. So we dispensed with the fall phosphorus feeding and increased the nitrogen, iron, and magnesium in our general fertilizer mix. Lo and behold the leaf spotting cleared up and the plants budded younger and more profusely.

We now believe that for rhododendrons, as for humans, a balanced diet is the way to go.

Larry Allbaugh, Everson, Washington