29 August 2021
BURGH HAAMSTED, Netherlands: The USA was the first country to adopt Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Nevada’, also known as the Nevada fern. It was spotted accidentally in an Aalsmeer greenhouse more than 20 years ago, among a batch of Boston ferns. Since its discovery, ‘Nevada’ continues to revolutionise the global fern industry. Vitro Plus’ John Bijl has the full story.
The day I discovered it, I can clearly remember, there was one leaf sticking out among the ferns in the greenhouse. This fern’s beauty instantly caught my eye as its appearance was one-of-a-kind. The plant stood out for its vigorous and dark green foliage, which had probably something to do with its rapid growth.
A voice inside me said to cherish this particular fern. So, I carefully removed the leaf together with the rhizome from the plant and potted the cutting. Convinced of its market potential, I took the plant into tissue culture at Vitro Plus and propagated a small batch of plants.
This story is about how the first unique mother plant grew from one single cutting. It proliferated into a beautiful fern with all the suitable characteristics we as fern breeders and propagators appreciate. These are robust growth, a perfect plant habit with the right number of feathery leaves (megaphylls), and, ideally a dark green colour.
It must have been the TPIE show of 1999 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I showed the fern for the first time. I had a large poster depicting a giant desert cactus accompanied by a ‘Wanted Nevada’ tagline stuck to my booth’s wall.
The message was that the plant could resist dehydration, and of course, the name Nevada perfectly referred to that. Following Nevada’s debut at TPIE, Vitro Plus made an application for worldwide patent breeders rights for this super plant.
A keen eye for detail
Our opposite neighbour at this memorable TPIE edition was Alpha Foliage from Homestead. The company was founded by the late Chuck Buster, a remarkable person.
He must have seen something special in our plant, for he was the first person who wanted to test this new variety in the USA.
Chuck was an outstanding breeder and a sharp businessman with a keen eye for detail. At the time, his company in Homestead was growing millions of Boston fern hanging baskets for the North American retail market, a quintessential spring product.
Excellent reviews from supermarkets and buyers
The Boston ferns were often packaged wet or damp, packed tightly in crates or boxes and then shipped for three to four days across the USA before being taken out of their packaging. Travelling for ferns usually deteriorates the quality quickly.
Chuck started growing small batches of ‘Nevada’ ferns among his regular Boston ferns and shipping them out to retailers.
Supermarkets and buyers were noticing a difference – the ferns from Chuck were arriving in great condition. The compliments kept coming, and initially, Chuck kept the excellent reviews to himself. The feedback was so positive that within a year, Chuck replaced his Boston ferns with ‘Nevada’ ferns.
Additional financial gain
He also told me later that he could grow more plants per square metre because the ‘Nevada’ ferns do not get so entangled and also can plant out later, which is an additional financial gain.
Chuck had been able to keep his Nevada ‘secret’ to himself for a long time, but after a couple of seasons, word got out to fellow growers in the Homestead area, and they too began switching Boston ferns for ‘Nevada’ ferns. This change happened over the following years in the rest of America. Boston fern is still being grown, but only sparsely now.
Cloning and tissue culture
‘Nevada’ belongs to the species Nephrolepis, of which many varieties are in circulation.
It all started with an ‘archetypal plant’ from which all today’s commercial Nephrolepis species have mutated. The archetypal plant itself is, as far as I know, extinct or maybe still alive in a botanical garden somewhere, who knows?
New clones of ferns come from a genetic change in the DNA at the chromosome level, and these changes are always present in the background. Sometimes these changes occur in ferns, and we see a ‘visible mutation’, like a fringed or a differently incised leaf.
With plant propagation, there is a genetic drift of the chromosomes, depending on the method of propagation, stronger or lesser, and in any case, strengthened by the use of plant hormones in tissue culture.
Many changes are not visible phenotypically, but are present in the chromosomes and can influence the plant’s well-being (root formation, growth rate, susceptibility to diseases etc.).
These mutations occur in tissue culture, and as we are into a micro-culture, we use plant hormones in the process; it has always been our expertise to keep the level of mutations as low as possible. However they remain present in tissue culture, usually dormant and thus not visible, but sometimes they do emerge, and a breeder does not want this.
There is only one pure Nevada
My previous story explains why there is only one pure ‘Nevada’, which is, in fact, the mother plant that I discovered 20 years ago.
All other Nevadas ever produced are offspring that can be genetically identical, but not always, and thus not always visible in the plant’s appearance.
The first ‘Nevada’ mother cuttings are hand taken every year, and every week Vitro Plus gathers mother material to use in the laboratory.
Nobody else in the world has access to this excellent genetic material and the unique mother plant is kept and protected in a secret location.
There is also a second location; a far distance from the first one, where we keep ‘Nevada’ to prevent any loss of original genetics if a natural disaster occurs.
Reliable fern propagation
This unique ‘Nevada’ mother clone gives our fern breeders worldwide the guarantee that their starting material originates from the one and only ‘Nevada’ clone. It has proven to be rock-solid in the American fern industry over the past 20 years and is exclusively available at Vitro Plus.
The original ‘Nevada’ mother clone is unique and indispensable for a reliable propagation process through tissue culture because the propagation process starting from the original parent gives a much more reliable result than from the offspring of its parent, something which is generally known within the field of plant tissue culture.
Vitro Plus cherishes this unique and original ‘Nevada’ clone and will continue to supply their customers worldwide with the best excellent starting material for many years to come
We are still trying to find an even stronger offspring of ‘Nevada’, but that is easier said than done. For the last 20 years, it has not yet happened again.
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