[permaculture] The Effect of Cultivars on Native Species Gene Pools

Armed With A Mind Armed With A Mind armedwithamind at hotmail.com
Wed Dec 30 13:56:36 EST 2009

As I plan my gardens and orchards, the back of my mind brings forth the issue of cultivars and their possible hybridization with native species. Everything I've learned in both Ecosystems Management and Environmental Technology programs taught me that it is generally unsound to grow cultivars in areas where there is even a slight chance that they may pollute the gene pool. The Quote below sums up what I was taught:


"In many cases, a native plant or cultivar brought from out of state is not adapted to Colorado and may hybridize with Colorado plants, weakening the local gene pool. Cultivars may flower too early, fail to set seed, show poor diseases/pest resistance and fail to thrive due to climatic differences. No one really knows what effect these cultivars will have on the wildlife that depend on local native plant species for food. If a local native plant's bloom period, color, or frost hardiness is changed, it could have a drastic effect on the hummingbirds, bees and other wildlife that may utilize them."

Then I started reading permaculture books and websites to find that though native species are encouraged in this school of thought, cultivars are widely used. I understand that this is usually because the cultivars have been specialized for human use but I struggle with that and ask; is it worth the price of screwing the next generation of a given species? Or is what I have learned just paranoid hard-lined rhetoric that has no base in fact? Maybe my teachers are looking at humans as being outside of nature when really we are a force of nature and therefore if we have the means and inclination to plant cultivars, then so be it. 


I want to err on the side of caution but there are some plants that are tempting me to hop the fence to the other side. I recall for example how tough it is to crack a native black walnut, and how little meat there is. Similarily with regards to meat size is Korean Pine nut. Grapes, mulberries, and strawberries, are just a few of the plants that I'd like to grow cultivars of but am worried about doing to their native relatives what GMO's are doing to corn, and canola, etc. The last thing I want to be is a Monsanto-like monster to my local ecosystem.


What is your take on this issue?


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