Attention horticulturists!
February 25, 2014 6:10 PM   Subscribe

How old is our new plant that is a cutting from an old plant?

Mr. Echo would like to know how old his plant is (I can't believe I'm asking this question for him, it's ridiculous). His parents have a begonia that is 35 years old and they planted a piece of it that fell off and gave it to my husband 2 years ago, which is now sitting in our dining room. He would like to know, technically, how old is his plant? Is it two years old or is it 35 years old?

I know, this is a ridiculous question, but he has brought it up several times, so I'm asking.
posted by echo0720 to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's as old as the old plant. Eventually, you wouldn't be able to keep propagating it. (Maybe not in your lifetime, but eventually. I don't know about begonias in particular, but it is a clone.)
posted by Listener at 6:14 PM on February 25, 2014

I think this is more a question of philosophy than biology, and there really isn't any consensus answer. (It's like "Are viruses alive?", another unanswerable biological question.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:57 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would say that the plant grown from the cutting is as old as the old plant, because genetically, it *is* the old plant. It's a clone.
posted by rue72 at 7:05 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle's right, it's a question of philosophy. So let's do a thought experiment. Let's say Mr Echo is 35 years old and we clone him from one of his fingernail pairings. Two years later there's a Little Sir Echo running around. What age is Little SE? I say two.

A clone may be a clone, but it's a new life. It grows up in a different environment from the being it was cloned from. It has different experiences. It has separate sources of nutrition.
posted by mono blanco at 7:46 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most common banana, the ones you see routinely in your grocery store, are called "Cavendish bananas" and they're favored because they don't have any seeds.

Which is great for us but bad for them; how do they reproduce? Turns out that all of them are created by cloning, millions of trees all over the world. It is difficult for me to think of them as being older than the moment of cloning; otherwise you'd have to consider all of them to be centuries old.

(It also means they're all genetically identical, and one of these days a disease is going to come along and wipe out the entire cultivar.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:01 PM on February 25, 2014

How old is a rose bush with two types of roses grafted during different years to one root stock? How old is a plant that grows from a seed produced years before it germinated?

I think the issue here is that plants are weird and don't have birthdays.
posted by gingerest at 8:06 PM on February 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I imagine this question arises out of thinking about this plant in relation to the thing where animal clones have reduced lifespans. this botany professor tried to address it. "Plant telomeres" is your google search term.
posted by putzface_dickman at 3:53 AM on February 26, 2014

Some plants (begonias are this type) can reproduce by sexual reproduction OR asexual reproduction. What you are describing is the asexual type. Basically, they clone themselves by having individual branches or leaves root and become their own plant. I have a begonia that my grandparents has since the 1910s that was passed off to my mom. When my mom died, I took a cutting (it was too big to move across the country), rooted it and it is now a happy house plant. It is a new clone from the original plant (that was certainly a clone, itself).

It is common for plants to 'reset' their age when a cutting or branch roots. Think of apples. Each Granny Smith apple is a clone from the original Granny Smith apple tree from many years ago. It is next to impossible to get a good apple from the seed of a good apple will get a crab apple. Mostly, cuttings are taken and then grafted to a root apple tree stock that has better vigor than Granny Smith. These trees then have a lifespan. The same is true of most roses, berries and yard trees. You find a specimen that does exactly what you want in that type of tree and make lots of clones of it. Take an old and sick tree, root or graft a branch from it and you get a young and vigorous sapling! This tree can be aged from the point of the grafting, not the age of the previous, previous, previous sapling.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:41 AM on February 26, 2014

The redwood trees round here produce sprouts from around the stump left when the original tree is cut down, which turn into full-sized mature trees . Many redwoods were harvested fifty to a hundred years ago, so the trees we have now are spoken of as being fifty or a hundred years old, though in fact their roots are ancient. So our local answer is that the clone's age is from when it began growing as an individual.
posted by anadem at 7:23 AM on February 26, 2014

Vegetative cuttings are not always perfect clones. Plants can have complicated polyploidal chromosomal arrangements and the genes of the vegetatatively reproduced plant can be different from the parent because the genes at the growth points dictate the composition of the 'clone'.

That is why you can buy a plant like sedum rubrotinctum 'aurora' and the jellybean like leaves that fall off grow up as just plain sedum rebrotinctum or sometimes as completely white plants (until they die from lack of chlorophyll) . Interestingly, steam cuttings will stay true to the cultivar.

In my succulent and cactus collecting world the age of the plant is generally considered to be when the cutting was taken, pup was separated or seed was sown.
posted by srboisvert at 7:25 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have (and am currently looking at) a cane begonia that's a cutting from a plant my mom had before she died. I also inherited the original root-stock plant, which subsequently died. As far as I'm concerned, this is the same plant.
posted by Lexica at 8:36 PM on February 26, 2014

« Older Getting It Gone. Paying Off Student Loan?   |   Capsules: Why is vitamin E oil so much thicker... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.