Help us achieve our goals:
make a donation »
Join the RHS today and
support our charity
Free personalised gardening advice
RHS members get reduced ticket prices
RHS members get free access to RHS Gardens
Reduced prices on RHS Garden courses and workshops
020 3176 5800
Mon – Fri | 9am – 5pm
Make a donation
Join the RHS today and support our charity
I have forgotten my password
Keep me signed in
Register for free to receive our newsletters, add comments to blogs/articles and to save content.
Plant mutations, known as sports, breaks, or chimeras, are naturally occurring genetic mutations that can change the appearance of the foliage, flowers, fruit or stems of any plant.
A naturally occurring genetic mutation, sometimes known as a sport or a break, causes a sudden change in the appearance of a plant. There are many ways this will show. You may notice coloured flecks in a white flower, or a perennial with single flowers might develop a stem that holds a double flower. Mutation can also cause a change in foliage colour or fruit appearance. Reversion is a form of plant mutation.
Generally, you may only notice one or two mutations on a plant, for example, there might be just one different coloured flower on a plant. Usually the plant will revert back to its original form the following year.
Most mutations are random and are a result of a change within the cells of the plant, but mutations can sometimes be triggered by cold weather, temperature fluctuations or insect damage.
Sometimes the mutation is unnoticeable because the characteristics are not passed on from the cell where they occurred, but if the mutation occurs at the growing point, entire shoots can be affected as that cell multiplies and gives rise to whole cell lines.
The term chimera is used when genetically distinct tissues co-exist within the same plant or parts of a plant. For instance, some plants, such as chrysanthemums, roses and dahlias are prone to producing chimeral flowers, where the flowers have sectors of different colours, and chimeras are the usual basis for variegated plants.
Generally, genetic mutations are not a problem, and can be pruned out if undesirable; however, many sports will die out or revert back to their original form of their own accord.
Some sports are stable and may be of interest to nurseries who actively seek out new plants. Members of the RHS can email firstname.lastname@example.org request a list of nurseries that advertise for new plants.
Softwood cuttingsSemi ripe cuttings
the RHS today and get 12 months for the price of 9
RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.
Register for the site or sign in to share your experiences on this topic and seek advice from our community of gardeners.
We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.
Join the RHS today and get 12 months for the price of 9