Sunday, March 3, 2013

Weekend Wisdom: Is a Plant Virus Ever a Good Thing?

Looking up the skirt of an Abutilon bloom
I've grown abutilons, commonly known as parlor maples or flowering maples, for many years now.  I love their bright bell-shaped blooms and they're easy.  They're a houseplant for me, since I live in the north, but they go outside in summer.

Most of the ones I've grown have the typical solid green maple-shaped leaves (in spite of not being maples), but my favorite one is Abutilon pictum 'Gold Dust' or Abutilon pictum 'Thompsonii'.  I don't know which of these I have, and frankly, don't know what the difference is between the two. (Can someone enlighten me?)

Instead of the usual solid green foliage, this one has leaves mottled with yellow.

This mottling is actually caused by a virus - the Abutilon mosaic geminivirus (AbMV).  Usually, you think of a virus as being a bad thing and harmful to the plant.  Not in this case.  For this Abutilon, it simply creates a beautiful plant with interesting foliage.

The virus can be transmitted from one Abutilon to another, but only through grafting, seed, or specifically the Brazilian white fly.  Other white fly species are not vectors for transmission.

The yellow coloring on the foliage is caused by the virus-infected cells; the cells in the green parts of the leaves are not infected with the virus. If the Abutilon is grown in low light conditions, the plant may lose its mottling, in spite of the virus still being present, and once the plant starts growing solid green leaves, it may continue to do so, even if the plant is returned to a location of high light.


Anonymous said...

Just a personal opinion, but I cannot help but think a virus is not EVER a good thing because it alters the natural order of things. I've seen what these introduced viruses have done to orchids and (personally) just wish they would leave nature to nature! :)

Kylee Baumle said...

As far as I know, this virus wasn't actually introduced, it was just observed and determined to be a virus. This particular one doesn't harm the plant in any way.

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