Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Oi! My Oca's Been at It!

Last year I never even considered crossing Oca and obtaining seed. After all, I knew it was impossible to get successful pollination without multiple varieties, and I was only growing one variety. I knew that flowering was infrequent, and had read that germination was erratic and difficult. All this was received wisdom a year ago.
But I've just found this little fella growing in last year's Oca bed, and as you can see it is not growing from a tuber that dodged the harvest - only roots are growing from the stem. It was close to the spot where a plant flowered last year, so I have to conclude that an Oca has 'done it' on its own.

So why did I carefully lift and check the roots of the plant, and not just terminate it with a hoe, assuming it to be an annoying volunteer in the wrong place? Well, a combination of three separate pieces of information coming together at the right time:
1. Rhizowen's comment elsewhere on this site ' ...mid stylar morphs are, so I've been led to believe, sometimes capable of self pollination.'
2. Rhizowen's post Another Oca Shocker, breaking news that Oca seed can overwinter and germinate outdoors.
3. My own comment on the same post "It would have been so easy to run them through with a hoe thinking they were volunteers..."
Then yesterday, just as in the comment, I found myself standing over a few defenceless Oca seedlings with a sharp hoe poised at their necks. Cogs whirred for a couple of seconds before I decided to check the plants below ground. All were obviously growing from tubers - apart from this one which was clearly not.

No-dig is the other factor that allowed this seed to make it. On a conventional plot it would have been turned 12" underground and would not have had reserves to reach the surface.

This can only have been from a flower that was self-pollinated - from the same plant, and possibly from the same flower, but given the chromosome-scrum that is Oca genetics, it may still produce some useful diversity. So in to a pot you go!


  1. Very interesting.
    I grow my first little crop of oca this year, and just hope for this kind of weed to pop up next spring :-)

  2. Wahey! It is very heartening how often the received wisdom in horticulture is wrong. But then there are so many different variables in soils, climates, methods, ecology etc, it's not surprising that sometimes things that are supposed to be impossible turn out to be pleasantly doable. The fact that both you and Owen have had this happen spontaneously is a very encouraging sign for future oca breeding in the UK.

  3. Excellent news!

    Glad to hear that you're (not) hoeing your own furrow with oca seedlings. I can't help feeling that tuber polycultures might be a distinct possibility in the UK some time soon.
    Which variety do you think is the parent?

  4. Thanks Toads. By the way, your exotic tomato and chili seeds have grown into fine plants. I'm looking forward to tasting the produce soon.

    Rebsie, I suspect most respected published information on unusual crops is at least partially lifted from earlier studies, so one original record of limited or inaccurate findings can quickly be built up to be universally accepted sound fact. A little bit of scepticism never did anyone any harm!

    Rhizowen, the parent is 'Real Seeds Red' i.e. red/white eyes, a mid styled variety.
    Are you thinking of commercial tuber polycultures? I'd like to know your thoughts.