Sunday, April 14, 2013

Breeding Jerusalem artichokes - off to a miserable start

I don't like Jerusalem artichokes, just have to make that clear from the start, I know that many people do though.. But I realise that the best way to fix a problem with a vegetable is to breed a better one. The only way to breed a better plant, apart from waiting in the hope that one day you might find a ramdom mutation, is to plant seeds and select for better plants.
 Well, since you can't buy Jerusalem artichoke (JA) seed - mainly because they very rarely set any - I thought I would start by planting some sunflowers near my JA plants because these two are very closely related and hope to cross them so the JA plants will set some seed. JA don't set seed because they are all clones and propagated vegitatively from tubers rather than seeds and are not self fertile. I was hoping to cross the sunflowers with JA so that the cross pollination would produce seed.

My first problem was that I planted the sunflower seed at the same time as planting the JA tubers. I should have planted the sunflowers later as they flowered before the JA and by the time the JA decided to flower there were only two fertile flowers left on the sunflower plants.

Anyway, today I decided to check all the drying down flowers of the JA to check for seeds and found a measly two (2) seeds in total. I suppose it is better than none.

These two precious seeds are the start to my breeding program to make a better JA. I will cross them with each other and some flowers to pure JA plants and see what comes up next spring, assuming they grow of course. Fingers crossed. At least if they grow and flower I will have plants that will produce seeds and that will be a good start to a breeding program. In America backyard breeders are doing the same to produce JA with great colour tubers that will look great on my market tables. I hope that I can somehow also select better tasting plants as well as new colours in the future.

I don't know if these seeds will produce plants with good tubers, they might take after their sunflower father, but at least I can cross them back to the JA and go from there.

In other news, we went to the Cavendish market today with a couple of tables of novelties and baby stuff but didn't sell much. I was expecting a few more people. At least it was a lovely sunny day and a good excuse to get out and meet and chat.


  1. Sounds to me like you are doing a lot of hard work there, great job getting a few seeds (mine never set seed)!

    Have you considered growing perennial sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) instead? They grow an edible root underground that is so similar to a Jerusalem artichoke that most people can not tell the difference. Yet they also readily reproduce via seed, making them a better candidate for a breeding program.

    Perhaps they would make for a better intraspecific cross with jerusalem artichoke than H annuus as the two plants seem to be closer?

    1. I'm not sure yet if this will be a serious project but your idea is worth some consideration.
      My main problem is locating or importing less well known plants into Australia, if it can't be found here already there is a good chance that it is not allowed to be imported. I haven't looked to see if those two plants are here yet.

  2. If you search "sunchoke genome skimming" you will uncover an article that says sunchokes originated from recursive hybridization between the Downy/Ashy/Hairy sunflower and the Sawtooth Sunflower. I don't recall which organization or group uncovered the genetic data. Perhaps one of those parents might have other noteworthy genes to contribute.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Eventually I decided to pull out all my Jerusalem artichokes as all the seedlings I managed to grow were no different than the parents and the tubers just didn't sell at markets so I had no use for them.