Fruit Forum

The Origin of the Tayberry

Photo - see caption

Derek Jennings, the well known breeder of soft fruits, in particular the ‘Glen’  range range of raspberries, tells us how he came to raise the Tayberry when working  at the Scottish Crop Research Institute, near Dundee.

Many people consider that breeders of soft fruit produce their varieties by sheer luck like in a lottery. Sure, we sometimes cross the best with the best and hope for the best, but the process had a truly scientific basis in the breeding of the Tayberry, a blackberry x raspberry hybrid: this task is far better thought of as akin to a marriage bureau for blackberries and raspberries!
The Tayberry, of course, is essentially an improved Loganberry, and Judge Logan of California, who bred the Loganberry, had amazing beginners luck . His hobby was blackberry breeding and in 1880 he crossed Mr Auginbaugh’s blackberry with the Texas blackberry. He had a big surprise from the progeny, and his own summing up is the best : ‘in the first row I found a single lonely plant , in appearance like no other berry plant I had ever seen. It was neither a raspberry nor a blackberry but a distinctly new form.’ He gave plants to his friends who began to call the fruit ‘Mr Logan’s Berries’. Arguments about its origin raged for some 50 years, with the judge insisting that the plant was a natural hybrid involving some raspberries growing near his blackberries and Professors at the American universities maintaining that it must be a new species. The solution came from the UK in the 1940s , when Percy Thomas studied its genetics at the John Innes Institute and showed that the judge was correct.
My good fortune came when Percy Thomas was appointed Professor at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where I was a student. Prof Thomas, affectionately know as PT, was a dreadful lecturer, but he shone one Saturday morning in 1949 when he described the results of his Loganberry research. His work was all about numbers of chromosomes - the threadlike structures which carry the genes like beads on a string. It turned out that Mr Auginbaugh’s blackberry had 56 chromosomes while the Loganberry had 42. Since all plants transmit only half of their number of chromosomes to their pollen and ovules, this meant that all the blackberry ovules had 28 chromosomes and that one of them must have been fertilised by a pollen grain having 14 chromosomes to give rise to the Loganberry with 42. A difficulty was that all raspberries have 14 chromosomes and hence normally produce pollen with only seven, but a rare error in development sometimes allows pollen with 14 chromosomes to be formed, and it is generally accepted that this happened in this instance.
I visited Oregon in 1963 and saw a new blackberry called Aurora which had 56  chromosomes like Mr Aughinbaugh’s blackberry. This high number is rare in high quality blackberries. I immediately remembered PT’s Saturday lecture and realised that Aurora represented 50 years of improvement over Judge Logan’s parent. If only I could marry it to a good raspberry whose pollen had 14 chromosomes I could perhaps produce a new hybrid which would incorporate some of these improvements. It took me five years to breed such a raspberry and, 100 years after the judge`s success, I introduced it to Aurora and in 1980 selected the Tayberry from among the  resultant progeny.
I was then working at the Scottish Crop Research Institute, near Dundee. The Tayberry created much interest and I appeared in cartoons, but wearing a kilt and tam-o'-shanter, which  I thought was a bit rich for a Welshman from Cardiff. The Americans were worse. They quoted me speaking in a strong Scottish accent  - der yer ken ? One even assumed that I lived in a houseboat on the river Tay and sent letters addressed to: River Tay, Scotland, England (congrats to the postman ). But I saw how much the Americans liked the Tayberry when I recently visited a B&B establishment in Washington State that had been renamed ‘Tayberry House’.
Growers continued to write about their experiences with the Tayberry and there was excitement in 1998, when an allotment grower in Buckinghamshire wrote to say that his plants had become spine-free. I took a spade and visited him and the result was the Buckingham Tayberry, which we released together soon afterwards. This is now the main form grown. Such mutations occur frequently in this kind of material, but this one was discovered only 18 years after the Tayberry was selected whereas the spinefree Loganberry was not discovered until 1929, some 49 years after the judge began supplying his friends with his new fruit . No doubt folk were more inhibited in reporting their discoveries in those days.

Derek Jennings