Females are a weak and troublesome breed. At least when they're green and spearlike.
That's the opinion of Rutgers University, which is suing a plant nursery for feminizing its product - a "super male" asparagus - through "gross contamination with females."The university says that in 1984 it developed an all-male asparagus that produced offspring only as manly as itself. When crossed with a female, the macho seed's offspring would be male every time.
A crop of the hybrid can yield up to four times as much vegetable as a sexually mixed crop, partly because its energies are not diverted to produce flowers and seeds.
The unwelcome comeback by the female element is significant in a country that eats almost 245 million pounds of the vegetable a year. Rutgers stands to lose more than $1 million.
Rutgers, which filed suit in federal court in Newark against Nourse Farms Inc., doesn't say how the contamination supposedly occurred.
And Nourse, a commercial nursery responsible for reproducing the super-male seed in South Deerfield, Mass., denies it did anything wrong.
Under a licensing agreement with the nursery, Nourse sold the seeds to growers and retailers, giving Rutgers more than half the gross sales. Last year the university and the nursery made about $500,000 each on about 2,000 pounds of seeds.
Before development of the macho seed, a mixed batch of seeds produced about 1,300 pounds of asparagus per acre. The all-male seeds - developed to form super-macho plants with names like Jersey Titan, Jersey King and Jersey Giant - produce more than 4,000 pounds.