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2006 ASCFG Seed Cut Flower Cultivar Trials

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John Dole, North Carolina State University


Sunflowers are a staple flower of many field cut operations. This American native species, with its large cheerful flowers, is increasingly being grown in greenhouses and high tunnels around the country. This year we had three cultivars in the trials, all of which scored very well. ‘Sunrich Orange Summer’ from American Takii was uniform, fast flowering with golden yellow petals and pollen-less dark centers. For some trialers ‘Sunrich Orange Summer’ flowered up to 10 days earlier than ‘Sunrich Orange’ but at least one trialer said that both cultivars flowered on the same day. Stems were as long as most people wanted, up to 60 inches, and respondents noted a vase life of 6 to 14 days, with an average of 8.7 days. In our postharvest trials we obtained 10 days, using a holding preservative.

‘Premier Lemon’, also from American Takii, scored a little lower than ‘Sunrich Orange Summer’. While it was very fast flowering, the stem length was too short for many respondents. In some cases, the length was as short as 12 inches, but the average was 27 inches. In our trials the stems flowered by mid May after transplants were put out in mid April – very short crop time. Respondents noted a vase life of 6 to 10 days, with an average of 7.8 days. In our postharvest trials we obtained 12 days, using a holding preservative, and only 9 days using just water.

‘Solara’ from Benary scored well in all categories. It was uniform, fast flowering with golden yellow petals and pollen-less dark centers. Stems were as long as most people wanted, up to 60 inches, and respondents noted a vase life of 7 to 12 days, with an average of 9.3 days. In our postharvest trials we obtained 12 days, using a holding preservative, and only 9 days using just water.

Eryngiums are fascinating plants – prickly appearing but with great, interesting colors that look almost metallic at times. Eryngiums have been popular in Europe and we tested a couple of cultivars in the perennial trials over the years. Unfortunately, they did not perform well for many people – the plants seemed to be rather susceptible to root rots and took a long time to reach flowering size. Plus, marketing a prickly thing isn’t always the easiest. Well, the difference a little breeding and selection can make. Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’ from Benary performed very well in the trials. For those of us who could start the plants early enough, they flowered rapidly, producing one to several stems per plant. Here in North Carolina, plants flowered by mid June and lasted several weeks. We sowed the seed at the end of January. Certainly this is part of the trend to “annualize” perennials – shortening crop time and removing the need for a winter cold period to induce flowering. Germination was good and plants were quite uniform for most of us. Others reported that some plants did not flower. Many of our plants flowered so much that there wasn’t much plant left by the end of the season; however, we noticed some plants putting on a rosette of leaves in the fall. It will be interesting to see what over winters. Trialers that did not get flowering this year noted that the plants were healthy and were hoping to get flowering next year. The most “interesting” observation was that the cut stems had a peculiar smell. One trialer reported a smell “like cow manure”. Another trialer stated that “It was the pollen, as I never smelled it in the field, one event florist just rinsed the whole bunch of it off under water, and had no further problems.” People’s reactions to smell often vary greatly and this may be the case as many trialers did not mention an odor.

It was a thorny year – not in terms of weather but in terms of plant materials. The mildly prickly eryngium and cleome weren’t too bad but the pumpkin-on-a-stick (Solanum integrifolium), submitted by Fred C. Gloeckner, was in a category of their own – one trialer said they were as brutal as roses. These unusual plants had great orange fruit that resembles squatty pumpkins. The fruit started out green and ripened to deep reddish orange. Some trialers didn’t wait until they were ripe to harvest them but sold them green. Unlike pumpkins the fruit were soft and would overripen to mush in some cases. For those with short growing seasons, however, the fruit did not ripen by frost. The fruit were carried along one to four foot tall plants. The plants were somewhat branched, making where to cut a difficult question, but the average number of stems per plant was about three. Responses to the pumpkin-on-a-stick ranged from quite positive to quite negative, as did customer responses. The stems were also a very attractive dark burgundy. The leaves were large, unattractive and bug magnets but that was not a major problem as the leaves were removed to show the fruit. The fruit were generally long lasting with trialer reporting an average of a 19 day vase life.

Continuing with the solanaceous theme – we also had three ornamental peppers from Fred C. Gloeckner in the trials. The best two appeared to be ‘On Top Round Red’ and ‘On Top Round Bronze’ with small round fruit perched on the top of the plant (just as the name says). Our favorite was ‘On Top Round Red’, but the two cultivars were very similar. The fruit started out very dark purplish black and only ripened to red at the very end of the season for us. Those in cooler climates did not see the fruit ripen at all. We liked the black fruit very much – the stems were also dark purple. By the time the fruit ripened, however, some looked old and wrinkled. The stems were a bit short, averaging 17 inches, but trialers were able to get a little less than five stems per plant. As with all peppers the leaves are best removed because they wilt rapidly. In our postharvest trials the cut stems lasted at least ten days with the average being 14 to 16 days, depending on the treatment. Trialers reported 7 to 14 days with an average vase life of 11 days.

One of the fun parts of the trial program is guessing how a plant will be received and occasionally we get it very wrong. Case in point was the Rubysilk grass from Cramers’ Posie Patch. This beautiful plant impressed us with its color and texture but the multitude of thin stems left us wondering how to harvest it. We decided to harvest handfuls at a time and thought that the trialers wouldn’t like that. Well, many folks didn’t mind at all and loved the grass. Turns out others were doing the same thing we were and using handfuls of both the flowers and leaves for filler in bouquets. Calculating number of stems per plant was a bit tough so you might want to be a bit skeptical about that data point in the table. We counted the stems on a few plants – resulting in over 200 stems/plant – yes, it was very productive. Others apparently counted just the number of handfuls as one trialer reported just one “stem” per plant. Stem length averaged 24 inches, suitable for a bouquet flower. Several respondants comments on the weak stems and mentioned lodging as a problem. Vase life was reported to be a respectable 12 days.

Overall, we had 23 cultivars from seven companies – the number of cultivars and companies were down from last year but we had more trialers than we have ever had participating in the trials. Based on trial results, the top five performers are automatically nominated for the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. The rankings are based on the combined ratings score: market appreciation (average of wholesale, florist, and consumer) + repeat again + ease of cultivation for those cultivars where more than three trialers responded. Thus, from the 2006 trials Eragrostis ‘Rubysilk’, Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’, and Sunflowers ‘Premier Lemon’, ‘Solara’, and ‘Sunrich Orange Summer’ are nominated as Cut Flowers of the Year and will join other nominations from ASCFG members.

Interpreting the trial results

The numbers reported are averages of all the respondents and many factors will affect the success of any plant species. Our participants are growing and harvesting the trial plants in a wide variety of ways. After looking at the average, check the range of responses listed below each number to see how the cultivar performed at its best and its worst. If the range of responses in the ratings is narrow and high, i.e., 3-5 or 4-5, the plant was a winner for most of the respondents and is likely to do well for you. The “Repeat Again Rating” is particularly important because it indicates if the trialer would take the time, money, and space to actually grow the cultivar again. Review the trial results carefully. If a cultivar sounds interesting but did not appear to do well, try it anyway. The cultivar may work well for you.


A hearty thank you to all of the evaluators who returned their trial reports and to the seed companies for providing such great cultivars. I would like to thank Ingram McCall and Diane Mays for taking care of the North Carolina State University portion of the trials, Ingram McCall for data entry, Erin Possiel, Tina Krug, Beth Harden, Brad Holland, and Tim Ketchie for assisting with the NCSU trials, and Nick Corby and Helen Kraus for laboriously typing in everyone’s comments. In preparing the report I have edited the participants’ comments for space and clarity; my apologies if I’ve altered the tone or content of anyone’s comments. Also, in a few cases we could not determine what was written.


Participating Seed Companies – Annual Trials, 2006

American Takii

301 Natividad Rd.
Salinas, CA 93906

Benary Seed

1444 Larson St.
Sycamore, IL 60178

Cramers’ Farm

116 Trail Road North
Elizabethtown, PA 17022

Fred C. Gloeckner

600 Mamaroneck Ave.
Harrison, NY 10528-1613

Goldsmith Seeds

P.O. Box 1349
Gilroy CA 95021

PanAmerican Seed

P.O. Box 438
West Chicago, IL 60186

Participating Growers – Annual Trials, 2006

Janet Bachmann
Riverbend Gardens
Fayetteville, AR

Keith Baldwin
NC A&T State University
Greensboro, NC

Christof Bernau
UCSC Farm & Garden
Santa Cruz, CA

Chantill Recker
University of Wyoming
Sheridan, WY

Lynn Byczynski
Growing for Market
Lawrence, KS

Leon Carrier
Plant Masters
Gaithersburg MD

Linda Chapman-Dale
Harvest Moon Farm
Spencer IN

Maureen Charde
High Meadow Flower Farm
Warwick, NY

Kelly Comer
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Winslow, ME

Phyllis Dail/Peg Godwin
Dail Family Farms, Inc.
Snow Hill, NC

Connie Dam-Byl
William Dam Seed, Ltd.
Dundas, Ontario

Everett Emino
Everett’s Flower Farm
New Germany, Nova Scotia

Chas and Linda Gill
Kennebec Flower Farm and Nursery
Bowdoinham, ME

Sharon Hampton
Pan American Seed
Santa Paula, CA

Nancy Hanmer
Greystone Farm
New Oxford, PA

Paula Harman
Harman’s Farm Market
Churchville, MD

Chazz Hesselein
Extension Horticulturist
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Mobile, AL

Betsy Hitt
Peregrine Farms
Graham NC

Laurie Hodges
Dept. Agronomy and Horticulture
Lincoln, NE

Kathy Horn
Celebrate! Gardens
Lindenwood, IL

Polly Hutchison
Robin Hollow Farm
Sunderstown, RI

Cathy Jones
Perry-winkle Farm
Chapel Hill, NC

Ingram McCall/Diane Mays/John Dole
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC

Jim Mercer
Sheepscot Flower Farm
Newcastle, ME

Kent Miles
Botanicals by K & V
Seymour, IL

Diane Minard
Minard’s Glen Cut Flowers
Valencia, PA

Amanda Muller
Paradise Specialty Cut Flowers
Paradise, TX

Suzy Neessen
The Flower Farm
Cedar Falls IA

Kathryn Nygren
Poverty Hills Farms
Lincoln, NE

Susan O’Connell
Fertile Crescent Farm
Hardwick VT

Carolyn Ramsbotham
Riverview Farm
Madbury NH

Brenda Smith
Smith & Smith Farms
Dayton NV

Kim Smith-Potts
Honeydale Flower Farm
Skandia, MI

Vicki Stamback
Bear Creek Farms
Stillwater OK

Kate Van Ummersen
Sterling Flowers
Brooks, OR

Cheryl Wagner
Wagner’s Homestead Farms
Belleville MI

Chris Wien
Dept. of Horticulture
Cornell University
Ithaca NY

Tom Wikstrom Happy Trowels Farm
Ogden, UT