2007 ASCFG Seed Cut Flower Cultivar Trials
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John Dole, North Carolina State University
The cliché states that everything comes full circle and the flower industry is no different. Early cut flower production in the U.S. and Canada started with people harvesting out of their gardens and fields. With the development of greenhouses, cut flower production increasingly moved indoors. As production of the major cut flowers moved to Colombia and other Central and South American countries, field production of cut flowers in North America was renewed. Now many of the same people who relied on field production are looking to greenhouses and hoophouses, some of which are unheated or minimally heated, to expand their season and their production. Many ASCFG trialers, both commercial and university, now grow some or all of the trial cultivars in hoophouses. In particular, two universities have been doing a lot of work using hoophouses and have provided great information: Chris Wien at Cornell, who brings a much-appreciated northern perspective, and Laurie Hodges at the University of Nebraska, who many of you know from her insightful comments on the Bulletin Board. Check out the comments sections for their information and look for the start of a series of reports from Chris in this issue of The Cut Flower Quarterly. Unfortunately, we do not have the hoophouse or greenhouse comments separated out; that is something we will try to do in the future.
So, why do I bring up hoophouses/greenhouses? Most of the cultivars in the trials this year lend themselves very well to hoophouse production. Lisianthus, stock, kale, and snapdragons, in particular, do very well in hoophouses or greenhouses, usually getting much taller stems than outdoors. We confirmed that fact in our trials as we grew the lisianthus cultivars in the greenhouse and in the field and had longer stems and larger flowers in the greenhouse. You may want to keep this in mind if you have been thinking about putting up one of these structures.
Continuing on with our discussion about lisianthus, this year certainly was a banner year with a broad range of beautiful and interesting cultivars. The days when lisianthus was a simple, single-flowered plant in purple, pink, and white are long gone. Most striking were the spray-flowered Fiorettis and the brown-hued Wonderous, both from Sakata Seed America. The Fioretti cultivars produced a multitude of small, perfectly-shaped single flowers on a spray. ‘Fioretti White’ was noted for its pure white petals and ‘Fioretti Yellow’ for its pale yellow petals. ‘Wonderous Purple’ and ‘Light Brown’ also had smaller-than-typical flowers, but these cultivars had thick, richly colored petals, the backs of which were brown hued. ‘Light Brown’ was actually more of a peachy-pink color. Both Fioretti and Wonderous plants, unfortunately, were shorter, up to 2 feet tall for some trialers, and slower growing than typical lisianthus. However, the postharvest life of both series was excellent, over 14 days, in the NCSU tests, and respondents also noted a long vaselife. The real question, of course, is the market. These lisianthus are probably best suited to lisianthus connoisseurs – those producers who know how to grow lisianthus and have a well-developed market for them, such as upscale florists and farmers’ markets. Several respondents also commented that the Fioretti series was excellent for wedding work.
For the more mainstream lisianthus markets were the ABC cultivars from PanAmerican/Ball and ‘Mariachi Carmine’from Sakata Seed America. The ABC series is well liked for its reliability and durability both in the field and the greenhouse. ‘ABC 1-3 White’ scored high enough to be nominated for ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. One trialer summed it up as follows: “Beautiful snowy white, strong stem and good stem length, productive”. ‘Mariachi Carmine’ also scored very well and was nominated for ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. People loved its wonderful color. In the words of one trialer: “A favorite! The dark, dark pink double blooms were a real head turner in the trial, long-lasting and showy.”
Intermediate in the marketing approach would be the Ruffles series from Sakata. These cultivars produced large flowers with ruffled petals. Although one respondent noted that the ruffled petals made the flowers appear double, others noted that as with other single lisianthus, they did not sell as well as the doubles. Plants were productive and uniform.
Stock is another species with excellent potential for hoop houses. Outdoor stock production is limited to those areas with temperatures cold enough to prompt flower initiation and high quality stems but not so cold as to damage plants, which usually means no colder than light to moderate freezes. Thus, most commercial production has been from coastal California, although some areas of the southeastern United States can also produce high quality stock in the winter. This year’s trial featured the Katz series from Pan American/Ball, notable in that it can initiate flowers at relatively high temperatures, eliminating the cold treatments necessary for most stock cultivars. This feature makes it suitable for greenhouse and season-extending hoop house production. These stock can be planted in the fall and will flower more quickly without the need for a winter vernalization. Hoophouses can be used to protect plants from the worst cold weather that can damage plants. Plant quality is best under cool temperatures but can grow well under warmer temperatures. A number of colors are available from white to bright pink. Stems averaged 15 to 17 inches long, with some trialers getting two foot long stems. As with most colored stocks, each cultivar is actually a mixture of singles and doubles, with about 60% doubles. One final comment: the name of the series was first listed as Mambo by Pan American/Ball Seed. Later they changed it to Katz to honor Philip Katz, who passed away in 2004. Philip worked for Pan American Seed for many years and was one of the most knowledgeable cut flower specialists around. He was also remembered by many of us as one of the nicest, most sincere people we have every known and we are glad the he is being so honored.
Cut kale is one of the plants that remind us that the term ‘specialty cut flowers’ is often a misnomer. We grow kale for its large rosettes of colorful foliage. The cultivar in this year’s trial, ‘Pink Crane’ from Takii Seed, scored very well, earning it a nomination for ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. One of the issues with producing cut kale is getting the stems long enough – one trialer summed it up well: “Close spacing and mesh are needed”. Another trialer mentioned the repeated removal of the lower leaves. Some of the best and tallest crops I have seen have been grown in hoop houses. Certainly one of the trialers has figured out how to grow kale as he reported 36-inch stems. To put that in perspective, however, another trialer reported 2-inch stems. Not sure this is a selling point or not, but in Europe cut kale dyed and painted various unearthly colors appears to be quite popular.
The two snapdragons in the trial this year represent the two flower types – closed (or regular) snaps and open face (or butterfly) snaps. The latter have had a difficult time finding a place in the market as most people want the regular snaps when they order snapdragons. One company has had success referring to the open-faced types by their cultivar name and not telling people they are snapdragons. The ‘Chantilly Deep Orange’ from Takii Seed is a beauty, with long spikes of open-faced cinnamon orange flowers. The average production yield was approximately 5 stems/plant, which were 22 inches long. However, at least one respondent reported stems over 50 inches long. ‘Animation Cognac’ from Benary Seed represented the standard snapdragon flower shape. Its color combination of pastel pink and yellow also received rave reviews. Trialers report an average of 6.8 stems per plant and 20+ inch stem lengths. At least one trialer had 45-inch long stems.
Larkspurs are often rather difficult to evaluate in the ASCFG trial. To do them justice, southern growers should sow the seed in the fall to allow for overwintering, which produces long, full flowered stems. Unfortunately, we are not able to get the seed in time to send it out in the fall. However, the larkspur cultivars in the trial still performed quite well for many growers, especially those in the North. Of the four cultivars of Cannes submitted by Takii Seed, ‘Purple Picotee’ did well enough for growers to be submitted for ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. One trialer stated that it had “Strong plants that produced blooms over a long period.” Although larkspur usually is not considered a greenhouse crop, at least one trialer had success, noting that “My customers love them, they transplanted well and did very well in the greenhouse, no disease problems, sold every stem.” Stem length averaged 26 inches, with 42 inches the longest produced.
Nothing illustrates the specialty in “specialty cut flowers” quite like peppers. For some, peppers are a hassle with their short stems, harvest timing, and foliage that often wilts very quickly and must be removed by hand. For others, the bright colorful fruit are fun, interesting, and a fall staple. Of the three cultivars submitted by Kieft-Pro-Seeds, ‘Cappa Conic White/Red’ and ‘Cappa Topfruit White/Red’ appear to be received most favorably. ‘Topfruit’ was noted by some as being the earliest of the group to harvest. Many trialers loved the bright combination of colors on the ripe and immature fruit. As is typical for most pepper varieties, stems were rather short, averaging 16 to 18 inches long, but as much as 3 feet long for a few. We tested the postharvest life of ‘Topfruit’ and noted a vase life of 14 to 18 days. The foliage did not last but wilted and dropped quickly, indicating that as with other peppers the stems should be stripped of foliage.
Sunflowers are an important species for specialty cut flower growers and thus, an annual topic in this report. This year two cultivars were included: ‘Orange Glory’ and ‘Tosca’, both with orange petals and dark centers. Both cultivars performed well, with ‘Orange Glory’ doing slightly better in the ratings, enough so that it was nominated for the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. The challenge for sunflower breeders is that so many excellent varieties are available with the classic orange petals and dark center that it is now difficult for a new cultivar to break into the market. Both cultivars were well received but will have much competition in the marketplace. Chris Wein noted that both cultivars were very daylength sensitive as short days produced faster flowering but much shorter stems. This should be considered if using either cultivar for season extension in the spring or fall in hoophouses. Timing is difficult to determine from reports because everyone’s conditions vary, but at least one report indicated that ‘Orange Glory’ flowered after ‘Pro Cut Orange’ and another that ‘Tosca’ flowered earlier than ‘Orange Glory’ and ‘Sunrich Orange’, the latter two flowering at the same time. Similarly, Chris noted that in upstate New York under long days of summer, ‘Pro Cut Orange’ flowered in 62 days, ‘Tosca’ in 68 days, ‘Orange Glory’ in 73 days, and ‘Sunrich Orange’ in 74 days.
One comment you will see in the report about a number of cultivars that are cold hardy is “We will see what happens to it next year”. Unfortunately, we track seed trial plants only one year. However, occasionally, we get comments from trialers about previous cultivars. Jim Mercer of Sheepscot Flower Farm (Zone 5) sent these comments about Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’ from the 2006 trial: “Nice color and unusual shape. Nice in bouquets or alone. Easy to grow and hardy in our heavy clay and cold climate. Bloomed early and we got a second flush of blooms in the fall. It did bloom the first year despite late planting, but stems were short and it did not have time to mature.” He also noted that it had a 2-week vase life using plain water and, unfortunately, an unpleasant scent. He gave it ratings of 5 and it averaged 4 stems/plant and 22 inches long.
Overall, we had 35 cultivars from six companies, up a bit in number of cultivars from last year. 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 2007 trials kale ‘Pink Crane’,larkspur ‘Cannes Purple Picotee’, lisianthus ‘ABC 1-3 White’, lisianthus ‘Mariachi Carmine’ and sunflower ‘Orange Glory’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. Congratulations to Laurie Hodges and Barbara Murphy for being the first trialers to return their evaluations. I would also like to thank Ingram McCall for taking care of the North Carolina State University portion of the trials, Tina Krug, Emma Locke, Erin Possiel, Erin Regan, Diane Mays, Brad Holland, and Tim Ketchie for assisting with the NCSU trials, and Nick Corby for laboriously typing in the comments of several trialers. 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.
- Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)
- Brassica (Flowering Kale)
- Capsicum (Ornamental Pepper)
- Consolida (Larkspur)
- Eustoma (Lisianthus)
- Helianthus (Sunflower)
- Matthiola (Stock)
Participating Seed Companies – Annual Trials, 2007
301 Natividad Rd.
Salinas, CA 93906
1444 Larson St.
Sycamore, IL 60178
Fred C. Gloeckner
600 Mamaroneck Ave.
Harrison, NY 10528-1613
P.O. Box 1349
Gilroy CA 95021
P.O. Box 618
Conway, WA 98238
P.O. Box 438
West Chicago, IL 60186
Sakata Seed America
18095 Serene Drive
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Participating Growers – Annual Trials, 2007
UCSC Farm & Garden
Santa Cruz, CA
Growing for Market
High Meadow Flower Farm
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
William Dam Seed, Ltd.
Everett’s Flower Farm
New Germany, Nova Scotia
Chas and Linda Gill
Kennebec Flower Farm and Nursery
Santa Paula, CA
Harman’s Farm Market
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
UNL Dept. Agronomy and Horticulture
Robin Hollow Farm
Chapel Hill, NC
Ingram McCall, John Dole
North Carolina State University
Sheepscot Flower Farm
University of Wyoming
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
South Paris, ME
Fertile Crescent Farm
Dogwood Ridge Farm
Ball Ground, GA
Smith & Smith Farms
Bear Creek Farms
University of Guelph
Kate Van Ummersen
Wagner’s Homestead Farms
Dept. of Horticulture
Happy Trowels Farm