Coleus is inspiring a fresh generation of scientists at university programs dedicated to providing new genetics for the industry. David Clark, a professor in the environmental horticulture department at the University of Florida (UF), heads up the Coleus Breeding Program. It is part of the UF Plant Innovation Program, which has between 400 and 600 students enrolled. The coleus program has licensed out more than two dozen varieties since 2006, including a number of very popular varieties to Proven Winners, Ball Horticultural Co. and other companies, and the program continues to grow as a result.
“We’re not a business; we’re a university, but it’s good to be able to provide the industry with a source of genetics,” Clark says. “Over time, varieties are getting better and better. We have good students working on breeding new coleus, and the university values the program because it’s growing.
“I can’t emphasize enough how good the industry has been — everyone has played really fair, and it’s truly a model for how universities and the industry can work together. Companies pay royalties for the varieties they license, and all of the money goes back to the lab to pay for the next generation of breeders. It’s good to keep the science going.”
With Florida’s long growing season not seeing frost sometimes until December, the program has been successful in selecting tough varieties that can withstand the area’s intense heat and humidity and thrive in full sun or shade, Clark says.
“We put one set of plants in a pickup truck, went 70 mph down the highway to the location and put them in the field under aluminum foil. Either they die, struggle or grow, and if they grow, they’re really tough,” Clark laughs.
Clark and his students are also looking into how coleus can be used as interiorscape plants for shopping malls and office buildings.
UF Coleus Goes Mainstream
Popular varieties from the University of Florida’s Coleus Breeding Program are licensed by:
• ‘Splish Splash’
• ‘Pineapple Splash’
• ‘Big Red Judy’
• ‘Alligator Tears’
• ‘ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper’
• ‘ColorBlaze Marooned’
Ball Horticultural Co:
• ‘Electric Lime’
• ‘Trusty Rusty’
Canadian Coleus Funds Student Scholarship
Hort Couture exclusively licensed its Under The Sea coleus varieties from the breeding program at the University of Saskatchewan, and now holds a plant patent for the series.
“Our Under The Sea series has been one of the best advancements in coleus in the last few years,” says Jennifer Hatalski, social media specialist with Hort Couture. “We keep pumping up the spirits of these students in Saskatchewan, and they are just so excited. All of the royalties from the patent go back to the university for its horticulture student scholarship fund. There is never a time when we aren’t looking at new coleus from them. We feel that we have formed this great partnership — their amazing breeding efforts and our creative marketing is the perfect match — and the varieties are only available at independent garden centers.”