Researchers have been testing new cut flower varieties in the field each year for nearly 20 years on behalf of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), and they’ve been testing the post-harvest performance of those same varieties for the last eight years.
Cut flowers might be standout performers in the field or the greenhouse, but if they fade quickly at the retailer or consumer levels, growers need to know.
“With new cut flowers, there’s so little we know,” says John Dole, a professor in North Carolina State’s Department of Horticultural Science. “So we try to figure out whether or not the typical consumer or the typical floral preservatives help.”
More than 30 cut flower varieties were included in this year’s ASCFG seed trial, and they were each given market appreciation ratings on a 1-to-5 scale at the wholesale, retail and consumer levels. Most of the 30-plus scored at least a 3.5 at the consumer level, but the average rating at the wholesale level was generally less.
Such was the case with ‘Cardinal’ basil, which generated a 3.0 wholesale rating and a 3.8 consumer rating. ‘Cardinal’s stem grows more than 15 inches and lasts about 8.5 days post harvest.
“‘Cardinal’ has a nice post-harvest life on it, it was productive in the field and it has a nice dark stem,” Dole says. “What’s nice about some basils is they add fragrance in the bouquet. Rarely are people going to buy a whole basil. But the growers like some of these herbs to use in bouquets to add fragrance. The vase life for ‘Cardinal’ was pretty good, but it needs post-harvest solutions.”
Sakata’s improved Champion campanulas also rated well in the trials. New from Sakata are improved Blue, Lavender, Pink and White varieties. Although the trials did not reveal huge improvements in the improved Champions, the color on the four is outstanding. Lavender Improved, for example, has a nice soft color. Both Lavender and White were popular in the trials.
Another plant with cut flower potential not in the cut flower trials is Pineapple lily (eucomis), which has traditionally been used as a garden plant first.
“Eucomis has a very big inflorescence, and a lot of breeders are working on them now,” he says. “Eucomis, in general, is a fantastically long-lived cut flower. It’s just really, really nice. That’s going to be a really nice crop for growers.”
Another aspect of cut flowers Dole has been studying is how water quality affects vase life. “We know lower pH is better with most species,” he says. “But what is surprising is some flowers do better when there’s more salt in the water than we first thought. Salt may not be as damaging to flowers as we originally thought post-harvest.”
Vicki Stamback, the president of ASCFG, is also president of Bear Creek Farms, one of 18 growers to participate in ASCFG’s cut flower seed trials. Located in Oklahoma (USDA Zone 6b), Bear Creek Farms produces an assortment of cut flowers, from dahlias, freesias and snapdragons to dianthus, tuberoses and zinnias.
But of the new cut flower material Bear Creek trialed, three items particular stood out: lisianthus, Asclepias tuberosa ‘Oro’ and campanula.
Among Stamback’s best-selling lisianthus this year were PanAmerican Seed’s ABC 1-3, Sakata’s Excalibur, Mariachi and Rosita and Takii’s red and white Arenas.
“Lisianthus is just so classic looking, and it’s long,” Stamback says. “Lisianthus are just very vigorous now. We typically get two, even three cuttings off a lisianthus. It would be great if we could ever get some true reds and bluer blues rather than purples. But we’ll get there.”
‘Oro’ is a hit at Bear Creek, as well, but probably because orange is particularly popular in Stamback’s area. “People loved it,” she says. “It was outstanding.”
Two campanulas from Kieft-Pro-Seeds were also outstanding performers in Zone 6b: Deep Blue and Pink.
“Kieft’s campanulas always do well for us,” Stamback says. “We had more campanula in the greenhouse this year than any other year, and we sold every single stem.”
Other good performers in Zone 6b were ‘Volcano Mix’ dianthus from Genesis, the American marigolds from Gloeckner and ‘Queen Red Lime’ zinnia from Benary.
“Because of the heat we have, zinnias do really well for us,” Stamback says. “We’ve found ‘Queen Red Lime’ does really well under shade. We can grow them outside in the field, but they have a tendency to wash out a bit. If we grow them under shade, the colors are much more vibrant.”
For more information on the varieties in this year’s trials, visit the ASCFG trials website.
What else is new and exciting in cut flower varieties for 2011? Let’s take a look at a few rookies on the market:
Dianthus ‘Fandango Crimson Picotee.’ From Goldsmith Seeds, this dianthus adds volume and texture to bouquets. It grows about 16 to 18 inches and is fusarium tolerant.
Dianthus ‘Sweet Red with White Eye.’ This PanAmerican Seed addition gives growers strong and straight stems, along with shiny leaves. No vernalization is required to produce unique, sweetly fragrant flowers. Flower heads are loaded with vibrant, red-with-white-eye blooms that last.
Dutch Iris ‘Rendezvous.’ This new Fred C. Gloeckner variety has large purple flowers, adding another color to the color range for greenhouse production. ‘Rendezvous’ is ideal for outdoor cut flower production.’
Kale Lucir. This new American Takii series features shiny-leafed cut flower kale. Lucir has round leaves with a distinctive shine, and they’re bred specifically for cut flower use. Red and white are the two available varieties.
Lily ‘Trebbiano.’ This LA lily from Zabo Plant produces strong stems with three or more blooms. ‘Trebbiano’ has a cool green color that’s especially popular in Western Europe.
Lisianthus ‘Vulcan Purple Picotee II.’ New from GeoSeed, this lisianthus has large cup-shaped flowers on strong sturdy stems. It also has a uniform and stable purple rim. Its extra thick, firm petals are more durable in shipping and give a long vase life.