Today’s Breeders On Tomorrow’s Plants

Allan Armitage
Allan Armitage

I am but a young fellow, yet I have seen my share of changes. I have watched companies come and go, organizations peak and fail, and the image of gardening go from labor of love to decorating the deck. I have seen the corner garden center flourish only to face challenges from box stores, and box stores get so big as to direct the future of this industry. I have seen heavyweights of our industry retire and pass their torches to a younger set, with everyone collectively holding their breath to see if the younger set is up to the challenge.

One of the future challenges, to be sure, is the continuing need for new and improved crops for the consumer. Make no mistake about it, regardless of whether or not one snickers at the introduction of one more red geranium, new crops — and new breeders — are the lifeblood of this industry.

So a valid question arises: Who is this next generation of breeders today and are they up to the challenge? Laura Drotleff, the editor of this exceptional magazine, looked for young breeders in this country and asked their thoughts about the present and future of their chosen careers. She shared them with me and now I do the same with you. The questions were far-ranging and the responses varied, but I was impressed with many of the comments.

The Future Of Breeding
Joseph Tychonievich of Arrowhead Alpines in Michigan has seen some innovative breeding and is hopeful — but also sees “a lot of very dull, copy-cat breeding that makes me less hopeful. I think we’ll see more of both in the future — truly creative breeders pushing breakthroughs while other companies work to rapidly copy the successful introductions of their competitors.”

Ockert Greyvenstein, a Ph.D. candidate in plant breeding at Texas A&M University, says he thinks breeding for abiotic and biotic factors must be addressed. “The green industry is going to have to keep supplying ‘green’ products, requiring minimal input with acceptable appearances,” he says. “Technology developed and implemented by the major food crops is likely to be implemented in floriculture crops to help with breeding progress.”

Jason Jandrew of Ball FloraPlant says he believes that “over the next 30 years, people will continue to have less and less outdoor space and free time for gardening. Pot crops and cut flowers will become even more interesting as people try to remain connected to disappearing green space outside their homes by bringing more of nature inside, especially in many developing nations with high population densities.”

Kelly Norris of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden has a few sharp words about today’s breeders: “There are those coming of out graduate school who end up toiling away with petunias and commodity crops. I feel for them,” he says. “Then there are those of us in ‘private practice’ (a.k.a. unpaid hobby breeding) or working for public institutions that don’t have to live by the rules. We take risks, run into road blocks (like lack of funding or time) and fail more than we succeed. But we are passionate and believe in what we encounter in the public — an earnest desire to be fascinated by plants and to want something different than what they so often encounter. It’s this class of breeders that stand the chance of advancing the cause of plant breeding because they are champions of new genera.”

Breeding Predictions And Priorities
There were a number of questions posed to the breeders (the complete transcripts can be viewed online at, but I will share just one more — a kind of “War of the Worlds” look at the future.

In a prediction for the future of floriculture in the next 30 years, Grevenstein says he would not be surprised “if GMO (genetically modified organism) technology is accepted and implemented in floriculture crops in the next 30 years.

Ping Ren of PanAmerican Seed has many opinions, one of which is that “houseplants that have been identified and proved to be truly good for human health or even illness treatment” may be a breeding priority.

Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials is a little skeptical of the future because he sees “a lot fewer companies (staying in business) because they can’t make a profit due to high costs, especially taxes.” He also sees “less demand for the wide variety that has been offered in the past.”

And again from Norris, the most optimistic of the group: “Gardening will be something a majority of the population does, because it’s such a relevant part of cultural existence.”

Many other excellent comments were stated, some based on hope and desire (the truly younger breeders) others on experience (established breeders). It is particularly interesting to see what crops they believe to be relevant in the future and the directions they see their careers evolving.

We Need “New Blood” In Breeding
I hate to finish on a troubling note, but when Laura approached me about this article, she asked me to suggest some names of young breeders. I ran out of names after a minute and a half. Ultimately, we received responses from both academia and the industry, but only two or three could be considered truly new breeders, with less than five years of experience.

Are there more young breeders out there who we may have missed? If so, let us know — we want to hear from you. If not, we are in big trouble. Because if one thing is certain, the industry will not look like this 30 years down the road.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

More From Armitage On Plants...
Colorado State University 2015 Container Field Trials

November 29, 2015

2015 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Read More
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Latest Stories
Eucomis 'Aloha Kona'

October 20, 2015

Eucomis Aloha Series: A New Bulb Crop For Containers

The Eucomis Aloha series of Pineapple lilies may be the next money making bulbs for the deck with their compact habits and shorter stems that are perfect for containers.

Read More
More and more people are employing a landscape service, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still garden

September 2, 2015

Under Siege? Not Really, Just Go For A Walk

I have no trouble with people buying chocolates or wine instead of flowers to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays or peoples’ lives. We should all have choices. However, the other night I felt like I was entering the Republican caucus. I was minding my own business by the television set and became more than a little upset. A website called came on the screen. It provided serene music and wholesome images of busy women doing busy things. It turns out that such busy women enjoy a small token of appreciation, but apparently their enjoyment, according to the voice-over, does not include flowers. This website delivers meals to the house, anything from beef brisket to beef bourguignon. It is a fine website with a good idea. But why pick on us? Why not use “” or “,” “,” or a dozen other things. When did flowers get to be the whipping boy? […]

Read More
llan Armitage Syngenta Starcluster

July 30, 2015

Allan Armitage: Let’s Talk About Starflowers. Why Is Pe…

It is good to talk about production techniques, performance results and then to see how our friends garden. Diversity of plant material has always been a strength in American garden centers, and we should never run out of plants to get people excited. However, perhaps people are tired of Petunias or Callas or Geraniums, but we will never run out of options to put in front of them. One plant that is often overlooked is Pentas, a fabulous summer crop for late spring sales. These are heat-tolerant plants, and growing them below 65°F in the greenhouse results in significant delay. Fertility should be at least 150ppm nitrogen, but avoid ammonia in the fertilizer. Plants are best grown at a somewhat higher pH than usual, between 6.4 to 6.8. For best presentation, pinch out the center bud. Side flowers will bloom together, and plants will walk off the shelf. Garden centers […]

Read More
window flower boxes

June 28, 2015

The Horticulturist And The Decorator

Allan Armitage tells shares a story about a horticulturist and a decorator to illustrate why gardening and decorating are not jobs; they are simply meant to bring pleasure.

Read More
Allan Armitage At Tradeshow

May 15, 2015

Allan Armitage On Plants: We Are Alive And Well, Thank …

Allan Armitage tells why the horticulture industry is about the people, not the plants, not the marketing and not the social media, and why horticulture is here to stay.

Read More

April 22, 2015

Allan Armitage Finds A Lot To Love On His Last Day At T…

On the last day of the 2015 California Spring Trials, Allan Armitage and the Greenhouse Grower team visited three stops that accounted for 12 breeding companies. From annuals and perennials to herbs and strawberries, Armitage found plenty to get excited about.

Read More
Hakonochloa macra Aureola v

April 17, 2015

Ornamental Grasses — A Few Thoughts

Grasses have been embraced by growers, landscape architects and retailers, and are an important component in wholesale and resale sales. Allan Armitage shares some popular grasses, one to avoid and a few to use with caution.

Read More

April 17, 2015

Allan Armitage’s Favorite Plants From Proven Winn…

Between visiting California Spring Trial giants like Proven Winners, Syngenta and Danziger, Allan Armitage saw a lot of great plants in one day. Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. Armitage finds a few favorites he thinks you should try.

Read More
Westhoff_Crazytunia_Swiss Dancer

April 16, 2015

Allan Armitage Finds Some Surprising Intros At Floricul…

Allan Armitage visited three breeders at Spring Trials’ newest location, Floricultura. He found several plants that made Floricultura’s debut a must-stop site in 2015. Westhoff At Westhoff, plant breeding is alive and well, with many things to embrace. The petunia program is vibrant and creative, and I am particularly confident that the Crazytunia program will continue to grow. Crazytunias should fly off the shelves because of their unique colors. Westhoff also brings more standard fare to the table. The Epic series of bacopas have large flowers and should be of particular interest. ‘Epic White’ is particularly nice. And the lobelia in the Hot series has been excellent. ‘Snow White’ adds a good white to the mix. The Hot series does tolerate heat better than most lobelias and now it has a reasonable number of colors. The plant that caught my interest the most this year was ‘Lilac Cascade.’ According to Westhoff, this […]

Read More

April 16, 2015

Golden State Bulbs And Sakata: Allan Armitage Highlight…

Dr. Allan Armitage was excited to see both new and improved breeding, as well as have the chance to meet breeders and talk shop at Sakata Seed and Golden State Bulb. Sakata Seed At Sakata, we wandered through traditional crops like zinnias, New Guinea impatiens, calibrachoa and petunias. However, I have always been impressed with the SuperCal program, and this year’s introduction of vibrant colors of Light Yellow and Pink really caught my eye. The flowers of Light Yellow are significantly larger than other colors in the series. I believe the SuperCals are poised for major additional sales. Everybody was talking about ‘Dragon’s Breath’ celosia, and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. It is surely hype-worthy. The plants I observed were large with obvious vigor, and the foliage was coppery with huge, bright, rose-red flowers. Apparently this is a plant that benefits from minimal inputs, such as […]

Read More

April 14, 2015

Allan Armitage Finds Old Fashioned Plants Are New Again…

Day two of California Spring Trials was packed with breeders and all their new introductions and marketing. Allan Armitage found several varieties he felt were worth a second look.

Read More

April 14, 2015

Dümmen And HGTV: Allan Armitage On What Looks Promising

On his third day of California Spring Trials, Dr. Allan Armitage visited two Dümmen sites and HGTV HOME Plants. (Full disclosure: Dr. Armitage consults for HGTV HOME Plants.) Take a look at the new introductions that caught his eye during these stops.

Read More

April 13, 2015

Allan Armitage Shares His Favorite Spring Trials Finds …

Dr. Allan Armitage talks about his favorite finds among the many new introductions he saw at Green Fuse Botanicals, Suntory and Ball Horticulture. He saw a couple of not-so-new plants that he loves, too.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

April 10, 2015

Let’s Revisit New Crops

New crops are the lifeblood of our industry, but what is new to us isn't always new to consumers.

Read More

March 23, 2015

Update To Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals …

A new update to the Greatest Perennials & Annuals app narrows the gap between consumers and grower-retailers, while providing more of Armitage’s top picks and growing advice for success with plants.

Read More
Salvia 'Ember's Wish'

March 11, 2015

Annual Salvias – Not Just Red Bedding Plants Anym…

Salvias are popular — and they need not all be the same. Here are a few you know well, and perhaps a few you do not. All are easy to grow and may be found through a broker or grower.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

March 11, 2015

Memoirs Of A Plantsman: Q & A With Allan Armitage

In light of the upcoming release of Dr. Allan Armitage's memoir, "It’s Not Just About the Hat — The Unlikely Journey of a Plantsman," Greenhouse Grower caught up with him for an in-depth Q & A about his newest work and what he’s planning next.

Read More

January 28, 2015

Ornamental Grasses Bring Low Maintenance To The Landsca…

Read about Allan Armitage's picks for low-maintenance grasses for the landscape.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]