Benary Is Big On Breeding

Benary Is Big On Breeding

The timing couldn’t be better to present German flower breeder Benary with our Medal of Excellence for Industry Achievement. This year and next, Benary is celebrating its 100-year milestone of introducing the very first F1 hybrid, which happened to be in its signature genus, begonias.

Introduced in 1909, the begonia was ‘Prima-Donna,’ the first tetraploid F1 hybrid begonia and a semperflorens type. Breakthrough begonias that followed include:

- ‘Tausendschön,’ the first triploid F1 hybrid and a semperflorens type.

- Nonstop tuberous begonias that revolutionized the bedding plant market in 1972 and remain the industry standard.

- Party and Cocktail series in semperflorens types, with Cocktail remaining the most popular bronze-leafed series asked for by name. These series have been upgraded for earliness with the Olympia Sprints.

- The new BIG series, introduced at the California Pack Trials, is an interspecific cross. Robust plants offer large flowers and glossy leaves that flourish in sun or shade in Red with Green Leaf, Red with Bronze Leaf and Rose with Bronze Leaf.

In other exciting news, Benary has brought a new genus to market with Ptilotus ‘Joey,’ which is nominated for all three of our breeding awards this year. Benary also helped the city of Denver celebrate its 150th anniversary by breeding a new rudbeckia just for the city called ‘Denver Daisy.’

A Fascinating Heritage

Ernst Benary founded his own seed breeding company in 1843 in Erfurt, Germany, after traveling throughout Europe, gathering extensive knowledge about breeding varieties from seed. His guiding principles, which remain to this day, were premium quality genetics and innovation.

From the very beginning, the business grew internationally. Erfurt was a budding industrial giant in the world of vegetable and flower seed production because of its ideal climate. It didn’t take long for Benary to be recognized by leaders in the field. His pea seed was used by Gregor Mendel in his famous genetic experiments. There was even Benary Seed on the Titanic en route to the United States when the ship sank.

By 1912, the business had developed into one of the world’s premier seed companies with more than 200 employees and more than 140 acres under cultivation. Then, during World War I, many of the male employees and family members were drawn into the military and did not return from the war. Almost all exports collapsed and the company was forced to shift from flowers to vegtetables to supply domestic needs.

At that same time, new seed production centers were established in California, Japan and The Netherlands. Ernst’s grandsons, Ernst II and Heinrich Benary worked hard to rebuild the business focusing on innovative breeding. In 1927, Benary introduced the first F1 hybrid tomato, ‘Heterosis.’

During this time of restructuring, the Nazi regime emerged, causing problems for the company. Although the founder, Ernst Benary I, had converted from Jewish to Protestant religion shortly before he married, his Jewish ancestry caused problems for the family. At the beginning of World War II, Friedrich Benary II, the oldest son, and his cousin, Heinz, volunteered for military service to protect their families from anti-Semitic persecution.

Heinz did not return from the war, and shortly after Friedrich returned, the family business was disowned by the East German government and Benary was forced to move to sustain the business. Friedrich fled to Western Germany and rebuilt the business in the middle of Germany in the town of Hannoversch Mönden. Because the majority of the breeding projects were left in Erfurt, Friedrich traveled throughout Europe by bicycle to collect seeds to start new breeding efforts.

He was a gifted and passionate breeder, and due to his talent and enthusiasm, the family business was able to rebuild its international contacts and produce new breeding lines. In the 1960s, Benary returned its focus exclusively to flower seed breeding.

An Independent Spirit Lives On

In 2006, Benary completed its succession into the sixth generation. The company has 250 employees and sells 80 percent of its seed abroad to more than 110 countries. In addition to begonias, key crops include pentas and rudbeckia, all of which Benary holds global market share. The company also is one of the leaders in perennial breeding, focusing on niches. 

Today, Benary has an assortment of more than 2,000 annual and perennial items, including more than 200 F1 hybrids. Among these are nearly 20 All-America Selection winners, such as rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun,’ gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun,’ celosia ‘Fresh Look’ and Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution.’  A passion for breeding has been the heartbeat of Benary for more than 165 years. It has helped the family business overcome national and corporate crises, while yielding fascinating new introductions. As a family business, Benary is proud of its history of independence and believes the best and most innovative creations can only arise from a free spirit. Its strategy is not to become a large breeding conglomerate but to remain independent and focus on its core strengths of quality, reliability and innovation. 

We are proud to honor Benary for its heritage and global achievements in floriculture. 

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