Allan Armitage: Why I’ve Become a Fan of Bidens

I often write or speak about the importance of plants that help to resolve issues. Their rise in visibility has been relatively recent. However, one issue that has always been front and center is the need for color. Although almost every plant we sell has color, annuals are defined by it.

Here’s one that is grabbing all the headlines with great color, strong performance, and pollinator appeal, and it’s a native plant.

Bidens is Surprisingly Big

The bidens renaissance has reached us all. The rather boring plant with mundane daisy-yellow flowers has morphed into a vigorous plant carrying colorful flowers that seems to be comfortable in most of the country. In the last three years, bidens has exploded, and almost all the breeding companies (Danziger, Proven Winners, Kientzler, Dümmen Orange, Westhoff, Suntory, and others) are getting into the game. Brokers are now offering at least half a dozen cultivars to garden centers and landscapers that a few years ago would have been hard pressed to know what to do with one.

Large Flowers, Bicolors, Draw Attention to New Varieties

I have become a bidens fan. If I had a bidens baseball hat, I’d wear it. Here are some recent (2015-2017) introductions that have caught my eye.

The yellow forms of bidens are better than ever. ‘Popstar,’ ‘Giant Golden Eye,’ ‘Sun Louis,’ and ‘Mega Charm’ provide large flowers, better vigor, and are more eye-catching than the old forms. Yellow is easy to use in mixed containers and these shall remain popular.

Along came bicolors, and the dam burst. I first saw the Beedance series in 2015, and like the first yellow echinacea, people paid attention. ‘Beedance Red Stripe’ and ‘Beedance Painted Red’ changed the lazy old yellow flowering plant forever.

This is not to say that other breakthroughs were not also going on. I thought Campfire series, introduced as ‘Campfire Fireburst,’ was going to go somewhere. I was correct.

The years 2015 to 2016 were banner years for new bidens breeding, but the beat goes on.

The Campfire series mentioned previously was expanded recently with the addition of ‘Campfire Funny Honey’ and ‘Campfire Firewheel,’ both bicolors with excellent vigor.

It is hard to tell landscapers and consumers about the glories of bidens without seeing them in the real world, that is in the ground or in people’s gardens. Plantings at the University of Georgia trial gardens this year served to highlight the increased vigor and flower power of a genus that typically was a dog in the heat of the Southeast.

‘Blazing Fire,’ ‘Campfire Fireburst,’ ‘Pretty in Pink,’ and ‘White Delight’ have performed so well in the landscape that I actually started recommending them to garden centers, friends, and family. That would never have happened three years ago.

As a side note, there are many species of bidens, but the one we are usually selling is B. ferulifolia. It is native to Arizona and Mexico (Apache territories), and the fruit has two sharp points, thus its common name.

As I read this, I feel like I am bidens-gushing a little too much. Much of the breeding is starting to look alike, a problem not uncommon to many annuals. Compared to petunias and begonias, it still is rather obscure, even to us.

But if garden centers promote just a few of these newer forms, I see the growth continuing.

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