Moving Beyond Blue Carnations

It was only a matter of time before flowers became the next frontier for biotechnology, and now it has happened. In a joint venture between German-based Selecta Klemm and U.S.-based Mendel Biotechnology Inc., transgenic ornamental plants are only a few years away.

The new entity, Ornamental Bioscience (, combines Mendel’s technological expertise and patent estate in drought, cold and freeze tolerance, disease resistance and flower stability traits, with Selecta’s experience in plant transformation technology, its extensive variety patent estate and experience in marketing ornamentals worldwide.

Christian Klemm, CEO of Ornamental Bioscience, says it is time for the ornamental market to catch up to other areas of agriculture that have already made strides–and profits–in transgenic crop production and marketing.

“We envision the ornamental market will undergo substantial development in the coming decade,” Klemm says. “The global market for ornamentals has an annual retail value of several billion dollars. Ornamental Bioscience will apply modern biotechnology to substantially improve the characteristic traits for producers and consumers to bring us premium positioning in this market.”

While genetically modified (GM) food crops, nicknamed “Frankenfoods” by opponents, came under massive scrutiny in the ’90s and into the 21st century, Klemm says he does not expect the same consumer backlash will occur regarding transgenic ornamental crops.

“Food that we eat is a totally different story from an ornamental plant that we enjoy only looking at,” Klemm says. “So, if there was a risk level with genetically modified organisms in general, it is certainly on a very different level for food versus ornamentals. The GM food on the market today mainly gives benefits to producers. Ornamental Bioscience is developing ornamental plants with a strong focus on consumer, trade and producer traits. Our product will be presented to the consumer as a premium product indicating the extra value that makes them more tolerant and better performing.”

Selecta has been active in biotechnology since 1996, when the company cooperated in developing a blue carnation with Florigene in Australia, Klemm points out. To date, blue carnations are the only transgenic ornamental plants that are produced and distributed worldwide.

“I have not heard about negative consumer reactions to the blue carnation and the product is sold at a price about three times that of an average carnation,” Klemm says. “In Germany, where consumers are very critical, I have heard about two occasions where the blue carnation was presented to consumers indicating the use of biotechnology, with no negative reaction from the public.”

Why Biotech?

So with all the varieties on the market, why go biotech? Klemm says transgenic science applied to ornamental crops will bring benefits to entire plant species.

“Conventional breeding is too slow to reach significant results on targets like cold, freeze, drought or disease resistance,” he says. “Results through breeding could sometimes ask for decades of work.”

Klemm adds Ornamental Bioscience will apply a combination of two technologies, first using biotechnology to “switch on” genes that already naturally exist in the plant, enabling the desired tolerances.

“In the original plant these genes are only ‘switched on’ under certain climatic conditions,” he says. “We try to keep them turned on constantly. Once we get a good result, we go back to a traditional breeding program to improve other traits of the plant like colors, growth, earliness and so on.”

In addition, worldwide issues like global warming and worsening water restrictions create the need for transgenic technology in the landscape, Klemm says.

“We can see daily in the news how climate change becomes a more realistic issue,” he says. “Only a few years ago it still seemed a philosophic discussion between scientists and lobbyists. Certain geographic areas will see more restrictions on the use of water in the coming years.”

Your Input Is Valued

Transgenic plants are an entirely new development for the ornamental market. Therefore not much information is available yet to understand the needs of the industry. This is why Ornamental Bioscience needs your help.

The company is working on freeze, chilling and disease tolerances. Different from the food crop industry, its main focus is to supply premium products with visible benefits to consumer, trade and production. Ornamental Bioscience is asking for feedback from U.S. growers to help direct its crop development and understand to which crops you give the highest priorities. For example, how important is it to anticipate the bedding plant season for some products or to offer a nice freeze-tolerant product as an alternative to viola? What is the potential for tolerant garden roses? Can poinsettia become a true premium plant by adding chilling tolerance for better consumer performance and easier growing and handling?

If you have ideas on these subjects or any others, Ornamental Bioscience would like to hear from you. Contact Christian Klemm,, with your comments.

Change Is Coming

Currently, Ornamental Science is working exclusively on crops from the Selecta product range, transforming petunias, poinsettias, New Guinea impatiens and geraniums, and Klemm says he expects to see the first transgenic poinsettias and petunias to come on the market within four to six years. Beyond that, the product range will be greatly expanded, he says.

“We believe that this technology has an exciting future and we intend to contribute to its acceptance as an industry standard,” he says. “As part of this strategy, we will cooperate with leading breeders and distributors for pot plants and cut flowers.”

Klemm adds he fully expects competition in the transgenic ornamental crops in years to come.

“I am sure this is just a question of time, as well as availability and access to the right technologies,” he says. “Ornamental Bioscience is giving an answer to very relevant requirements of the future and I am certain that we will not be the only company to address these needs. Consumers are looking for premium products with better performance.”

But consumer demand is just the tip of the iceberg, Klemm says. From the breeder’s and grower’s point of view, he says constantly increasing competition has bred strong demand for improvement, and Ornamental Bioscience hopes to help in that area.

“Ornamental Bioscience technology will give better patent protection for the breeders against copy breeding,” he says. “The products will also be able to open new markets for producers to offer products in territories or seasons were they cannot be offered today due to the product characteristics.”

Selecta First Class, as the exclusive sales organization for Selecta products in the North American market, may be a sales channel for Ornamental Bioscience products, but it is still to early to say, Klemm says.

“The business model of Ornamental Bioscience is different from the one of the existing Selecta products. Sales and marketing will be developed according to the needs of Ornamental Bioscience products.”

Mendel Biotechnology has licensed its technology exclusively to Ornamental Bioscience for the ornamental market, and is a significant minority shareholder in the company. Mendel has partnered with other agricultural and forestry companies to commercialize improved seed and plant products, and is also developing new products for the emerging bioenergy market.

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Aquaponics At Brogue Hydroponics

March 30, 2015

10 Things You Need To Know About Aquaponics

Are you curious about expanding into aquaponics? From pest control to equipment, Bob and Jesse Kilgore of Brogue Hydroponics offer 10 factors you need to consider.

Read More
Aquaponics At Brogue Hydroponics

March 30, 2015

Aquaponics Is Making A Splash At Brogue Hydroponics

The owners of Brogue Hydroponics explain why they expanded into aquaponics, and how the shift has helped them uncover a new market opportunity.

Read More

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 25, 2015

13 New Shrubs You’ll Find At The 2015 California …

Woody ornamentals serve as the foundation of many great landscapes, but beyond their traditional uses, shrubs also add color, structure, texture and interest to small gardens and even containers. Check out this slideshow to see some of the newest introductions you’ll get to see at this year’s California Spring Trials.

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
2014 Poinsettia Season Report

March 18, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Seas…

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish. Greenhouse Grower’s 2014 Poinsettia Survey received 143 responses from growers around the country. Here, you can download the complete results of the survey, by filling out the form.

Read More
Hydrangea 'Endless Summer BloomStruck' from Bailey Nurseries

March 17, 2015

Michael Dirr Slated To Address Attendees At Hydrangeas …

Dr. Michael Dirr to deliver the keynote address at Hydrangeas 2015 conference, hosted by the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society in partnership with Endless Summer Hydrangeas. The conference will take place at the historic Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass.

Read More

March 17, 2015

16 New Blooming Potted Plants You’ll See At The 2…

Blooming potted plants are perfect gift items, and they put the finishing touch on any style of home decor. So when new varieties come on the market, growers and retailers alike take note of plants they know are going to make consumers happy. Check out the slideshow to see some of the new blooming potted plants making their debut to the trade this spring.

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

March 10, 2015

How To Determine When To Buy Herbaceous Perennials In V…

Exposing herbaceous perennials to cold temperatures, also known as vernalization, can yield a range of effects, especially on flowering. Beth Engle of SHS Griffin covers whether vernalized liners or unvernalized plants make the best sense for your sales windows.

Read More

March 4, 2015

California Spring Trials Preview: 32 New Perennials For…

Perennials are hot and if this preview of the 2015 California Spring Trials is any indication, there are going to be some great new perennial introductions for 2016. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out the slideshow to see some of the new perennials making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Lavandula 'Meerlo' (Sunset Western Garden Collection)

March 3, 2015

Why You Will Still Grow Today’s Big Perennial 10 Years …

What will be the next big perennial? Breeders say it takes more than a splashy plant to distinguish itself in the market. Therefore, the question is not what will be the next big perennial, but rather what perennial performs well enough in the garden to have staying power in the market for years to come.

Read More
Heuch Pink Fizz_featured

March 2, 2015

Intergeneric Crosses Are A New Perennial Trend

Intergeneric crosses, oddities some botanists say are an impossibility, have made serious inroads in the perennial world.

Read More
Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Apricot'

February 25, 2015

National Garden Bureau Designates 2015 As Year Of The G…

Gaillardia, also known as the blanket flower, is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and a long-blooming pollinator plant. It is fitting that the National Garden Bureau has specified 2015 as The Year of the Gaillardia.

Read More

February 18, 2015

California Spring Trials Sneak Peek: New Annuals For 20…

If you're like us and you can't wait until the 2015 California Spring Trials to see some of the new genetics that will be hitting the market in 2016, never fear. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out our slideshow to see some of the new annuals making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More
Athena Brazil Salvia 'Brazilian Purple'

February 18, 2015

ForemostCo And Athena Brazil Unite To Supply Unrooted P…

ForemostCo, Inc. and Athena Brazil have forged a working relationship to support each other in the unrooted perennial cuttings market for North America. The partnership, geared toward accommodating increasing demand for unrooted perennial cuttings in North America, adds diversity to a recently consolidated market.

Read More

February 17, 2015

Poinsettias Had Their Best Year In Many In 2014

Poinsettia growers report a strong year in 2014, thanks to a few conditions. Growers were encouraged by high plant quality, enthusiastic shoppers and a stronger, less saturated market for poinsettias throughout the selling season. Seasonal cold at just the right time put consumers in a festive mood to buy early and often, and with no big snowstorms to hold up shipments and a reduction of supply available in the market, the season was strong from start to finish.

Read More
Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'

February 17, 2015

Geranium Hybrid ‘Biokovo’ Dubbed 2015 Peren…

Geranium xcantabrigiense ‘Biokovo,' a naturally occurring hybrid of G. dalmaticum and G. macrorrhizum, is the Perennial Plant Association's top pick for 2015 Perennial of the Year. Learn why this tough, landscape geranium took home the prize.

Read More
Costa Farms' Season Premier 2015

February 4, 2015

Costa Farms’ 2015 Season Premier Reveals Newest V…

The annual Season Premier at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., is the industry's very first peek at new varieties for debut the following year, even before the California Spring Trials, heralded widely as the jumping off point for new varieties. This year's event revealed breeders' best and brightest new varieties for 2016, shown in field trials, landscape trials and containers at Costa Farms tropical trial gardens. Plant breeders presented their new varieties to buyers and members of Lowe’s grower panel. Growers, brokers and other allied industry members, including Home Depot growers and buyers, were also able to peruse the grounds to see how the new varieties fared in the winter trials. Later this season, the hot and humid conditions at Costa’s summer trials will help identify the true performers.

Read More

January 28, 2015

All-America Selections Introduces Additional 2015 Winne…

All-America Selections has announced more 2015 AAS Winners, bringing the grand total of introductions for the 2015 gardening year to 25. The seven winners join the 12 announced last November and six announced last July. This year, AAS has had the most winners in one year since 1939.

Read More