The Saga Of Osteos

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The Saga Of Osteos

We have all seen them in the last eight years or so, the steady, lava-like stream of new plants, some spectacularly good, some much less so. The daisy family has been well and truly represented in the new plant movement, including gazanias, gerberas, arctotis, brachyscome and the bazillions of cape daisies, particularly argyranthemum and osteospermum. It is the latter plant whose rise I have watched with dismay.

The dismay is well documented in my lectures and writing. I have seen new cultivar after new cultivar introduced through pack trials and promotions and watched as their spring flowers stopped appearing as soon as temperatures rose above 70ºF. As I trialed these cultivars (literally hundreds of them) over many years, I watched the plants morph into shrublets by June 15, all leaves, no flowers. Year after year after year. Yes, there has been a slow and steady improvement, but not enough to give me reason to change my opinion.

I have not been bashful in stating that osteospermums are overhyped and oversold for most of the country. Even this year at pack trials, I believed we were doing a disservice by introducing even more. As beautiful as this year’s crop was, I held out little hope that the consumer would spend more money for more disappointing green things. However, I have continued to trial new cultivars in the hope that better cultivars (i.e. those that actually flowered during the summer) may appear. Usually the trial space is wasted. 

A Second Look

But, whoa, Nellie! I may be opinionated, but I am not blind. Every year, a few cultivars made it to the finish line with flowers intact, so some hope was warranted. This year, believing they would again crash early, we planted 25 cultivars in our “K-Mart bed,” the one beside the parking lot, hotter than Hades and in full sun all day.

However, in our open house at the trials this year, the osteos kicked butt! People who would not give them a second look kept commenting on how well some were performing. But that was only the beginning of July, and as excited as I was by the comments, I was stubbornly skeptical. After all, let’s wait until August. I kept revisiting these loathsome creatures, but as I write, it’s August and the news is good enough to share. I am ecstatic to be able to finally say something good about this group of plants.

I don’t have to remind you about the heat of the summer 2006, global warming in full throttle. Certainly many of the more than two dozen osteos were no better than normal, but there are enough to hope for even better times ahead. We take data every two weeks, and assign a rating of one to five, five being outstanding. Here are some of the most outstanding, as of Aug. 1, those I would buy for my daughters.

In alphabetical order:
‘Crescendo Compact Purple’ by Paul Ecke Ranch. Plants are probably intergeneric hybrids, smaller flowers, but colorful and provide a different look to the flowers. ‘Crescendo Primrose’ was also good.

‘Margarita Lemon’ by Fides Inc. Consistent flowering, handsome color. The best of the Fides introductions, at least in our trials.

‘Serenity Lavender Frost Improved’ and ‘Serenity White Improved’ by Ball FloraPlant. Whatever the breeders at Ball did, the improvements made a difference. Both cultivars are compact and continue to flower well.

‘Sideshow Purple’ and ‘Sideshow Purple Bicolor’ by Paul Ecke Ranch. Probably the best overall series in the trials, all colors were improved compared to past years. These two have also been in the top five, flowering and performing consistently wellall season.

‘Soprano Yellow Spoon’ by Proven Winners. The performance has been excellent. The bright spoon-shaped flowers are eye catching.

‘Sun Yellow’ by Dömmen Inc. Bright yellow flowers on compact, well-branched plants. The best of the Dömmen varieties and consistently performing well.

‘Tradewinds Pink’ by Goldfisch Inc. The Tradewinds series also showed hints of great things to come. This cultivar had good clear pink flowers and a well-branched habit.

I hesitate to get too carried away based on this year alone, but performance has been improving glacially over the last five years. I am pleased to report these findings, and hope I can be similarly positive this time next year. However, in the meantime, if osteos are in your plans for next year, get going and order some of these.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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