With a core goal of breeding for sustainability, Selecta prioritizes drought and cold tolerance, disease resistance, and now, attractiveness to pollinators when choosing which new varieties to develop. The company’s lines of petunia, calibrachoa, and verbena are just a few that feature drought tolerance and disease resistance as key elements.
Regarding pollinators, Gary Vollmer, Product Manager and Technical Support at Selecta, says many of the same attributes that attract humans — flower color, fragrance, and patterns — attract pollinators as well.
“Other than nectar and some colors and patterns that aren’t in the visible spectrum for humans, we have naturally focused on plants species that attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects,” Vollmer says. “As we trial these plants, we observe which species, colors, patterns, and so forth draw the most attention from pollinators.”
“We see ourselves as a driving force for market-relevant plants,” says Andrea Dohm, Director of Breeding and Research at Selecta. “We are always working on new varieties that make a difference. Transportability and shelf life have also become more and more important as selection criteria in our breeding due to the ongoing changes in plant supply and retail.”
But beauty does not have to be sacrificed for practicality. Dohm says along with technical improvements, the company has developed true innovations during the past few? years, such as the double-flowering Calibrachoa MiniFamous Double series and the Osteospermum 4D series to name two.
“We keep continuing this work,” Dohm says, citing the brand-new Petunia ‘Night Sky,’ which has a white sparkle pattern over deep-blue petals, as an example. “We are currently breeding varieties to combine the sparkle pattern with new color combinations, but still focusing on good growth, early flowering, and a robust plant,” she says.
“We knew immediately that we had something truly unique with a lot of appeal for consumers,” says Vollmer. “‘Night Sky’ is unique in its flower color pattern. Due to the nature of the pattern, with every bloom being unique, like fingerprints, environmental and chemical factors can affect the nature of this pattern differently than on other petunias. We continue to do our own research along with cooperative research with growers to understand and manage the factors that influence the flower pattern. And I should point out that ‘Night Sky’ is a starting point, not the end. Selecta has created an exciting new color pattern in petunias, and there are more to come.”
While Vollmer already knows ‘Night Sky’ exhibits excellent performance, early flowering, and is a strong, well-branched plant with a mounding/trailing habit, the decision was made to opt for an openly positioned large sample year in 2016 to learn how to grow it in the best way possible, especially in regards to the flower pattern. A large launch is planned for 2017.
“This process has opened more detailed lines of two-way communication between our development team and the growers trialing ‘Night Sky,’” Vollmer says. “By teaming up with growers to do the research in their own facilities, we all move further faster toward the goal of producing products with maximum performance and appeal at retail and for the consumer. We have had great feedback from growers and continue to gain useful knowledge that is freely shared. The growers appreciate the immediate sharing of information that can help them be successful.”