Somehow, the name glandularia just never caught on. That’s the genus for the verbenas that have taken the vegetative annuals world by storm — Glandularia canadensis in the Verbenaceae family, to be more precise.
The first really popular vegetatively propagated verbena was ‘Homestead Purple,’ a candensis type introduced by Allan Armitage at the University of Georgia (UGA) in the late 1980s. “Before ‘Homestead Purple,’ most of the verbenas were seed propagated and treated as commodity bedding plants,” he says. “They were OK, but certainly the verbena market was not growing. There were a few vegetative forms out there, but they were weak and had little vigor.”
Armitage describes the variety’s low-key introduction. “We brought it back to the UGA garden and during our open house, we allowed growers to take cuttings,” Armitage recalls. “There was no promotion, no road show, nothing but an exceptional plant that was easy to propagate, flowered all season, was perennial in Zone 7 and looked good in a container. It spread simply by word of mouth, and in two years, it was all over the marketplace.”
Armitage considers ‘Homestead Purple’ to be one of the top 10 breakthrough plants of all time. “I believe this because after its introduction, all sorts of new verbenas came on to the market,” he says. “It was the first truly successful vegetative verbena and that opened the gates to all others. The fact it is still very popular today gives an idea of its longevity.”
Planting The Runway
The first two significant vegetative verbena series were introduced by Japanese flower breeder Suntory about 20 years ago. The Tapien series is a groundcover type that produces a carpet of blooms from April through November. Vigorous plants are versatile for pots, baskets, window boxes and landscapes. Tapiens continue to be refined and are in six colors: Blue-Violet, Lilac, Pink, Purple, Salmon and White.
Soon after Tapien came Suntory’s Temari series, which became the model for large-flowered verbenas in even more colors, including Burgundy, Magenta and Cherry Red. Temaris is available in eight trailing colors and five patio types with a mounding habit that is more upright.
The Tapiens and Temaris became popular in the United States as part of the Proven Winners collection in the 1990s. Proven Winners has since trademarked its lines Superbenas and incorporated different genetics, notably from Syngenta as the seed-based S&G Flowers was beginning to breed for the vegetative annuals market. Two early Syngenta series were Tukana and Babylon.
Rick Schoellhorn, director of new products for Proven Winners, says the three breeding priorities are mildew resistance, the ability for new flowers to overgrow old flowers and heat and humidity tolerance. “If the plant shows powdery mildew, it is out of the gene pool,” he says, adding that in their native climate, verbenas prefer a less humid climate.
While consumers prefer the more vigorous verbenas, breeders are under pressure to develop more compact varieties for growers. Proven Winners introduced the Superbena Royales to meet this market need. “To me, the pressure in the industry is to make growers happy. The breeders are all going for what will make the Home Depot grower happy,” Schoellhorn says. “Usually, what makes them happy doesn’t make the consumer happy. We get hammered over vigorous plants but the consumer is going to love them.”
‘Superbena Peachy Keen’ is a new one that is in between the more vigorous types and the Royales in habit. “It’s the best peach we’ve seen,” he says. “Flowers open brick orange and fade to peach instead of opening peach and fading to a lunch bag color. It’s a nice breakthrough on something that’s generally a weak color. We’ve been trying to get peach in for years.”
In the Goldsmith breeding lines Syngenta acquired, the Lanai series has been a strong one with a wide color range and trailing and upright varieties. New this year is ‘Lanai Twister Pink,’ a light pink flower with dark pink centers, which was a finalist for Greenhouse Grower’s Medal of Excellence award for Breeding.
“Syngenta feels novelty bloom types are important to a series and with the addition of Twister Pink we feel we are working in the right direction,” says product specialist Eric Pitzen. “We’re also working on developing a red, white and blue in the Lanai Upright series. With the addition of these colors, we anticipate the series will be an even more popular choice for quart programs and high-density, no-space production techniques being used by growers.”
Westhoff has been introducing unique star patterns in its Estrella series. While Voodoo Star captured interest last year, new this year is Salmon Star.
Essential In Combos
Verbenas have been a key part of Dömmen’s Confetti Garden multi-cutting liners, with the Hot Pink Jazz being the best seller. “The verbena we have in that one is ‘Empress Strawberry Charme,’ which creates a contrast people seem to like,” says Paul Hammer, research and development manager for Dömmen USA. “Verbenas add plant texture plus bright colors to mixes.”
The Empress series, which is only a few years old, is selected for mildew tolerance, habit, large flower size and summer performance. While the Empress Charmes have white eyes, the Empress Flairs have a more compact habit for packs and quarts.
Another striking combination with just two varieties that is capturing attention is Ball FloraPlant’s MixMaster High Voltage, pairing verbena ‘Aztec Red Velvet’ with osteospermum ‘Voltage Yellow.’ The two grow out nicely I the fused liners. Other striking new Aztecs are Burgundy and Blue Velvet, a deep navy. Ball Sales Manager Jim Kennedy says Aztec is its most versatile series with the Aztec Magics being more trailing with serrated foliage. Wildfire is the most vigorous of the three.
Selecta will be introducing a Lascar Big Eye series featuring plants with large flowers with a distinctive white eye. The three varieties were rooted together as Trixi liners during the European Flower Trials this summer. “Lascar Big Eye will be introduced at Spring Trials 2012,” Selecta’s Stefan Reiner says. “They are selling like crazy in Europe, where we introduced them already this year.”
Danziger also has been promoting mixing different colors of verbenas together in its Mixis collections. Syngenta’s Lanai Trailing and Magelana verbenas have been a key part of its Kwik Kombos program. In addition to the combinations, “planting straight Lanai verbena mixes into the landscape gives the consumer an eyecatching mix of color that works well together and blooms through the summer,” Pitzen says.
Don’t Forget Seed!
While most of the excitement is surrounding vegetative verbena, there are still solid seed lines for growers to choose from, including PanAmerican Seed’s Quartz series and Obsession and Tuscany from Syngenta. Mike Murgiano, Syngenta product development manager on the seed side, says the same breeder is working on seed and vegetative lines.
“Before, they were separate programs,” he says. “But with seed and vegetative, you are breeding for opposite goals. For seed, it’s to produce seed. For vegetative, you want the plants to be sterile and produce more flowers. But for the breeder it’s one big gene pool, which has definite benefits.”
Focusing on seed-based varieties will continue to be important. “Seed is still the bread and butter for a lot of growers’ production,” Murgiano says.