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Seeding the Future

I thought this week I would take a look at some of the new plants showing up in 2012. Well, some of them will be showing up in 2012 but to be honest I kinda lose track some days whether it is 2012, 2013 or maybe it was 2011 and I’m just a year behind. But I certainly cannot dwell on that as my life hardly advances in a linear fashion.

Oh look! A butterfly!

Oh oh. Where was I? Oh yeah, new plants. Probably. I see these at trade shows and display gardens and I get email blasts and QR codes and even real-life paper catalogues appear in my mail box – delivered by a real human being! So forgive me if I mess up and present something here today that is not truly new. But then, what the hell is?

Echinaceas continue their unrelenting march toward diversification. A plant that was once only available in pinky-lavender or white now comes in damn near everything but blue. I am not complaining. Once the yellow of Echinacea paradoxa was introduced to just about everybody else in the coneflower group, this traditional hardy perennial let its freak flag fly. Again, I am not complaining.

For today I won’t even touch on the double, 2-layered, dwarf, fragrant, variegated, reflexed, upswept, green/orange/brown cone, and red/black stem modifiers. I’ll just chat a bit about color. The new colors include shades of yellow, gold, orange, apricot and true red. I’m not sure I can say I dislike any of them and I love a good many of them. And the new colors of Echinacea are now – drum roll, please – available from SEED! Yes, yes, there has been Echinacea cultivars available from seed for years – ‘Magnus,’ ‘Magnus Superior,’ ‘Cygnet’ or ‘Baby Swan’ (hello, a cygnet is a baby swan), ‘Bravado,’ ‘White Swan,’ ‘Prairie Splendor,’ ‘Primadonna Deep Rose Improved,’ ‘Primadonna White.’ You can see there has even been time to introduce improvements. But these were all the two traditional colors.

That’s all changing. The new colors are finally stable enough to pass those genes to the next generation. In all the years I have watched seedlings of Sundown (Big Sky™ Sundown, ‘Evan Saul’ from ItSaul Plants) here at the museum I have never seen anything but shades of pinky-lavender, some very bright and pretty, but no oranges, nothing looking even a little like the mother plants.

My brother on the other hand had much better success. He collected a few seeds from my ‘Tomato Soup’ and ‘Mac N Cheese’ (fabulousness from Terra Nova) and got a whopping seven plants which, when they bloomed, produced – 2 hot pinkish, 2 white, 1 orange, 1 red, 1 yellow/gold – proving once more he is a better plantsman than me at times. Damn amateur gardening accountants. Anyhow, obviously even his success was hardly uniform. Bring in the professionals.

In the interest of total disclosure, at this point in the blog I was writing a long glowing paragraph about the many virtues of the Sombrero™ Series of Echinaceas from Darwin Perennials because I was certain they were seed propagated. Then I decided to do a bit more research to check the facts stored in my head against the facts stored at the Ball Hort’s website. They are not seed propagated. I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. They are indeed vegetatively propagated. Crap. That throws my whole damn blog all out of kilter. I still want the damn things. But some of the novelty has worn off now. Okay. Deep breath and let’s get this train back on the track.

Fortunately there are some seed strains available that include the new colors of Echinacea. Unfortunately I have not seen them as live plants. But I have dedicated too much time and energy to this issue of the blog to change topics now. So let’s take a quick look at some plants that do fit this blog.

Available this summer from Burpee is ‘Warm Summer.’

Courtesy of Heronswood.

It comes in a mix including everything from cream to scarlet and blooms the first year from seed. It grows 2 – 21/2 feet tall. You can buy plants at Heronswood but I’m trying to tell you about seeds here.

This is all well and good but…… I want a mix that does not include white and pink/lavender/purple. And I want individual colors.

There is ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ available from Ball (and yet not available).

courtesy of Ball Hort.

This is a blend also so you will get the traditional Echinacea colors along with the new colors. It does flower the first year from seed. According to the website 2014 is the US introductory year. It is already a FleuroSelect Gold Medal winner which is a good sign, I believe.

This is all well and good but…….. see above.

I’m fairly certain there are others out there too such as ‘Magic Box Mix’ from Thompson & Morgan. For those of you that are more traditional and feel coneflowers should only come in pinkish or white, there is ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ and ‘PowWow White.’ These are heavily branched for maximum flower production and again bloom the first year from seed. ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ is an AAS winner (more details on AAS in my last blog.

courtesy of Park Seed.

Hmmm. I had planned to discuss multiple plant species. Didn’t quite work out that way did it? Fine. Leaves more topics for other blogs. But interestingly, as it turned out I was two years ahead instead of a year behind on some of these. So be it. Back to the coneflowers.

So here I sit waiting for the seed propagated oranges and reds and yellows as individual colors. Why don’t you sit down and wait with me? They are coming. Plant breeders are in no way finished with the Echinaceas. While we wait for even more diversity to appear from this native American plant let’s listen a bit to a Native American singer.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, ladies and gentlemen.

Filed under: Horticulture

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