The Regal Poinsettia – A Holiday Tradition

Ice Punch

My boss gave me a Poinsettia plant yesterday as a Christmas gift, and it is truly lovely. There are a few of my friends that fall into the ‘anti-Poinsettia’ crowd, but you can count me in with the rest of us who not only love Poinsettias, but feel that the holiday season wouldn’t be the same without them!

Check out a few fun Poinsettia factoids:

  • They are native to Mexico
  • They are a member of the Eurphorbia genus (E. pulcherrima)
  • Their colorful ‘flowers’ are not true flowers, but rather are bracts or modified leaves. The actual flowers are those little round clusters in the center of the bract
  • Poinsettias were first introduced in the United States in the early 1800’s
  • Serious poinsettia breeding began in the 1950’s through both public and private breeding programs
  • The traditional red Poinsettia represents over 70% of the total market, followed by white, pink and marble types
  • There are over 100 varieties of Poinsettias available in the marketplace
  • Poinsettias are grown commercially using plant cuttings, not from seed
  • The production cycle for Poinsettias is generally about 7 months - from producing and rooting cuttings to the final flowering plant at retail

I have a huge traditional red poinsettia at home that graces my entryway and is reflected in a hallway mirror, so I get double bang for the buck in terms of brilliant Christmas color. The lovely plant (pictured) Dick gave me represents some of the newer Poinsettia breeding that gives this traditional holiday plant additional appeal.

Best wishes to all of you for a joyful and safe holiday season!


More Ornamentals Trials Chit Chat – All-America Selections Trials at Harris Seeds

I thought you might be interested to read about the All-America Selections trials that are part of the Harris Seeds trial grounds. First of all, it might be helpful to know what AAS is all about:

The mission of All-America Selections is “To promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” AAS oversees a collaborative testing program involving horticultural professionals all across the United States and Canada. It is a non-profit organization that is governed by a Board consisting of four officers and six directors.

Plant breeders and developers submit new, unreleased flower and vegetable seed varieties to AAS for evaluation. The plants are then grown and tested at more than 50 independent sites located in North America. A test site is a trial garden or trial ground, and is usually part of a seed company trial ground, university, professional grower site, or other horticultural institution such as a botanical garden. Each trial ground has at least one official AAS judge, a horticultural professional that has been approved by the AAS Board of Directors. The judge supervises the trial and evaluates entries for AAS at no charge. The objective is to have well managed sites in different parts of North America.
The judges evaluate AAS trials all season, reporting their scores each fall. AAS uses an independent accounting firm to tabulate the scores and calculate the average score of each entry. Only the entry with the highest average score is considered for a possible AAS Award. The AAS judges determine which, if any, new unsold entries have proven superior qualities to be introduced as AAS Winners.

AAS relies upon a public relations program to inform gardeners about AAS Winners as they are released. About to celebrate its 80th anniversary, AAS continues as the oldest, most established international testing plant organization in North America.

Harris Seeds is an official AAS Vegetable and Flower trial ground. Mark Willis, our vegetable product manager, is the AAS vegetable judge, and I am the AAS flower judge. Each year we sow, plant and grow the entries along with the recommended comparisons that come from AAS. In addition, the AAS office also sends each trial site the most recent AAS winners, as well as any ‘holdover’ winners. A ‘holdover’ is an entry that has achieved a high enough score to merit an award, but it has not yet been released because the breeding company is working on producing enough seed for a release.

It’s really enjoyable to evaluate these trials for a few reasons. It’s fun to see what new varieties are coming down the pipeline, and to observe why a breeder may think it has superior qualities to what is already in the marketplace. When an entry is scored high enough to merit an award, it tells me that it is has proven performance across the U.S. and Canada because it had to score high across a number of different climatic areas of North America. That gives me confidence that growers and gardeners will be successful in growing an AAS winner. I also like being able to see the more recent winners and holdovers again because our summers can vary enough that it gives us an opportunity to observe consistency of performance over a few seasons.

Marigold Moonsong Deep Orange
Recent AAS flower winners are Echinacea PowWow Wild Berry, Marigold Moonsong Orange, Zinnia Zahara Double Cherry, and Zinnia Zahara Double Fire. Plus AAS has just announced the first batch of 2011 winners. I’ll be sharing more with you about all of these winners very soon.

If you think I’m dangling the proverbial carrot, you’re right! So stay tuned.


What Worked and What Didn’t? – Part II

In my previous post I talked about the parts of our flower trials this summer that were pretty successful, and what we liked.

What didn’t work:
One of the reasons we trial varieties is to make sure they grow and perform well. Inevitably, we’re bound to run into a couple of boo boo’s. For years we’ve been offering a couple of ornamental millets, Purple Majesty and Jester. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, as the saying goes. But they ARE pretty intriguing, and very popular. So this year we decided to trial some ornamental corn that is being promoted not so much for the cob, but for the colorful or variegated foliage. You may have heard of Stars and Stripes as one of these varieties. I can tell you with absolute certainty that these types did not look good in our trials at all! The plants grew with green foliage and didn’t produce any other color (they were supposed to be white, pink, purple and green stripes and streaks!) until they were about 6 feet tall and ¾ of the way through the summer. Needless to say, we will not be picking this type up - sorry.

We trialed a new variety called Rumex Bloody Dock. It’s in the sorrel family, looks a lot like beet leaves, but leafier, and has a really striking network of blood red veins running through the leaves. We grew it as a border in one of our large circular beds, and that was clearly a poor decision. We had high heat and humidity this summer and they just didn’t care for that too much. The color contrast faded, leaving us with plants that looked rather washed out. I think a better use for something like this is as a foliage component in a combination planter. The young plants form a really pretty rosette of leaves where the veining will stand out more, and will complement other flowering annuals.

There is still more to tell you about what we came away with from our flower trials this summer. Stay tuned!


What Worked and What Didn’t? – Part I

Our company is surrounded by garden beds where we do our best to plant as many of the new flower introductions as possible. This spring additional beds were created so we can trial even more material than in the past. We planted a few bedding varieties, but concentrated more on direct sown cut flower varieties due to some logistical issues.

With October now fully behind us and a few frosts under our belt, we’ve finished pulling up the flowers and have finalized our notes on what worked and what didn’t.

What worked:
We ran a full sunflower trial for both dwarf potted plant types and tall cutting types. I was very impressed with some of the newer pollenless sunflower varieties that have been coming out of Israel. Most breeding these days is focused on sunflowers that are single stemmed (one flower per stem vs. multi-branched) and that do not produce pollen. Polleness flowers keep the flower disks very clean making for a neater, sharper looking flower. One in particular, Helios Flame, really caught our attention. In the dwarf pot and garden types, we really liked Micro Sun (pictured). It had darker leaves than most, was really well branched, and was chock full of flowers. I’ll keep you posted as to when we pick them up and have them available.

An interesting cosmos also caught our eye in these trials. While most cosmos are tall (4-5 feet) and bushy, this one is shorter (only 3 ft. tall) but still has a nice bushy plant habit. The color made us really take notice, as I haven’t seen this particular shade in cosmos before. I’m not sure if the color will translate well in this blog, but it was a nice deep carmine-red, almost bordering on maroon. Very striking. Stay tuned on this one tool!

For some reason I’ve steered away from Amaranthus in the past - can’t say exactly why. So this year we grew a few in our trials and now I’m an Amaranthus groupie! Although none of these are new, I really loved the drooping types (Love-Lies-Bleeding) in both a dark red (A. caudatus red) and a chartreuse green (A. viridus green). You’ll find both of these newly listed in our catalogs and website. I’ll also be picking up the very popular ‘Dreadlocks’ variety (pictured) in the near future. All will create an intriguing, funky look to gardens, and also make great cut flowers to use in arrangements and wreaths. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Not every trial is successful. My next post will address some of those ‘less than successful’ plantings. Stay tuned!


Welcome to Harris Seeds’ Ornamentals Blog!

My name is Vicky Rupley and I am the Ornamentals Manager and Vice-President of Harris Seeds. For those of you who have visited the Harris Seeds company blog (launched in February, 2010), you may be asking, “What’s the difference between the two blogs?” The Harris Seeds company blog covers a range of topics that pertain to agriculture, our industry, and the Harris Seeds product categories such as vegetables, ornamentals, live plant material, growing supplies, etc. This new ornamentals blog focuses almost entirely on ornamentals. For simplicity’s sake we view ornamentals as flowering and or foliage plants that are used for ornamentation in the garden or landscape.

With so much to talk about, where does one start! You’ll find that most of the topics discussed in this blog will reflect our customers’ interest in ornamentals, and at times may be tailored towards professional growers, sometimes to the home gardener, or often to both. Regardless of your preference, I’m assuming that if you’re interested in this blog, it means that you love growing, working with, and being around plants.
Like many of you, I love working and playing with plants! At Harris Seeds we get involved in both the technical aspects of producing plants from seed or transplants, as well as how different varieties will perform and interact with each other and in the landscape. Personally, I’m drawn most to plant color, shape and texture, and how they look and interact with each other. So you’ll probably find a lot of discussion centered on those themes.

The business side of working in the seed and plant industry is also pretty intriguing and is really enjoyable. To see how varieties are bred and produced, and then moved along the market chain right up to the end user, is really interesting. On the personal side, our industry is composed of down to earth people who have the best interests of the customer in mind. They are knowledgeable, passionate about their product, often very humorous, and awfully fun to work with.

I’m so glad Harris Seeds sells both flowers and vegetables – there is a lot of truth to that old adage that while vegetables feed the body, flowers feed the soul. What a great combination! Take a look at the picture attached – don’t you think it illustrates that feeling of true joy that flowers can bring to us?

So once more, welcome to our new blog for ornamentals. There is much more to come. Stay tuned!