Breeding & Selection


This theme takes a critical look at the breeding and selection of new plant varieties, especially in the ornamental sector. Those destined for the agroalimentary industry have further characteristucs to judge namely: taste, nutritional and processing qualities, quite apart from product appearance.

Today there are so many new varieties introduced each year, that growers and retailers of cut flowers and foliage, foliage and flowering pot plants, especially of annual bedding plants, have great difficulty in CHOOSING WHAT TO GROW AND SELL. Catalogues are  so full of amazing images, appealing names and descriptions such as ‘novelty’ and ‘breakthrough’, that have become almost meaningless words. What varieties might one ask, represent TRUE BREAKTHROUGHS that change the scenery for good? Are there any professionals out there capable of making such a selection – of putting their necks on the line to say so?

Variety trials of seed companies have in many cases become mere show cases lacking important COMPARATIVE VARIETIES grown under identical regimes, with which to make comparisons. Compared to a few years ago, there is also a greater tendency for producers to buy young plants propagated vegetatively, compared to those propagated by seed. And, for many, the origin has no importance, since they buy their starting material from the ‘propagators’ and not in the phase of non-rooted cuttings or seed. Fortunately Fleuroselect, All-America Trials and some others do take comparative trials seriously. But can we say that the plethora of new varieties introduced each year, especially ‘me-too’ varieties, is the price to pay for arriving at really innovative breakthroughs in breeding at longer intervals of time?

What plant characteristics do plant breeders usually look for? With GMO’s – genetically modified organisms (banned in some countries even for ornamentals) including techniques of mutagenesis and genetic splicing, it has become possible to engineer varieties, tailor-made to specific requirements – but who gets the main benefit? What information about the ORIGINS OF A NEW VARIETY should be disclosed? What contribution do new bedding and garden plants make to the environment; they may be very showy for us, but what do they provide the surrounding wildlife environment in the way pollen, nectar, fruit?

One imporant aspect concerns the discovery of DIFFERENT UTILIZATIONS of a given plant variety (or parts of) thereby setting in motion further breeding and selection and possibly DIFFERENT CULTIVATION PROTOCOLS. One good example is the search for new cut-foliage amongst herbaceous and woody plants; rose-hip branches from Vivaio Patrucco represent a good example.

Another aspect considers whether new varieties are grown from seed or vegetatively from cuttings. This has a big impact on VARIETAL PROTECTION through hybrid sterility, patents and  trademarks.  Within this argument, MICROPROPAGTION can have an important role.

In conclusion, more comparative information and IMPARTIAL PROFESSIONAL OPINION is sought on new plant varieties to speed up the process of selection and introduction.


Better informed, faster market.

Every year a great number of new plant varieties reaches the market.

 Q.1 If you are garden centre or specialist volume retailer, landscaper or director of public parks and gardens, how do you choose what varieties of bedding and garden plants to insert into your assortment next season? Do you leave the decision to your grower suppliers?

Attending plant variety trials and checking the many, often complex, catalogues of plant breeders, seed companies and young plant suppliers – including the digital media, is a necessary but time consuming commitment. It can lead to confusion that favours previously introduced, more conventional varieties.

One independent solution is offered by the publication Navigatore Varietale (Varietal Navigator), Pentagono Editrice, Italy. See: This publication is a unique Annual Source Book of varieties, available in print or online translated to 8 languages. It makes selection by the above user groups much easier by asking participating seed companies to classify their varieties in three groups: Top Variety (their novelties of that year), New Entry (their new varieties being introduced), Best Sellers (their well established varieties). Information is translated into various European languages. Plant types include bedding and patio varieties, some garden plants, hobby vegetable varieties, aromatic herbs, and some cut-flower varieties. Readers might like to take a look at these websites:

Q.2 What you think are the strengths and weaknesses of this most useful publication? 

The costs associated with plant breeding research, product development and promotion are very high. Companies involved need to cover their costs and make a profit to invest in future work. Because it takes 3-4 years or more to establish a new variety and market life of an averagely good variety is limited, it is essential to obtain a return on investment as quickly as possible. By enabling a faster flow of information, end-users of these plants can inform their grower suppliers well in anticipation of the varieties they seek to use or sell and from what company they can be obtained.


Cutting through the rough. From the supply side, modern breeding and propagation techniques speed up the process of creating new and unusual genetic combinations but it still takes several years before a new variety is ready for introduction.

For seed raised varieties, it is a relatively simple step to arrive at an interesting new variety. Then comes the effort and expense of testing it for seed productivity in various locations and countries and for seed quality and to determe the best seed treatment to obtain high germination rates. The variety then has to be trialled against its competitors (comparative trials), photographed, named, protected, marketed and sold. For new selections or vegetatively propagated varieties, one of the main limitations is the time taken to propagate a commercial quantity to enable their launch.

Often in order to remain competitive, on the books of their most loyal grower customers, it is necessary for breeders to create similar ‘me-too’ varieties so that the company catalogue presents as few gaps as possible in relation to the competition. In some cases these ‘me-too’ varieties are part of a genuine breeding program aimed at other objectives.  This is the price to pay for innovation and it results in far too many varieties of similar characteristics and performance (e.g. Viola, Begonia, Impatiens, Petunia) and far too few of those new introductions that change the horticultural, garden and landscape scenery for good

Q.3  Given the very large numbers of new plant varieties introduced to the market each year, it is a reasonable question to ask on what merits each variety is introduced and promoted? 

  • If a new variety is described as a breeding breakthrough, for what reasons?
  • Is it a new selection (natural or induced mutant) of an existing variety?
  • Is it seed raised or vegetatively propagated?
  • Does the variety need to be grafted on a different rootstock?
  • Is it an F1 hybrid (usually sterile but with hybrid vigour)?
  • Is it the result of conventional breeding or genetic engineering?
  • Who was the plant breeder, seed company or ‘finder’ of the new variety?
  • Under what botanical name (Genus and species) should the variety be placed?
  • Is the variety protected with Plant Breeders’ Rights, Patent or Trademark?
  • To what extent does it stand out from existing varieties (of the same species)?
  • How does it rate in comparative variety trials?
  • What advantages does it confer to the specialist young plant grower?
  • What real advantages does it offer the plant and flower grower?
  • What real advantages and interest does it confer to the hobby grower and gardener?
  • What special appeal does it have for wholesalers and retailers?
  • How high does it score in the logistical chain (post-harvest quality and resistance to transport)?
  • How does it perform in terms of consumer appeal (indoor, gardens and patio, florist)?
  • What marketing possibilities does it offer? (uses, containers, mixtures, POS material)?
  • Can the readers name some other characteristics to look for?

Q.4 From what organizations and sources can we look for this type of information on new plant varieties?

See:  –  –  –  –

The effects of marketing can overshadow the promotion of new varieties. A recent survey commissioned by the German Trade Magazine Taspo and undertaken by the AMI (Agricultural Market Information Company), showed that only 8% of the 300 German floricultural companies surveyed, considered new plant varieties and new sales concepts in their planning of production and marketing in 2012.  According to the report, planning was based on low prices and a difficult market in 2011 (down 22% and 19% respectively) and on efforts to reduce costs. This is not so surprising given the large number of varieties coming on stream every year and the perplexity or reluctance of retailers to try novelties when more traditional varieties have been selling well.

Q.5 Where has the choice gone for the individual consumer, subjected to the presumption that he/she will be overjoyed with new seasonal interpretations and fashionable trends decided by external agencies and marketing organizations? Are we not weakening or imprisoning the consumer in the process? Consumer networking on Internet might help.

External agencies monitor consumer trends in various sectors in order to arrive at their decisions. Other organizations and marketing agencies work from within the floriculture industry. The result is to ‘wind up’ the media that today has become the predominant force in promoting new varieties through a heady mixture of science, marketing and promotion. Yet there are diverse interests involved: plant breeder, seed company, seed producer, researcher, educator, propagator, grower, media, wholesaler, retailer, marketeer and the individual consumer.

If a new variety of Pelargonium is earlier flowering by 7 days with better basal branching, on the grower’s nursery this advantage can quite easily be neutralized by cultural practice or unseasonably warm weather!  Is the slight improvement or difference worth the huge promotional budgets required to push a new variety into the international limelight above the existing varieties. What seed companies can afford to do this?  Maybe only those still able to produce substantial genetic breakthroughs and those that have gone on a shopping spree to bring independent seed companies under their international organizational umbrellas, gradually encompassing the entire chain from breeding to retail. An economic disadvantage can becaused to retailers (especally florists) by newly created trends that oblige them to quite suddenly substitute their stock of accessories to be in tune with the new colour and other prescribed trends.

Today it is difficult to unravel the complex admixture of scientific fact, promotional slogans and seductive photography. Over the years, with the closing of many publicly financed research institutes, the figure of independent extension (information) scientist has been largely replaced by the seed companies themselves and consultants who are dependent on privately run companies.  As a result various excellent compediums and information services can be found but they are invariably addressed to all new varieties put forward by the breeders and promotional organizations with little independent selection pressure. The word NEW and NOVELTY wins every time but for how long and with what weight! And often it is not the variety that is new but the packaging, presentation and knifty accessories.

Q.6  How can we give individual consumers more weight in respect of the potentially coercive power of the multimedia once it decides to get behind a new plant variety or market trend?  

Today there is a risk that the introduction of new varieties becomes increasingly detached from the reality of plant production and consumption, being replaced by the economic interests of breeders, plant trials, exhibitions, marketing and the media. A circle within a circle.

Q.7  Should the floriculture industry not introduce a list of plant varieties that have retrospectively had a really significant impact on the floricultural and gardening industry over the last few years? 


Considerable opportunities exist for the breeding and selection of plants that provide new features and utilizations of interest to the retailer and consumer. Examples include the production of flowers with an alimentary scope, not just ornamental. Nursery-stock growers are in a good position to select woody plants for their cut-flower and fruiting branches. Variegated cut-foliage is of great interest to the floral industry. Other plants have been introduced for their production of volatile substances that deter mosquitoes and many breeders are working to re-introduce perfume to roses and other flowering plants.  This subject will be expanded in the future.

©2012/2019 | HORTCOM


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