Plants with Potential

Jason Stagg  |  7/28/2016 1:08:43 PM

Jason Stagg, Allen Owings and Gina Hebert

The LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station created a new outreach program in 2015 to annually introduce and distribute unfamiliar, nonpatented plants to Louisiana’s ornamental nursery and landscape industry. Plant species or varieties selected for the program suffer from limited or no commercial avail­ability and use in the state, but evidence suggests they have excellent landscape performance potential in the challenging Gulf South climate.

While this program is not an offi­cial trial study, the industry may benefit from learning about and receiving these stock plants for evaluation of growth characteristics or customer interest. Nurseries may be able to broaden their product lines, and landscapers could diversify their plant material palettes to enhance profitability, while increased distribution of these plants will help pre­serve unique varieties.

Using plant material free from propagation regulations can present a significant cost savings to the indus­try when introducing alternative vari­ety selections. A core component of the program is offering “unprotected” plants that can be propagated without any restrictions. Increasing numbers of newly developed varieties on the market carry invention patents, and protect­ing the inventor’s development costs is important. Patented plants, however, generally require a license to propagate and payment of royalties to the inven­tor. Another form of protection enables companies to trademark existing unpro­tected varieties under a new name, which prevents anyone else from prop­agating and selling the plant with the trademarked name. Because both types of protected plants are generally more expensive, the Plants with Potential pro­gram helps the industry by identifying a good mix of economically-grown com­panion plants to sell alongside premium varieties.

Participants in the program who receive stock plants include small to medium-size wholesale growers, retail nurseries, landscapers, landscape architects, Master Gardener plant sale groups, professional horticulture orga­nizations, public gardens and other uni­versity or research facilities. Plants in the program are generally easy to propa­gate and were chosen based on observed landscape performance of existing plant material at the Hammond station. Plant sources include heirloom varieties, pas­salong favorites, older or forgotten cul­tivars, limited regional releases and new nonpatented releases.

Jason Stagg is an instructor, Allen Owings is a professor and Gina Hebert is a research associate at the Hammond Research Station.



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Map of Louisiana with USDA Hardiness Zones 8a, 8b, 9a and 9b.


Nine plants were propagated and distributed during 2015. Each plant is listed below along with a brief description. Common names are in parentheses.

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Acalypha wilkesiana Kapiolani Bronze (Kapiolani Bronze copper plant)

Tropical shrub producing a dense mass of small reddish-bronze leaves. This foliage plant performs best in full sun and has an upright growth habit, reaching 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Propagated by cuttings. Usually not winter hardy in USDA hardiness Zone 8 but may overwinter in warmer regions of Zone 8b and Zone 9.

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Acalypha wilkesiana Musaica (Musaica copper plant)

Tropical shrub with very large multi-col­ored leaves in shades of orange, bronze and green with red-to-orange markings. Musaica is another foliage plant that grows best in full sun, reaching 3 to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Propagated by cuttings. Usually not winter hardy in Zone 8 but may over-win­ter in southernmost areas of Zone 8b and in Zone 9.

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Begonia sp. Barbara Rogers (Barbara Rogers begonia, possibly Friendship begonia)

This plant is believed to belong to the semperflorens group of begonias and was collected from South Carolina. The plant is vigorous and somewhat upright, growing 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Glossy or waxy dark green foliage is enhanced by flowers of very light pink to white from spring to fall. Landscape performance is comparable to the BabyWing series of begonias. Although it can be planted in full sun, it prefers part sun. Propagated by cuttings. Perennial in Zones 8 and 9.

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Lantana camara Belle Starr Gold (Belle Starr Gold lantana)

Vibrant yellow and gold flower clusters bloom from spring to frost on this plant and are highly attractive to butterflies. Belle Starr Gold is 2 to 3 feet wide and about 2 feet tall. Propagated by cuttings. Reliable perennial in Zones 8 and 9.

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Pelargonium sp. Mary Helen (Mary Helen geranium)

This is an unusual drought- and heat-toler­ant heirloom variety from south Texas. Mary Helen produces medium-red to orange-red flowers from spring to fall, but it prefers good drainage and protection from the afternoon sun. Plants are vigorous and can reach 3 to 4 feet tall with some support. It was brought to Texas A&M University by hor­ticulturist Jerry Parsons and has been consid­ered for their Texas Superstar plant trials. It is not available commercially but is easily prop­agated by cuttings. Overwintering potential has been inconsistent in Zones 8 and 9.

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Pentas lanceolata Nova (Nova pentas, Nova Pink pentas, Egyptian Star Flower, Egyptian Star Cluster)

This 1999 Georgia Gold Medal Winner is reportedly one of the hardiest and most vigorous pentas varieties. It easily grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide in full sun. Large clusters of 3-to-4-inch rose-pink, star-shaped flowers appear atop dark green leaves from late spring through fall, making this plant an excellent butterfly attractant. There is limited commercial availability, but it is easily propagated by cuttings and can be a perennial in Zone 9b.

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Portulaca oleracea Florida Dwarf Rose (Florida Dwarf Rose purslane)

The trailing or creeping prostrate growth habit of this plant forms a dense mat of succulent foliage that bears fuchsia or magenta-colored flowers. This purslane is a passalong annual that prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but it is not winter hardy. It can be used as a border or in containers. Easily propagated by cuttings.

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Salvia sp. Silke’s Dream (Silke’s Dream salvia)

This is a beautiful perennial salvia found in Texas from a cross of S. darcyi x S. microphyl­la. The plant produces 15-inch-long spikes of dark orange-red flowers that attract hum­mingbirds and butterflies. Silke’s Dream blooms from summer to frost and performs best in full sun. It prefers good drainage and will grow 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Propagated by cuttings. Winter hardy in Zones 8 and 9.

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Turnera ulmifolia Trailing Yellow (Trailing Yellow turnera, Creeping Buttercup turnera, trailing or creeping yellow alder)

This wonderful little plant is the trailing or creeping form of the yellow-flowering tropical shrub turnera. Bright yellow flowers bloom midspring through fall atop small, serrated, dark green leaves. The plant does best with protection from the afternoon sun. The prostrate growth habit up to 8 inches tall and 2 feet wide makes it great for hang­ing baskets, containers or borders. It is easily propagated by cuttings but has poor winter hardiness below 40 degrees.

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