Eat Your Garden: LSU AgCenter tests edible ornamentals and Plants with Potential

Jason Stagg, Edwards, Ashley  |  5/27/2019 3:46:07 PM

Jason Stagg and Ashley Edwards

The number of new plant cultivars introduced to the market has exploded in the past decade. Most of this new plant material arrives on the market with well-crafted branding and marketing plans. They also carry some form of propagation prohibition or protection, such as a plant patent or trademarked name.

Facilities like the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station help the industry create order out of this chaos by putting many of these new plants through landscape trials. This testing helps the industry determine which cultivars are most suitable for the hot, humid and rainy Louisiana climate. Two recent categories for testing at the Hammond Research Station are edible ornamentals and the Plants with Potential program.

Edible Ornamentals

There is growing market demand for plants that offer harvestable and consumable components in addition to beauty. Edible gardening includes herbs, flowers, seeds, berries and plants that can be eaten. Trials on edibles have been conducted for several years at the Hammond Research Station. Warm-season trial favorites include Candy Cane red pepper from PanAmerican Seed and Mad Hatter pepper from Burpee. A few cool-season favorites at the trial garden in Hammond include Red Russian kale, Red Salad Bowl lettuce and Redbor kale, which is the first edible ornamental Louisiana Super Plants selection. The beauty of Redbor kale comes from its striking dark purple-red foliage that adds unique texture to the garden with its curled, frilly leaves. Edible landscaping appears to be the way of the future, and the AgCenter is supporting the Louisiana industry in this endeavor.

Plants with Potential

While it’s easy to get seduced by all the new plants hitting the market, older or lesser known varieties of plants that offer stellar performance in Louisiana’s climate must continue to be featured and recommended. That’s why horticulturists at the Hammond Research Station created the Plants with Potential program in 2015. Although these plants are not the result of AgCenter breeding efforts, the initiative allows the AgCenter to highlight excellent plants that don’t have the benefit of strong branding or marketing campaigns. Now in its fifth year, the program continues to emphasize superior plant materials for the Louisiana ornamental plant industry.

Once a year Hammond Research Station horticulturists select five to seven uncommon but proven performers from their collection of plants that aren’t under the protection of patents or trademarks to feature in the Plants with Potential program. Many are perennial and offer benefits to pollinators. Approximately 75 to 100 individual units of each year’s selections are propagated for distribution to industry professionals who express an interest in learning about new plants. The goal is to demonstrate the ease of royalty-free propagation of these selections, as well as to increase the diversity of plants available to the market.

Over the past few years, some of the selections have moved out of the evaluation stage and into full production with a handful of industry partners. Orange Peel cestrum from 2016 is a root-hardy tropical plant that starts blooming in early spring and attracts hummingbirds with its dark gold tubular blooms. Because it is root hardy, the plant resprouts in spring after winter kills the above-ground part of the plant. This cestrum is now in production at some of the larger wholesale nurseries in Louisiana that supply numerous retail outlets throughout the state.

David Verity cuphea from 2018 is another root-hardy tropical that is enjoying wider industry production. This cuphea is a pollinator attractor that thrives in heat and humidity. Mary Helen geranium from 2015 allows Louisiana gardeners to enjoy heat-tolerant and long-lived geraniums in our harsh climate. Barbara Rogers begonia from 2015 is a vigorous perennial landscape or container plant that can tolerate sun or shade. Louisiana Master Gardener associations with annual plant sales have helped increase awareness by being early adopters of many of the Plants with Potential selections.

Other notable Plants with Potential include Rebel Child salvia from 2017 (blue flowers) and Augusta Duelberg salvia from 2019 (white flowers). Both of these plants are Salvia farinacea species, which is one of the better-performing perennial salvia species in Louisiana’s wet conditions. White turnera from 2017 also has been popular.

In 2019, the AgCenter introduced another vigorous cestrum named Butterscotch. It’s just as cold-hardy as Orange Peel, but the blooms are a bit finer and feature a softer buttery yellow color. Bellpepper basil is the first edible ornamental to be featured in the Plants with Potential program, and the foliage really does smell and taste like green bell peppers.

Jason Stagg is an instructor, and Ashley Edwards is a research associate at the Hammond Research Station, Hammond, Louisiana.

This article appears in the spring 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.

Redbor Kale

Redbor kale. Photo by Ashley Edwards

Orange Peel Cestrum

Orange Peel cestrum. Photo by Jason Stagg

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