Jeb S. Fields
The Louisiana Super Plants program is an LSU AgCenter educational campaign that identifies superior plant material for Louisiana landscapes. Louisiana Super Plants have undergone rigorous trials at multiple AgCenter locations across the state as well as being vetted and approved by the Louisiana horticulture and landscape industry. As such, Louisiana Super Plants are considered to be university-tested, industry-approved.
The Louisiana Super Plants program is becoming a recognizable brand across the state and surrounding region. In discussions with wholesale and retail growers, it is evident that consumers tend to choose Louisiana Super Plants and especially gravitate toward the newer inclusions. In fact, some retail nurseries report they can’t keep new Louisiana Super Plants in stock. As 2020 marks the 10-year anniversary of the program, efforts have begun to develop a statewide impact study of the program’s first decade. More information on this study will be available in a future issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.
Another relatively new development is that the Louisiana Super Plants program is now officially part of Certified Louisiana, a promotional campaign of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Certifying the promotion, purchase and sale of Louisiana Super Plants from local nurseries directly benefits Louisiana agriculture.
In addition, the LSU AgCenter is in the process of developing regional trials and demonstration gardens to ensure that Louisiana Super Plants are highly rated across the state. Besides the main evaluation location at the Hammond Research Station, trial gardens are at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center in Alexandria, the Red River Research Station in Bossier City,Scott Research and Extension Center in Winnsboro, and City Park Botanical Garden in New Orleans with additional locations planned.
The first inclusion into the program for 2020 is Lucky Star pentas, a more compact plant than Butterfly pentas, which are already in the program. Pentas are some of the best plants for attracting pollinators to a garden, and with their bright vivid colors, pentas attract people as well. Lucky Star Dark Red was one of the top winners in 2018 in the Hammond Research Station Ornamental Trials, and Lucky Star Lavender was one of the top performers in the 2019 Hammond Research Station Ornamental Trials. The six colors available in the Lucky Star series include Lipstick, White Improved, Deep Pink, Lavender, Violet and Dark Red.
FlameThrower coleus is the second series that will be announced as Louisiana Super Plants in late spring or early summer 2020. FlameThrower coleus can be spotted by its uniquely shaped foliage and bold, lasting colors. This medium-sized coleus works well in the landscape as well as in large containers. Flamethrower coleus joins Henna coleus as a Louisiana Super Plant. Flamethrower coleus thrives in full sun and does best in well-drained soils. Like most coleus, Flamethrower is a low-maintenance landscape plant and is one of the last to flower in the landscape. It is available in seven varieties: Salsa Roja, Serrano, Habanero, Chili Pepper, Chipotle, Spiced Curry and Salsa Verde.
The fall 2020 Super Plants include two woody plants that are well known throughout Louisiana and are popular among gardeners, landscapers, nursery growers and naturalists: American beautyberry and the bald cypress.
American beautyberry, a native woody shrub that grows across the state, is often found in wooded areas but also grown in the landscape. While sometimes considered an understory plant, American beautyberry prefers part sun or dappled shade to thrive. American beautyberry is adapted to many soils and is able to thrive in both moist and drier areas and prefers acidic soils. The lime green opposite-leaved foliage provides an excellent contrast to the vibrant and eye-catching purple fruit that surrounds the stem at leaf nodes. The late-summer fruit is often a deep purple, but forms are available in a variety of shades including white, pink and burgundy. Birds, especially songbirds, and other wildlife are attracted to the large berry clusters. American beautyberry is a low-maintenance landscape plant, only needing light thinning, if desired.
Bald cypress is the state tree of Louisiana and iconic across the state. These native trees are prominent and grow across the entire southeastern U.S. They do well in moist soils and flooded areas; however, they are also adapted to dry soils, allowing them to thrive in almost any Louisiana environment. Bald cypress trees thrive in very hot, humid environments, with faster growth during hot growing seasons, making it a perfect fit for Louisiana summers. Bald cypress is a deciduous conifer, which means it is one of the few cone-bearing plants that loses its leaves in the fall. At maturity, a bald cypress will grow up to 50 to 70 feet tall, and as much as 25 feet wide.
Bald cypress is known for its attractive pyramidal shape with lacy green needles. These needles turn a wonderful rust color in fall before dropping, where they provide natural mulch as well as serve as protection for a host of wildlife. Additionally, bald cypress is desired for its ornamental bark. When grown in wet conditions, bald cypress will form the ubiquitous “cypress knees,” which provide additional aesthetics for ponds. A host of aquatic, avian and ground-dwelling wildlife rely upon these trees for nesting, food and shelter throughout the year.
Jeb S. Fields is an assistant professor at the Hammond Research Station.
(This article appears in the winter 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Lucky Star pentas. Photo by Ashley Edwards
FlameThrower coleus. Photo by Ashley Edwards
American beautyberry. Photo by Ashley Edwards
Bald cypress trees. Photo by Ashley Edwards