Hey! Breeder! Leave Those Plants Alone!

I realize I’ve ranted on this topic recently, and I don’t mean to be tiresome. but I find it impossible to shut up on the topic of silly cultivars. If this means I am turning into a crotchety old man, so be it.

My last post on this theme focused just on the genus Echinacea, but of course all sorts of genera are being turned into a mockery of their former selves by plant breeders in search of novelty.

gaillardia sun devil

Take Gaillardia ‘Sun Devil’, above. This is a fairly new variety, I believe. Those petals make the plant look diseased.

coreopsis jethro tull

Here is Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’. It was introduced about ten years ago, but I still can’t get used to it. Those fluted petals just look weird. What’s the point? And as far as I’m concerned, the name simply adds insult to injury.


Would you want this person hanging around your garden?


My problem with Columbine ‘Dorothy Rose’ is that it doesn’t look like a Columbine. The flowers are like miniature pink barrels.

echinacea green jewel

I wasn’t going to mention any Echinacea varieties in this post, but then I saw ‘Green Jewel’. Looks like a very serious case of aster yellows.

alcea apricot

Is this supposed to be a Hollyhock? Why, yes it is. It’s Alcea ‘Apricot’. I dislike most double flowers, but this one really seems to negate the simple charm of the traditional plant.


Just so I don’t come off as hopelessly negative, this is a cultivar I like, as far as I can tell from the photo in the catalogs. It’s Aruncus ‘Misty Lace’ a compact Goatsbeard. I have a soft spot for cultivars that are compact versions of plants that tend to by big and floppy.

Several years ago I wrote a post proposing the creation of an Echinacea Cultivar Control Board, to prevent the introduction of Echinacea cultivars damaging to public equanimity.

The idea didn’t get much traction, but maybe now is the time to restart the discussion. Except this time we should think bigger: a Perennial Cultivar Control Board (PCCB). Board members (appointed by me, to minimize red tape) would divide cultivars into three categories:

  • No Problem. May be sold and planted without restriction.
  • If You Must. Can be sold only after a 48-hour cooling off period.
  • You’re Dead To Me! Self-explanatory.

The concept has definite possibilities, I think.

48 Comments on “Hey! Breeder! Leave Those Plants Alone!”

  1. Why stop with perennials? I agree with most of you gripes but I would also include moat of the dwarf varieties too; just means the garden centres sell more plants to fill the garden. Plus a garden full of small plants just looks SMALL. I know you don’t do that, your garden is full of majestically tall plants.

  2. I like this concept. While I like the looks of a lot of these new hybrids they don’t benefit anything except your eyes. Bees and butterflies don’t like them because they don’t produce what they need. And no I wouldn’t want Jethro Tull hanging out in my garden.

  3. Hear, hear! All I would add is that Jethro Tull (and Pink Floyd) would be far more welcome than the flowers shown in this post. Joanna got it right when she described the columbines as looking like “pink barrels.”

  4. The original, (or real Jethro Tull), was the man who invented agricultural machinery and believed in ‘hand hoeing’. He promoted new agriculture in 19th century England. The other one is an imposter. So perhaps not such a bad name after all.

  5. I have noticed, in recent times, plants and flowers in garden centres looking frilly, and tizzy. So I’m on the alert. I think there should be some regulations as to what is tampered with in the plant world….go ahead with that Control Board…let them pass the Jason test!

  6. On the whole I agree with you – many of these new cultivars are pretty pointless, and the bees often don’t like them either. But – and please forgive me – I do make exceptions when it comes to new varieties of Echinacea! I only grow them in pots and they rarely survive a second year, but there are some such pretty ones!

  7. Tastes differ. Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ is on my want-to-grow list. As far as I know, it’s just a color selection of E. purpurea, as valuable to insects as the straight species. (The photo in the post also shows it at a stage before the petals are fully expanded.) Unlike the doubled versions, where the plant’s reproductive parts have been altered and the flower rendered significantly less recognizable and/or useful to fauna.

  8. What do you really think? LOL. Yes, some of the newer cultivars are not just weird, they’re downright ugly. I’m trying to go with straight species as much as possible–especially for native plants. For spring bulbs and alliums and edibles it’s near impossible. So, there’s a definite line for me, too. Your categories are great. 😉

  9. I am LOL at the third category: I am picturing Mr. Wonderful from ‘Shark Tank’ pronouncing that one! 😀 And a completely agree with all of your examples. Especially the pink-barrel columbine. What twisted mind ever conceived doing that to a sweet graceful flower??!?!? Ditto on the Aruncus ‘Misty Lace’ which I just noticed in the new Bluestone catalog. I had some dwarf (8″-10″ h) Aruncus aethusifolius in my last garden and liked them. Misty Lace, with A. aethusifolius as one parent, should be midway between that and the standard variety.

  10. I actually like the gaillardia…it looks like fringe to me. The coreopsis is a dud. Way too many echinacea out there for my taste. But I do hope that breeders are working on more than just the flower…drought tolerance is a real issue and I look for plants that can withstand drought or extreme heat as we tend to get warmer and warmer

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