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. If there’s a Jethro Tull, there surely must be a Pink Floyd something: at least, given your title. I laughed when I read that, and I’m still laughing. In a way, each of these noxious cultivars is just one more brick in the (garden) wall.

    • I can imagine there are plenty of possibilities for a cultivar named ‘Pink Floyd’, if it doesn’t exist already. I’d do some research on that, but I don’t need no education.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. I had to laugh, especially at the columbines that look like pink barrels! But its true.Some things just shouldn’t be changed!

  5. 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.”

  6. 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.

  7. I hate new forms of plants that have much less vigor and longevity than the original plant. I know hate is a strong word, but they’re a waste of money.

  8. I don’t have the experience to have such a strong opinion on new cultivars so am finding this both informative and hilarious. Good job, Jason 🙂

  9. I agree…Stop with uglifying our species beauties. Also, stop making them sterile, pollenless/nectarless/seedless. Our critters need real flowers!

  10. If you listen to Jethro Tull, you’ll understand why a FLUTEd coreopsis was names after them! I like that flower but it didn’t last long in my yard. I would like a coreopsis that lasts more than a few seasons. The only one I have found so far is ‘Zagreb’.

  11. The more one gardens the more one understands the benefits of species plants. And I refuse to buy any plant whose name I think is stupid. That pretty much means any plant named after rock musicians and movie stars. Even the ones I like!

  12. Welcome to the curmudgeon club! Poor ‘Dorothy Rose!” Columbines are fairly promiscuous in the garden and introducing something like that to one’s garden could cause any number of bizarre-looking offspring.

  13. 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!

  14. Totally agree, but, hey, Jethro Tull (the person, not the plant) looks like someone I would like to meet, if not hang out with. He may in fact have some good gardening experience.

  15. HA! I love this. Some plant companies seem to take pride in weird hybrids, the weirder the better. Ugh.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

    • Yes, the varieties that change only the color are better than the double ones. Yes, tastes differ. But why can’t everyone recognize my tastes as definitive?

  18. 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. 😉

    • You’re right about spring bulbs – well there are species tulips, but I couldn’t live without the hybrids. The only species allium I know is A. cernuum and A. stellata, both bloom in summer.

      • Bet you know more species Alliums than you think: A. atropurpureum is in your next post, and I imagine you’ve seen A. sphaerocephalon, the drumstick allium. And white-flowering garlic chives, very late summer/early fall, A. tuberosum.

  19. I’m laughing, but totally agree with you. Who buys these frilly, fluffy things? Why fix what isn’t broken? When will we leave things be?xxx

  20. 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.

    • I don’t know ‘Shark Tank’ but I gather it is similar to some American TV shows. I’ve got some A. aethusifolius also, it’s a good plant for front of the border.

  21. I want to go through some of my old catalogs and do a ‘Where are they now?’. I suspect many burned hot for a year or two and are now just a memory.

  22. 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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