Plant of the Week
Agriculture has advanced through the ages in a series of fits and starts as farmers have adopted new technology. Learning to domesticate crops such as wheat, rice and corn - none of which are capable of surviving in the wild in their domesticated form - lead the way into our modern age some 15,000 years ago. The creation of controlled hybrids was a further refinement of this technique, but it was not used until the 18th century.
Hybrids are crosses between two closely related plants that have recognizable differences, with the offspring of the cross displaying characteristics of both parents. Don’t confuse an understanding of the principles of inheritance, which the Austrian Monk Gregor Mendel worked out with his garden peas and published in 1866, with creation of controlled hybrids that began a century earlier.
In the West, the first recognition of an accidental hybrid occurred in a London garden about 1720 when a nurseryman named Thomas Fairchild noticed a seedling growing in his border. This strange plant contained characteristics intermediate between the clove pink (the predecessor of the carnation we use for cut flowers) and the Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus). The plant became known as Fairchild’s mule because it was sterile and failed to produce seeds.
The hybrid, an ugly and horticulturally uninteresting thing, created a stir in the society of learned gentlemen of England, because most held a creationistic view of the natural world. God had created all of the plants and animals of the world during the seven days described in Genesis; man’s job was but to discover and describe all of these creations. Creating new forms through crossing was an affront to God. This so troubled Fairchild that, upon his death in 1729, he left money to his church for a yearly lecture - called the Vegetable Sermons - on the relationship between God and Nature. These sermons still continue.
The first scientific studies of hybridization occurred in Germany in the 1760s and eventually lead to our modern understanding of inheritance. Even with almost 250 years of controlled hybridization under our belt, plant breeders continue to make new and interesting crosses that produce useful plants. One of these is the Amazon Series of Pinks that began showing up in gardens about 2000.
A PanAmerican Seed Co. plant breeder named Linda Laughner, working in Santa Paula, Cal., developed the hybrids. Laughner was breeding dianthus for the cut flower market when she hit on the idea of crossing the biennial Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) with the Chinese pinks (D. chinensis).
The Amazon Hybrids have stout, 2-foot tall stems in terminal clusters like the Sweet William parent while the Chinese pink parent allows them to flower from seed the first year and continue to rebloom during the growing season. Laughner’s hybrids created a whole new class of cut dianthus for flower arrangements.
Even though Chinese pinks are usually treated as an annual, they are perennial in most areas of the southeast. I have had Amazon hybrids in my garden for four years, and they have proven to be reliable perennials. The flower colors are pink, rose or a striking pink and white combination.
Amazon dianthus can be grown as cut flowers by starting seeds early in the spring and moving them to a sunny place in your garden by mid March. They flower in about 18 weeks from seed, which makes peak bloom around mid-June.
If you use them as a perennial, give them a sunny, well-drained location in the border. By cutting off old blooms as they wither, the plants will throw up additional shoots in a few weeks for a second display.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - June 4, 2004
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.