OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Social trends influence nursery plant variety development

12/17/1998

AURORA - An ever increasing environmental awareness, a growing population density, and a press for more free time are trends that strongly influence today's nursery plant business, according to an Oregon State University horticulturist.

According to Sven Svenson, research horticulturist at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC), social trends are increasingly influencing the nursery industry in choosing what types of landscape plants to produce for the public.

"The demand for new varieties is diverse and continual," said Svenson, who heads an OSU-led state program to advise and test new cultivars for the Oregon nursery industry. Called the "Production and Landscape Analysis of New Taxa," or PLANT program, it is headquartered at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center just south of Portland in Aurora.

According to Svenson a number of trends are shaping the nursery industry's decision to develop new landscape plants. Society wants to improve environmental stewardship and reduce the use of pesticides. This is reflected as an increased demand for new ornamentals with increased resistance to pests and improved tolerance to environmental stresses.

As landscapes shrink in size, with increasing population and urbanization, there is more demand for smaller plants with multi-season appeal, and multiple functions such as edible ornamentals.

Liability issues demand "less hazardous" plants such as thornless barberries and roses and trees less likely to damage property during winter storms.

With smaller landscapes, also comes a need for new kinds of trees that better assist with heating and cooling homes.

Increased pollution has created more demand for urban stress-tolerant plants and plants that are efficient at cleaning pollutants from the air, soil and water.

As the amount of time to take care of yards seems to shrink, people want plants that require less maintenance.

As interest in ecological restoration increases, there is an increased need for plants that won't become invasive problem plants. Plants without runners or suckers are in demand. There is also a burgeoning need for wetland plants.

"The reasons for a steady demand for new varieties of landscape plants vary from scientifically pragmatic needs to the simple expression that people like 'new' things," said Svenson.

Commercial growers, landscape architects and designers, plant explorers, arboriculturists, OSU and industry researchers and educators, OSU Master Gardeners and anyone else interested in developing new types of plants are invited to give input on the OSU-guided PLANT program, which include test plots at NWREC, said Svenson. OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers do much of the routine work in the plots.

Current research projects under way include:

 

  • "Pieris," "Kalmia" and "Daphne" (ornamental shrubs) improvement and evaluation;

     

  • Hollies for production of plant foliage;

     

  • Multi-season rhododendrons, broadleaf evergreens, deciduous shade trees;

     

  • Low maintenance general landscape plants.

Plans for research projects on hardy ferns, evergreen ground covers and dwarfing rootstocks for improving popular cultivars are also in progress.

Plants named, released or distributed by OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center in the past include

  • Pieris japonica 'Flamingo,' 'Valley Rose' and 'Valley Valentine'
  • Rhododendron 'Shamrock,' 'Hino Orange,' 'Blaney's Blue,' and 'Valley Sunrise'
  • Kiwifruit variety Actinidia arguta 'Annasnaja'
  • Dogwood Cornus kousa 'Emerald Star'
  • And, most recently, Daphne caucasica 'Summer Ice.'