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US (FL): UF/IFAS plant breeders can play ‘Cupid’ for Valentine’s Day

The University of Florida scientists breed oodles of ornamentals. For example, David Clark, a UF/IFAS professor of environmental horticulture, breeds dozens of coleus plants. Among those that he thinks could make for a good Valentine’s Day gift is called, ironically, ‘Heartbreaker.’

It’s easy to grow, with good, multi-colored foliage, pink centers, and bold color that lasts a long time in the landscape, said Clark.

“After giving or enjoying it as a gift, people can plant the coleus in their spring gardens – in the sun or shade — and it will last all year until frost. It’s a good bang for the buck and a great plant because it was bred and selected under harsh environmental conditions in North Florida,” he said.

Another researcher, Zhanao Deng, breeds several ornamental plants – including caladiums — at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Hillsborough County.

“We are working with growers to produce potted caladium plants for Valentine’s Day,” Deng said. “For example, ‘Fairytale Princess’ caladium can be grown in containers for this holiday. We are working on another cultivar called ‘White Butterfly.’ In the future, we will adapt other caladium cultivars for events like Valentine’s Day.”

Deng also breeds gerbera daisies, which are popular in the garden. Their daisy-like blooms make for long-lasting cut flowers.

At the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, Alfred Huo breeds several plants, including snapdragons. They tolerate heat and drought and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

“Snapdragons are beautiful garden plants with distinctive spikes of flowers,” said Huo, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences. “They can be used for border gardens, flower boxes, and patio containers. They make a great addition to any garden, particularly in the winter season in Florida. Snapdragon flowers resemble the snout of a dragon, and their flowers come in almost all striking colors: red, yellow, purple, pink, crimson and salmon, white.”

“The scent and color of some varieties also attract butterflies and honeybees,” Huo said, making them an excellent addition to a pollinator garden.

Speaking of smell, other UF/IFAS scientists work to enhance the aroma of certain ornamentals, any one of which could be gifted for Valentine’s Day.

For instance, Thomas Colquhoun, an associate professor of environmental horticulture, works with lilies, daylilies, violas, petunias, and caladiums.

“We isolated a cool feature in caladium flowers and introduced it to another species to try to increase floral fragrance,” Colquhoun said. “To our surprise, it worked in the lab. We are in the process of validating and creating a stable product.”

“If you want a strong-scented cut flower, lilies are the best,” he said. Some may say lilies are too strong, so I would pick roses or Hyacinths in a pot.”


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