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How Plants Become Proven Winners

Learn how plants become Proven Winners.

Contributors: Betsy Kollman

How do plants become Proven Winners

Many people don’t think about how plants come to the market.  Proven Winners® varieties are carefully bred, trialed, and selected.  These three processes usually take a minimum of 6 years from hybridization to first sale to the consumer, and often much longer.  Most plants are forever being bred and looked at to ensure an improvement is being made over existing varieties.  For instance, Mecardonia GoldDust took about 10 years to improve on Mecardonia GoldFlake®.  What do these processes entail?

Breeding

The process of breeding a plant can happen through making decision based crosses or collecting seed from open pollinated (OP) plants.  In decision based crosses, a plant breeder or hybridizer will evaluate plants for characteristics – both positive and negative – to determine if and how those characteristics are inherited.  They will pollinate plants based on those findings.  The breeder wants the positive characteristics inherited in the crosses.  Seed is then collected and sown out for breeder evaluation.  In decision based breeding both the mother and father plants are known.

OP seed collection is much easier, since you simply collect seeds from plants after nature takes its course.  Plants are not deliberately pollinated by a specific plant.  In OP seed collection, you know only the mother plant.  You can collect mature seed from plants in your garden or containers.  However, unless you have a diverse selection of plants of the same genus, you’ll probably just get seeds from a plant that pollinated itself – potentially yielding a similar looking plant.  If you plant many different cultivars or even wild types of a genus together and collect seed, you’ll have a better chance at seeing something interesting.  After collecting seed you now have hundreds or even thousands of seeds that you’ll need to evaluate to see if you have something special.

Evaluation and Selection

The evaluation process can be both the easiest and the hardest part for the breeder.  Seeds are sown out, planted and grown to maturity.  For many breeders their plants are their babies.  You can’t choose your favorite child (wink, wink Mom and Dad!).  Ah, but you must!  Breeders have many things they’re looking for including earliness to flower, excellent branching, great habit and flower and foliage color.  In evaluating plants from a decision based cross, the evaluation criteria are very simply what you hoped to achieve in the initial cross – those positive characteristics to be inherited all together.  In evaluating seed from OP crosses, you have the potential for very interesting, but maybe not so marketable traits.  Breeders set strict parameters for what they’re looking for and stick to them in their evaluation and selection process. 

This process takes those hundreds or thousands of seedlings down to less than 50 or so.  This may seem like a drastic cut, but understand that if you don’t remove options this year, the following year you’ll have another several hundred or several thousand plants to evaluate on top of what you don’t cull this year.  The numbers can and will increase exponentially.  In order to keep costs down you’ll need to make those tough decisions.

This is where the Proven Winners® trial managers may also come into the picture.  The trial manager’s job is to evaluate and select plants in trials that perform to Proven Winners® standards to be released into the market.  To this end, many breeders invite us into their trials to help with their selections.  We’re making the final selections, so it doesn’t hurt to have our help in making the initial selections.

Once the evaluation and selection process is complete, including maybe a visit by some or all of the Proven Winners® trial managers, plants are prepared to be shipped to the trial sites for Proven Winners® trialing.

Proven Winners® Trialing

Why does Proven Winners® go through the time, effort and money to trial plants if the breeder has already done that work?  It is not because we don’t trust the breeder’s results.  Truthfully, we take into account any and all information the breeder provides to us, including information from our own visits to their sites.  We look at our trials as the final stage.  At any given time we have upwards of 50 breeders that we’re working with that have plants that are active in our trials.  We have another 250 breeders that we’re in contact with that have something coming down the line.  We need to evaluate everyone’s entries against each other. 

We look at our market varieties – if it isn’t better than what we sell why go forward?  We look at comparison varieties from other companies – if it isn’t better than what is on the market why go forward?  These are critical evaluations.  We look at foliage color, habit, branching, flower presentation, flower size, earliness to flower, vigorousness and many other things. 

Plants are evaluated for a minimum of two years in the Proven Winners® trial.  Throughout these two years we are evaluating both grower and consumer performance.  We want to ensure that the consumer is successful with our plants.  Plants are rigorously trialed and tested during this time, and less than 3% will successfully make it through the whole process.  That 3% will move forward to be releases as the newest Proven Winners® plants. 

We evaluate the plants in multiple locations from Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan and southern California.  We also trial internationally at several locations in Europe and Japan (great job, eh?).  Plants must succeed in all of these locations, in addition to improving upon what is already out there, to make it into the top 3%. 

We also evaluate whether the market needs the plant.  It can be a great plant, but may not fit what we do.  We have discussions on, “is this the right red color or is it too pale?”  Silly, but true!  These are very important discussions because combinations are designed based on colors and textures so if we improve a plant, but the color changes slightly or the leaf shape is different it will potentially change the way the plant is used.

Now that the plants have survived the various sites in the U.S., braved the heat and humidity in Japan and Florida’s summer, made a nice spring plant in New Hampshire and Michigan and survived the scorching sun in SoCal they move forward to be released to the market.

Concurrent with the trialing, and continuing after Proven Winners® selection, we increase production trials.  Plants are sent to our production facilities and regular shipments are received to test propagation and uniformity as well as shipping pressures.  This process is important because we want growers to succeed with our plants as consumers do.  To that end we create professional grower action plans for a step by step check list for how to grow the plants.

Market and breeder protection

We’ve taken you through the process from initial breeder cross to sale on the market.  As mentioned above, a minimum of 2 years for breeder crosses and evaluations followed by 2 years for Proven Winners® trialing, plus an additional year and a half for the plant to appear at garden centers and the first year of sales gives a minimum of 6 years before the breeder will ever see a return on the plant they develop. 

This is a long time and it has become important to protect breeders and their products.  If there is no protection, then that time and effort will not be rewarded.  To make sure the plant breeder is compensated, plants are often patented.  Plant breeders that work with Proven Winners® obtain patents in their name, although we gladly help them obtain the patents.  That plant patent (USPP# xxxxx or USPPAF) ensures that the breeder gets paid a royalty for their hard work – a specified amount per single plant sold. 

If we cannot control the propagation of the plants, we cannot keep track of the royalties owed to the breeder.  We work hard to protect the breeders that we work with so they receive all they are rightfully owed.  Patents are one of the ways we do this.  See Dr. Rick Schoellhorn’s article on plant patents and protection.  See this aritcle for more information on how plants become Proven Winners.

Patent Info: 

GoldDust Mecardonia hybrid 'USMECA8205' PPAF Can. PBRAF; GoldFlake® Mecardonia hybrid ‘USMECA67’ PP15,777; Can 3302

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