Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Do you have any Trailers?

Primulina diffusa described by GCCC
Do you have any trailers?

In the future when the Asian Violet Society of America (AVSA) holds judged flower shows and plant sales, there will be hobbyists looking for trailers.  What will that mean?

Our mythical plant society will someday rival the African Violet Society.  Maybe even take it over.  Most of the members of the Asian Violet Society will have come from their interest in African Violets.

African Violet trailers are collector varieties that are interesting when each crown makes continuous side crowns which can make a dense cluster of plants.  Therefore a lot of flowers are possible.

We already can see that the genetic pool of Primulina species is far greater than the species pool of Saintpaulia.  There are blue, white, pink and yellow flowers.  Bracts can be big and will enhance the flowering.  We have plain green and highly variegated foliage, big and tiny plants.

And yes, we have trailers.  The species P. diffusa and P. hoehiensis feature stolons and form clusters of adjoining plants from sideward stolons.  There may be other species that have stolon capabilities and this trait will carry into hybrids.

In African Violets, single crown plants dominate commercial production.  So far single crown Asian Violets are preferred.  But who knows what will happen when trailing species find their way into Primulina hybrids.

            Hide and watch!

Primulina hoehiensis (L) from GCCC

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Bracts have it...

Primulina eburnea from GCCC
Primulina 'Chiaki' with Colorful Bracts

Several of the Primulina species have large, colorful bracts ------ the sheath that shields the corollas that emerge as the flower unfolds.  These dramatic colorful wings will play a significant part in future hybridization of Asian Violets.  They will be just as important as the side petal on Pathiopedilum Orchids that give them a stately appearance.

            As new Primulina species are found in China by the researchers at the Gesneriad Conservation Center of China, the botanical descriptions include the bracts.  They are observed and described with size, color and even the degree of open positioning when in full flower.  Examples are 180 degree open, 45 degree open, and 120 degree open.

            Since bracts are a variable trait and since all traits segregate independently, then we would expect infinite bract possibilities in hybrids.

            I predict that some future hybridizer will specialize in bract selection.  We are already seeing that the bract color can contrast with the corolla cluster.

            The recently described Primulina ‘Chiaki’ is a great example of the exciting possibilities.  Bract/corolla combinations will enhance the flowering beyond the mundane blues that many species have.

            I predict that someday Gesneriad and African Violet shows will have a category for Primulina in flower featuring bracts.

Pathiopedilum hennisianum

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Featured Story from the Past.

Asian Violets by the Hundreds

            The Google blog platform has a new gadget that allows me to place a selected blog post as a featured story.

            Amazingly Google still supports their blog system at no charge.  Is this a great country or what?  Thank you, Google.

            So what do I want to bring to your attention?

            I got an email from Alcie, a Gesneriad hobbyist, who likes my name for Primulina as Asian Violets.

            The common name is an important issue for the long term success of Asian Violets as common houseplants.  So I am showing my thinking on the name and how it is the most logical one.  The featured story is at the bottom of the blog window.

            If you don’t like the common name ‘Asian Violets’, please tell me what you like.  If you like the common name ‘Asian Violets’ use it as often as you can.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Designing The Perfect Houseplant

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Scott in his office.

If we wanted to design the perfect houseplant from scratch, we would want it to be carefree with culture requirements similar to what we humans like.

That would mean the plant would be adaptive to a wide range of light, temperature, humidity and occasional lack of water.  It would be decorative and have enough interesting qualities to make it worth giving it some time and space.  If it would flower occasionally, that would be a bonus.

I gave my son a Primulina ‘Loki’ to see if he would have success.  The picture shows a good looking plant with flowers.  Even though he grew up around my greenhouse business, even he would describe himself as a ‘non-plant’ person.

I interviewed him about his success:

Is this your office or apartment?
This is on my desk at the office.

Is it window light or only fluorescent?
Mostly fluorescent.  The windows are open all day, but my desk is probably 20 feet away, so it would be indirect most of the time, except for briefly at sunset when the sunlight comes straight in horizontally.

Did it have buds on it when I gave it?
Not sure. I don't think so.  Maybe they were hidden under the leaves. I think the whole stalk/stem with the flowers on it grew from "nothing" to 6 inches or so, surprisingly quickly.

Does it have a wick in it?

How often did you water it?
Because the pot is suspended inside the silver container, I found that when I water it, it all runs straight through the pot and the dirt would dry out again while the water pooled in the bottom.  So, I've been trying to water smaller amounts every other day or so.  Sometimes I take the pot out and recycle the collected water through the pot again.

Have the other buds opened up?
There is another stalk with 3 more flowers on it.  The first ones from the picture have mostly died by now in the last two weeks.  I'll send a new picture.

              His story shows that Asian Violets are perfect houseplants and causal plant- tenders can have success with Primulina.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Maybe this is all it will take...

Primulina 'Loki' with unexpected flowering at West window

Maybe this is all it will take…

            If you buy into my projection that Asian Violets will be a common houseplant someday, then you have to believe that what we have is good enough.

            A few indoor gardeners are trying Primulina when they learn that they are easy houseplants. The small, young plants with decorative foliage survive easily with routine care of light and water.

            When told that Primulina will flower when old enough, there is something to hope for, but not expected any time soon.

            But when buds form and the first flower opens there will be satisfaction that you accomplished something and it was worth waiting for.  Flowering on your Asian Violet is something you will tell your friends about.  Marketing, at its best!

            Word-of-mouth of flowering success may be all it will take to spread the Primulina wave --- like an African Violet, but better!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Will curly Primulina 'Loki' be a good one?

Primulina 'Loki' with curly leaves
Curly leaf ‘Loki’ appears.

            Plant mutations almost never happen, except when they do.  Many forms of new plants have evolved from random spontaneous mutations, often during propagation.

            This curly leaf form of Primulina ‘Loki’ was recently discovered by Vicky at Gary’s Specialty Plants.

            It’s not clear yet if this will be a worthwhile clone.  It will be of interest to plant collectors to enter in flower shows but probably not be better for mass production.

            And yes, I’m propagating the leaves to confirm that it will reproduce vegetatively.

Curly leaves on Primulina 'Loki'

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The answer to why some Primulina 'Loki's have red stems.

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Joe Palagonia (left front) with red leaf stems

The answer to why some Primulina ‘Loki’s have red stems.

The mystery continues.  I’ve been to several Gesneriad events recently and have collected all the anecdotal evidence I can from expert hobbyists who are thinking about this question.

Theory I:
It’s the temperature ---- cold (below 60 F) brings out the red stems on the leaves.

Counter point:
Red has been seen on plants grown in constant warm (70 F)

Theory II:
It’s from using high lime in the mix for Primulinas.

Counter point:
Then why don’t all the other Primulinas in the collection show red and not just ‘Loki’?

Theory III:
Abnormal red coloring in leaves is a symptom of Phosphorus deficiency.  This could be caused by very low Phosphorus in the fertilizer or from a high Ph that makes Phosphorus unavailable.
At least three separate growers have red stem ‘Loki’, so this is unlikely.

Theory IV:

There has been a mutation and there are two clones --- one gets red, the other doesn’t.

Facts as we know them.

The original stock plants came from the same source, Peter Shalit’s‘Loki’ (red) at the 2012 Mid Atlantic Gesneriad Show. A leaf was given to Paul, who has red stems and me who has green stems.  Joe’s plant (red) was derived from Paul’s (red).  All of my 1,000 ‘Loki’s (green) were propagated from that single leaf.

Jim points out that propagations are from a single cell and that mutations can occur there.  Troy points out that mutations are very rare, which makes this unlikely.

The test:
I am propagating a leaf from Joe’s plant (red).  If the plantlets come out red under my conditions then maybe we can say that there are two clones.

Why does any of this matter?

The red stemmed ‘Loki’s are very interesting and potentially a better clone for the Christmas red /green market.

The answer is:

I don’t know.

            Until someone uses the scientific method of changing one variable at a time, we won’t know for sure.  All we can do is to try to piece together antidotes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Conservation of Primulina by the Distribution of Seed

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Karyn Cichocki

The case for the conservation of Primulina by the distribution of seed.

            Since I’ve recently become very interested in Primulina and its development as a commercial crop, there is a need to collect and study all of the Primulina species possible.  There are 145 known species and more will be found.

            At present the only commercial possibility is to promote Primulina as a small foliage houseplant.  Flowering time is one to two years and flower color is limited to blue, yellow, pink and white.  For Primulina to become a common flowering plant equivalent to African Violets will require years of dedicated hybridization work.  The fastest technique would be to possess all known species and make all the F1 hybrid combinations.  Ten different species yield 45 unique F1 hybrids, which may or may not have any value.  This is being done at the Gesneriad Conservation Center of China.

            The mission of the center is a noble goal of collection and protection of all species that can be found.

            But how to best conserve them?  Protecting the native land sites is doomed to loss from development progress.  The most liberal idealistic plan is to commission dedicated PhD scientists to collect, identify and maintain stock of all of these new plants.

            The most conservative plan is to distribute the seed throughout the World to all interested parties, hobbyists, botanical gardens and commercial growers.  Species cannot be patented, so there can be no potential gain.

            Hoarding plant genetic material seems like the thing to do but distribution is the more likely method of preservation.  If a species plant is lost, someone else could be keeping it alive.  It may be counter-intuitive but the more rare the plant, the more important it is that it is widely distributed for its preservation.

            If Primulina is to follow the path of African Violets, then at some point in the future there will be profit to earn and protect with plant patents.

            If a commercial plant business takes on this project, it would cost $100,000 per year to support a full time plant breeder.  With Primulinas two year flowering time, a minimum of 10 years would be needed to have any chance of selecting some good flowering plants.  This is a million dollar bet, so royalties would be needed to recover the investment.

            For sure, no one will bet a million dollars at this point in the development of Primulina.  All the work will have to come from dedicated hobbyists on a random occurrence.

            The Gesneriad Society should use its influence to obtain all of the Primulina species from the Gesneriad Conservation Center of China.  It is the most sensible method of conserving the plants and the only method of creating new hybrids and improving their flowering potential.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Northeast Regional Gesneriad Convention, October 3 and 4

Nematanthus australis 

Here is a posting by Paul Susi, with the details of the flower show this weekend---- 3 and 4 October.  Spread the word. 

This major east coast event will be taking place just a week from now and the show looks to be large and varied. We will most likely have close to (if not over) 100 entries in horticulture, artistic, arts and education. The two-day show and sale will take place at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ (no parking or admission fees). If you are interested in hearing either Nancy Kast, Gary Hunter or Dale Martens speak, you need to register (either for the entire event or just for the day). Complete registration and program information is available here. Registrations will be accepted on Saturday and Sunday.

Of course, you can also come for the day, see Gesneriads on Broadway and buy some plants. We will have lots of plants from members and several vendors, including Gary's Specialty Plants



Sunday, August 16, 2015

The World needs to see Primulina yungfuensis!

Primulina yungfuensis grown by Bill Price
               This species native of China has patterned foliage not seen before in Primulina.

              Expert hobby grower, Bill Price, is showing off the first reported flowering in North America of Primulina yungfuensis.

Here’s to hoping that it will be distributed your way and that someone is working on the first hybrids from this very unusual and different plant.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is this the Primulina clue that we have been looking for?

Primulina wentsaii in flower grown by Bill Price
          Is this the clue that we have been looking for?

          From a post intercepted from Gesneriphiles by Jim Roberts:

Primulina wentsaii

I have not been able to flower this one after growing it for 4 years. I don't know if anyone else here has either. But I asked Avery Chen how he flowered his on Facebook. I suspected the plant might need a cool-down period. Here is his response:

"Hi Jim, I leave them outside with lowest winter temperature drops to around
4 degree these 2 years. They originate from GX with cold winter approaching freeze point. Frost could be expected. I think it might be an important triggering factor."

              From my discussion of the flowering response for Primulina previously, I did not give any weight to a cold treatment.  Temperature manipulation is a known technique in other commercial crops like Cineraria and Regal Geraniums to induce flowering in the Spring.

              If some species are proven to be temperature sensitive, that could revolutionize predictable flowering, depending on your point of view.  If Primulina wentsaii is crossed into the gene pool, there could be a line of hybrids that will predictively flower after a cold treatment allowing it to be a flowering commercial crop.  The cold treatment period saves money in production. 4 degrees C is about 40 degrees F.   The home owner may not be as happy if they can never get the hybrid to flower again until they learn of the cold trick.

The 2015 State of the 'Mini Plant' Industry

Mini plant - 'Fluffy Ruffles' Fern
            The trade magazine Today’s Garden Center has a report by Steve Bailey, a retail financial advisor, for independent garden centers.  He is optimistic because sales are up.  He points out that the best categories from the best garden centers are Annuals, Shrubs, Perennials, Herbs and Veggies, Tropical plants.  Tropical plants are both indoor and outdoor and that demand for indoor houseplants has risen.  His conclusion is these traditional major categories are too important to not give them your full attention.

            It’s unclear whether my ‘Mini’ plants for Miniature Gardens are included in the ‘Tropical Plants’ grouping or if they are considered one of those new angles to garden center products.  At least there was a comment from the 2015 State of the Industry survey:  “…Mini plants are still hot…”

            My own survey from talking to vendors at Cultivate15 in Columbus, OH is that the trend is still up.  A new source in Florida is feeding the 2” foliage market and doubling sales each year.

            The IGC East trade show starts Tuesday in Baltimore.  Interestingly, not one of the 4-5 exhibitors from 2014 in the Mini plant category is returning this year.  What to make of that??

            Also from Ohio, I met a foliage distributor in the mid-west who thinks that Florida foliage growers are coming on-line with new volumes that will drive down prices of the 2” plants.

            My reaction to that is that many of the plants that I’ve selected cannot be sold for less because the input costs are too high.  The plant does matter and unique plants seek their own level.

            These are just impressions.  No one can predict what is going to happen.

            All I know for sure is that every customer of mine, who displays ‘Mini’ plants, sells some every week of the year! 

Mini plant combination

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Primulina hybrid potential

Primulina mollifolia - collected species by Gesneriad Conservation Center of China

           Imagine this bicolor flower on this patterned foliage.

Primulina fimbrisepala 'Universe'  grown by Avery Gardens- Hong Kong

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

10+ Things that you should know about Primulinas & 'Mini' Plants and other Specialty Plants!

Primulina 'Loki' - Peter Shalit's hybrid that showed the potential of Asian Violets!

            This blog started three years ago.  And the business, Gary’s Specialty Plants, will soon start into the fifth year.  Demand for ‘Mini’ plants for Miniature Gardens has doubled each year and Primulinas are in the mix.

            Success has come from the insatiable interest in small plants by indoor gardeners.  Every Independent Garden Center that features a ‘Mini’ plant department finds that it works.

            Longwood Gardens Plant Shop, my lead customer, has proven that hundreds per week will be bought by guests who are happy to find interesting small houseplants.

            Other upscale Garden Centers like our wide assortment of ‘Mini’ plants and our ‘Unscrambled’ local delivery system.

            I’ve scaled down Streptocarpus and Sinningias and scaled up Primulinas and ‘Mini’ plants (6.5 cm pots).

            This third blog anniversary is the time to reflect on what’s working.  I only need to quote my customer who sells at weekend events.

            …people love these mini plants!  Crazy isn’t it!”

              Dianne, Tansy Meadows Garden Shop, Strasburg, PA

Monday, May 18, 2015

This is going to happen!

Primulina 'Tan Muscular Man' - Hybrid by The Gesneriad Conservation Center of China

Story # 158,

     This is going to happen!

            Asian Violets will become a common flowering houseplant!

            Newly discovered Primulina species in China will provide a varied gene pool with many colors and flower shapes that will give a base to build infinite future flower types.

       The stage now... 

            Interesting patterned foliage on a durable houseplant will bring Primulinas into consciousness and the flowering will follow.

        Who will do this?

            The Gesneriad Conservation Center of China is collecting species and making the F1 hybrids.  Their interest is Botany.  But, The World wants pretty plants.

            Someone in the United States will need to acquire all the species and breed for rapid flowering, sturdy plants. The hundreds of species will allow a variety of flower colors, shapes and sizes to please every gardener.

                      Asian Violets are going to happen!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

So what is the flowering response for Primulina?

Primulina 'First Time' created by Monte Walter/Vincent Woo
Story # 146,

            In commercial horticulture, one essential production technique that must be understood is:  What is the flowering response?

            What makes a particular plant flower?  Day-length (or actually night length) was proven to be the trigger for Chrysanthemums and Poinsettias.  Once the critical day-length is determined, then vegetative growth or flowering can be turned on or off depending on your goal.

            Some plants are day-neutral which means that other factors like temperature or drought or maturity (age) lead to flowering. 

            Primulinas are day-neutral.

            So far the only apparent flowering response is age.  When the plant is vegetatively propagated from a leaf, the resulting plantlets flower when old enough.  This is inexact and undependable.  Uncertain flowering is the main reason Primulinas are not a commercial flowering plant.

            We need to collect all the anecdotal evidence to determine what will cause flowering in the shortest possible time.  We can manipulate the environment if we know what triggers the fastest flowering.

            In the 70’s and 80’s, the first practical seed Geranium was developed.  Through a massive breeding and selection process, seed lines were selected for earliness.  But why?

            Growing Geraniums from seed would eliminate the acres of costly stock plants and drive down production costs.  This worked, but the equation changed when off-shore stock maintenance evolved and FedEx could bring you inexpensive cuttings overnight.  High quality cutting Geraniums returned and we have superior flowering types again.

            What’s this have to do with Asian Violets?

            There are hundreds of Primulina species known and more are being found in South China and North Vietnam.  Some of these species may flower very quickly from seed.  If they can be identified and used in the gene pool, rapid flowering will be possible.

            Hybrid selection will purify the flowering response and dependable flowering Asian Violets will be common.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Comments from the Springfield AVS Show and Sale

Primulina 'Hisako' grown by Barbara Jones
Story # 156,

Comments from the Springfield African Violet Show and Sale

            “My Violets die.  My Primulinas live on!
                        Asian Violets are good for gardeners who don’t have consistent watering habits.
                                    I’ve had my Primulina ‘Hisako’ for nine years!”

*** Pam, ----- Skilled African Violet club member who’s converting to Asian Violets.***

From a passing plant sale customer looking over the ‘Mini’ plants for Miniature Gardens.

“So fun!”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Plants aren't enough, you need pots to put them in...

Sinningia 'Li'l Georgie' in leak-proof ceramic
Story # 155,

            Most houseplants cannot set in water for any length of time without eventually dying.

            In greenhouse plant production, a big concern is media drainage.  Sub-irrigation with flood tables is a common practice but the water is drained away after saturating the crop.

            After having a perfectly grown plant, the practice of adding a colorful pot cover evolved.  Now we have no drainage.

            The in between method is to place the plastic grow pot into a pretty water proof ceramic pot with space in the bottom to act as a water reservoir. With the pot bottom above the ceramic bottom, there is little chance that the plant media can set in water for long.

            The advantage ----- Now you can have a pretty decorative water tight ceramic pot that doesn’t leak on your furniture to hold your ‘Mini’ plant.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Be the First...

Primulina 'Loki'  created by Peter Shalit
Story # 154,

            Be the first to have an Asian Violet--- like an African Violet, but better!

            If you want to challenge my claim, then try one for yourself.

            Asian Violets (Primulina) have been collected by hobbyists but have never been available in quantity until now.

            African Violets (Saintpaulia) were new 60 years ago.  Now they are the top selling flowering houseplant in the World.

            Asian Violets are just starting and Primulina ‘Loki’ is the best one.

            They will be available at the Philadelphia Flower Show from Meadowbrook Farm.

            Be the first…

Asian Violets for sale from Meadowbrook Farm

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

There's a whole lot of consumin' going on out there!

The Snickers Impulse

Story # 152,

            I now know of two Florida foliage growers who are each shipping over 10,000 small pots a week to wholesale customers nationally.

 Why are gardeners buying these huge quantities of small plants (under 3” pot size)?

I ask everybody who is involved with small plants what they think is happening here.  Nothing is sold unless it has a name and a use.  The ‘use’ is the unknown.

I talked with Ray Roberts and his son Matt Roberts of Central Florida Ferns, who are a major force in producing small plants.  Their impression is that affordability and cuteness is the motivation for sales.  They are used in mini gardens, terrariums and as gifts.

Matt says it’s like the ‘Snickers’ bar at the checkout.  The impulse is --- It’s not much cost and you gotta have one.

It just may be as simple as that!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

No Primulinas in Sight!

Primulina 'Loki' grown by Gary's Specialty Plants

Story # 151,

            I’m back from a once in a life time trip to the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE), the trade event showcasing the latest trends in foliage, flora and tropical in Ft Lauderdale, Florida.

            There were amazing displays of colorful foliage in all sizes. But NO Primulinas.

            I searched out all the ‘Mini’ plants that I could find.  Small plants are a serious trend.  There were vendors showing everything from unrooted cuttings, to cell pac liners, to 2” pot.  Three categories are trying to fill the current demand --- Succulents, Ferns and Foliage.

            No one showed Primulinas in their foliage mix.  Since every grower trying to catch up with this demand is adding varieties as fast as they can, it would seem that Primulinas would fit, if there were supply.

            The most logical power grower to investigate Primulinas would be Holtkamp Greenhouses, the leading African Violet grower in the World.  Mr. Reinhold Holtkamp told me they are not working with Primulina at this time.

            Steve Blank, the genus thinker who has reframed the theory of a start-up business would tell you that promoting Primulinas is in a ‘New Market’.  It is a product where you could be the first to create a monopoly.  You would have no competition but the catch is there may be no customers.

            The search at TPIE proved that there are no Asian Violets in sight.  The commercial barrier has not been broken yet.