Chicago Botanic Garden Announces Spring 2004 Arrival

In a major breakthrough in plant breeding, Chicagoland Grows, Inc. will introduce Orange Meadowbrite, the first orange-blooming coneflower ever produced in cultivation.

With its perfectly-formed orange blooms, deep-green glossy foliage and sweet orange-tea fragrance, Orange Meadowbrite is the long-awaited plant of Jim Ault, Ph.D., director, Ornamental Plant Research, Chicago Botanic Garden. Its scientific name is Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’ in honor of Art Nolan, Jr., a longtime benefactor of the Garden’s research program. The breeding program focuses on developing better varieties of popular native plants.

Ault’s seven-year hybridization effort to produce this unique coneflower is being introduced through Chicagoland Grows, a partnership of the Chicago Botanic Garden, The Morton Arboretum and the Ornamental Growers Association of Northern Illinois. Orange Meadowbrite, the partnership’s first perennial introduction, will be available in spring/summer 2004 through the following retail mail order catalogs: Wayside Gardens, White Flower Farm, Songsparrow, Jackson and Perkins, and Plant Delights. Monrovia, the major grower for Orange Meadowbrite, has exclusive distribution in premier Midwest garden centers in 2004. Wholesale growers will be able to purchase plants from designated nurseries in late 2004 for retail sales in spring 2005.

“The news of Orange Meadowbrite has traveled around the world faster than any new horticultural introduction in the last 10 years,” said Angela Palmer, plant introduction manager, Chicagoland Grows. “We have had requests for sources from nurseries as far away as Japan and New Zealand. This is truly a novel plant with so many traits desired by gardeners.”

Orange Meadowbrite is at home in formal borders, as well as in naturalistic meadow and prairie gardens. It quickly grows 24 to 36 inches high with a 24-inch spread, and rewards the gardener with flowers for six to eight weeks. Like all Echinacea, this orange beauty performs best in full sun and well-draining soil. It is prized for its resistance to disease, insect and cultural problems. Orange Meadowbrite is USDA cold hardy in zones five through nine, and has incredible drought resistance.

“Plant breeding is part science, part artistry,” Ault said. “A breeder paints in his or her mind an image of what may result from a line of breeding, then applies science to achieve that ambition.”

Coneflowers’ showy, petal-like ray flowers are sterile, but their small disk flowers are fertile, producing pollen and capable of producing seed. To create Orange Meadowbrite, Ault crossed Echinacea purpurea, a daisy like flower with a central cone surrounded by petal-like ray flowers, with Echinacea paradoxa, which has yellow petals and is the only Echinacea species that does not bloom in tints of purple or white.

The first step was to cover the female plants with a clear plastic isolation bag that allowed air to enter but stopped pollen-bearing insects. Ault then brought pollen from a male plant and applied it with an artist’s paintbrush to the flowers on the central disk’s flowers of the female plant.

The first seeds were collected in fall 1998 and produced 200 plants with purplish-pink blooms the following summer. Third generation crosses of these plants yielded a mélange of plants with ray flowers ranging from white with red bases to gold, tangerine, peach and flame orange. Like Orange Meadowbrite, many of the crosses also have a sweet fragrance.

A raspberry-colored dwarf coneflower, with compact habit, profuse blooms and non-drooping petals, is set for limited introduction in 2005. In following years, Chicagoland Grows will introduce shades of yellow, orange and white coneflowers, as well as a new chocolate-colored variety of Baptisia.

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