A commentary by Steve Lesch

Every year, the horticultural industry entices gardeners, landscapers, farmers & the public with catalogs, mass mailings, TV advertisements & Internet blasts about the latest developments in plant selections.

Some of these past quests have been for white marigolds, yellow petunias, bigger or tiny leafed Hosta, Hemerocallis - Daylilies that bloom nonstop all season long, the perfect shipping and heavily fruiting tomato, no-mow turf grass, etc. For some of these the horticultural and agricultural industry has had some luck, for others it will be a perpetual quest, as it seems plant lovers are never quite content.

However, this quest for the perfect flower, leaf, grain, form, etc often comes at the expense of a plant’s health as well as the gardener’s expense.

In the quest for the perfect potato to make French Fries, we have done away with the plant’s ability to resist some major diseases. (Major work regarding its resistance is being developed at the UW-Madison Campus.) In the quest for the perfect rose, well they just don’t smell like a rose - if anything at all. In the quest for numerous colors of Echinacea - Cone Flowers we’ve allowed them to become horribly susceptible to aster virus yellows. So many of the contemporary standard bearded Iris are highly prone to iris borer, whereas the old-fashioned ones of yesteryear are extremely tolerant of it. Physocarpus-Ninebark ‘Diablo’ is a wonderful plant but horribly susceptible to powdery mildew. Resistance is now being worked on at Spring Meadow Nurseries in Michigan

But, we continue to note they are all wonderfully new introductions.
Phlox paniculata, our common native garden Phlox, is a wonderful plant with its long time blooming and wonderful glorious fragrance. When many of the cultivars began surfacing in all shades of colors including near perfect blues, the industry neglected the natural resistance that many plants in the wild have to powdery mildew.  I stopped using garden Phlox in landscape designs for many years because it was just too prone to powdery mildew and made the plants very unsightly if not downright ugly.  Finally the industry selected plants that are wonderfully resistant - and in a few cultivars - totally immune to powdery mildew. But then another factor reared its head. Many of the new cultivars are very nicely resistant to powdery mildew but highly susceptible to Tetranychus Mites.  Again some plants show resistance to powdery mildew and mites with ‘Jeana’, ‘Goliath’, and ‘Hercules’ being some of my favorites.

Now we have Echinacea – Cone Flowers in nearly every color except purples and blues. Along with those wonderful and colorful hybrids nearly every one of them is highly prone to Aster Virus Yellows. It makes one sick to visit a garden and see all of the malformed flowers on horribly infected plants. I still love the older more resistant selections such as ‘Magnus’ & ‘Cygnet’ and the species & natural color forms of E. pallida and E. tennesseensis.  
I wonder what would happen if the label on many of the new hybrids noted that while:
“The flowers are gorgeous, however, your chances of having perfectly shaped flowers is very small in subsequent years in Southern Wisconsin”.

Viburnum carlesii - Korean Spice Viburnum is noted for its wonderfully fragrant flowers, but please be aware that the Viburnum Borer will reduce your plan to a bunch of dead twigs if not consistently chemically controlled”.
Did you ever wonder why some of the trade marked plants suddenly are no longer available?             

Well, they didn’t perform quite as expected in the vast array of pests, diseases and gardening environments found in United States.  They are simply taken off the market and not allowed to be sold.

In 2005, a small group of friends and I went to Michigan to view firsthand the destruction of our Fraxinus – Ash from Emerald Ash Borer. That year, I stated we would no longer be selling Fraxinus as it is socially unconscionable to do so. Nearly all other nurseries and garden centers continued to sell Fraxinus for many more years. Years later we finally have a ban in effect for the sale of Fraxinus in Dane County and 41 other Wisconsin counties.   http://datcpservices.wisconsin.gov/eab/article.jsp?topicid=20

Now DATCP wants to eradicate the sale of nursery plants with viruses. To me, this is somewhat ill directed. I believe, if one looks hard enough, every plant (Albeit those cultured to be virus free when first grown, only to potentially become infected once they are in the real world.) will have a virus. Understanding this, very few plants will be able to be sold.
Yes, there are plants where the virus should be controlled – such as in Hosta with its Virus X. However this ban does not hold all of the neighborhood sales accountable, that are distributing Virus X infested Hosta to other gardens. The real issue here, is that some plants actually rely on viruses to help them ward off diseases & pests, including predation by rabbits & deer, by making them unpalatable.  We are still quite naïve about how nature works at the virus and bacterial levels. Http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21572160-viruses-sometimes-save-their-hosts-rather-killing-them-enemies-no-longer    
Humans, in our ‘unlimited’ wisdom believe we can control everything.  Then, in the wild green yonder arrives a prion or phytoplasmid that forces us to be humbled for the umpteenth time.

Gardening is the excitement of growing a plant and having it performed admirably for you!

Think Green!
Copyright© 2017 Stephen S. Lesch


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