How long does it take for a breakthrough plant to go from thought to reality? 15 years in the case of WorryFree® Crimson Cutie® Barberry, the first in a series of sterile Barberries introduced to the market by SynRG™ Growers from the breeding of Dr. Mark Brand of the University of Connecticut. 15 years is a long time by any measure prompting the question, why? Why is a sterile Barberry selection so important that 15 years would be considered worth the wait?
The answer to that question lies in the ability of Barberry to thrive in so many different landscape locations while exhibiting great color and form, all in a deer resistant package. It sounds like a homeowner’s dream plant but there was a dark side to the Barberry story that became increasingly apparent during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Most of the popular Barberry selections of the time like ‘Crimson Pygmy’, ‘Rosy Glow’ and ‘Atropurpurea’, produced huge amounts of seed. This seed was consumed by birds and deposited everywhere in their subsequent travels. Much of this seed germinated in fields and forests producing thickets of Barberry that proceeded to outcompete native plants in these varied environments. It was this invasive quality that caused Barberry to, rightfully, come under great scrutiny and, finally, led to outright banning in many states by the 2010’s despite its incredible home landscape value.
This perfect storm of issues was also the perfect opportunity to a breeder looking to make a change for the better. “The key reason for any breeding is to try to create plants that are better than what is currently available or that can solve a key problem”, states Dr. Brand. “That thought process for Barberry was put squarely in focus for me after a meeting in 2000 with nursery industry officials where it was made clear that bans were coming across the northeast U.S. on this staple genus.”
Brand was anxious to get started but immediately ran into issues. “Finding enough sterile material to start the breeding process was difficult which made getting started slower than I expected,” Brand relates. Once the process began, promising plants were found and selected based on brilliant foliage color, compact, landscape ready form and, of course, the all important need for complete sterility to completely remove the stigma of invasiveness.
These chosen plants, picked after a few years of crossing and back crossing, might have been ready for introduction then and there if belonging to any genus other than Barberry. “To be completely sure that there was no viable seed produced, we had to slow down the process and do a few seasons of testing. Placing these plants out where they were readily available for pollination may have slowed introduction down by a few years, but it was the only way to be absolutely sure we could state with confidence that they were sterile,” states Brand.
The first of these new selections, WorryFree® Crimson Cutie®, had huge implications for the plant market. Dense, compact and slow growing with purplish-red foliage, it was the perfect, non-invasive replacement for the most popular ‘old’ Barberry selection on the market, ‘Crimson Pygmy’. The big question facing Brand now was how to bring this game changing plant to market.
Brand explains his thought process. “I really wanted to make this introduction into the northeastern U.S. where Barberry was so important for the landscape and under such regulatory pressure. I figured it was a perfect plant to be introduced by northeastern and upper Midwestern growers that served the independent garden center market, a group that could tell the story about this game changing new Barberry the best. The SynRG™ Growers group seemed like the perfect group on all points.”
The SynRG™ growers, Overdevest Nurseries, Prides Corner Farms, Saunders Brothers, Inc. and Willoway Nurseries, Inc. know a great plant and a great opportunity when they see it (Sheridan Nurseries is also a founding SynRG™ grower but does not grow Crimson Cutie®). “We are thrilled to have WorryFree® Crimson Cutie® to offer our customers,” states Tim Kane, Inventory and Marketing Manager at Prides Corner Farms. “It brings the best of all worlds to the landscape…a compact, colorful, deer resistant plant that is hardy, easy to grow, thrives in sun and shade and can be used by homeowners in so many ways. Its complete sterility is so important and its approval for sale by the state of New York, one of the very few Barberries that holds that distinction, is huge. My only worry: Will we have enough?”
For independent garden centers, WorryFree® Crimson Cutie® is a big opportunity to distinguish themselves from their big box competition since none of the SynRG® growers sell to box stores. This plant has a great story that can be told exclusively by local independents, the trusted source for the best new plants and best plant information for years. Even better, WorryFree® Crimson Cutie® has been certified as a Handpicked for You® plant, meaning it meets a long list of stringent criteria that allows it to be certified as one of the best, most rewarding, most successful plants in the home landscape.
While 15 years is a long time to wait, WorryFree® Crimson Cutie® and its game changing nature means you can feel good about selling Barberry again! Get started by contacting one of the SynRG® growers in the U.S. today.