For The Answer
Past, Present and Future Texas SuperStar Plants
"Texas SuperStar" is a Texas A&M University System trademarked nomenclature and label which is bestowed on specially selected plants which have attributes that make them Texas’ tough and consumer friendly. Skeptics often wonder how certain plants can be chosen as "better" than others. While it is true some people have never met a plant they didn’t like, plants which attain SuperStar status must be attractive and useful to the masses rather a special few "collectors". Every effort is made to ensure that SuperStar plants will consistently perform well for Texas consumers regardless of their plant growing expertise. There is no perfect plant so limitations of highlighted plants are explained to avoid discontent by those who overlook the obvious when growing plants. Realizing that some folks "can mess up a ball-bearing" and no plant is "bullet-proof", everyone is not successful with SuperStar plants. However, the vast majority of gardeners are successful and make Texas SuperStar plants a permanent part of their landscapes.
The majority of plant selections which have attained the Texas SuperStar status have originated in San Antonio under the tutelage of horticulture interests in this area. Once plants are selected and tested for market adaptability in the San Antonio area, the decision as to which plants should be highlighted statewide is primarily based upon observations made at replicated plots and demonstration trials across the state. Because plant performance can be rather subjective, as much input as possible is gathered from competent horticulturists who understand the importance of both landscape performance and marketability. A very important factor which must be considered when selecting plants for SuperStar educational and marketing campaigns is whether sufficient numbers of plants can be produced to meet the increased consumer demand to be generated. Nothing angers a consumer and/or a nurseryman more than not to have the promoted plants available.
What are the characteristics which make a plant a "winner"? I have mentioned a few such as (1) It must be attractive and useful to the gardening masses rather than a special few who devote themselves to one specific plant type; (2) It must consistently perform well for Texas consumers regardless of their plant growing expertise; (3) It must be able to be propagated and mass-produced in sufficient numbers to meet the increased consumer demand generated; (4) It must be unique and/or offer desirable and ornamental characteristics which are not usually available in commonly sold plants; (5) It must be as pest resistant as possible---an added bonus is to be a deer non-preference plant; and, most importantly, (6) It must be attractive in the sales container -- so attractive that it sells itself to the consumer who has never heard of the many attributes of the plant.
The Financial Impact of the Texas SuperStar (CEMAP) Plant Program Since the beginning of the Texas SuperStar Plant introduction program in the fall of 1989 through spring of 2007 there will have been 40 plants introduced and promoted to the Texas public. Four plants were million-dollar sellers (Satsumas, ‘Gold Star' Esperanza, Perennial Hibiscus and ‘Belinda's Dream' Rose) for the Texas nursery industry within 4 years of their introduction. The success of these plants will simply be evaluated by revenue generated by a plant material which was previously not available. Each one of the plants mentioned could produce at least a several hundred thousand-dollar boost to the nursery industry in one year of sales. To keep these profitable Texas SuperStars coming, an aggressive program of searching, propagation and testing must be maintained. This very conservative $15 million estimate takes into consideration number of items sold and the wholesale and retail sales price as derived from the major wholesale growers (Hines, ColorSpot and Greenleaf) in the state. This means that the value-added components are not included nor is the production of smaller wholesale plant producers across the state.
Each of these Texas SuperStar plants have generated over a million dollars to the Texas' Ornamental Landscape industry since their introduction:
Each of these Texas SuperStar plants have generated over a million dollars to the Texas' Ornamental Landscape industry since their introduction:
Fall, 1989 - September ---- Texas Bluebonnet; Texas Pride;
SPRING ( early April), '2000 --- Maroon- colored Bluebonnet (transplant)
named 'Texas Maroon' and/or 'Alamo Fire'
Each of these Texas SuperStar plants have generated over a one-half million dollars to the Texas' Ornamental Landscape industry since their introduction:
Summer, 1990 - May ---- 'Firebush' (Hamelia patens) ===================
Fall, 1993 - October ---- Chinese Pistache =================== Spring
(April), '2001 -----'Laura Bush' Petunia (Petunia x 'Laura Bush) from
Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg ================== SPRING, '2002 -----
Dwarf Ruellias (Mexican petunia) (Ruellia brittoniana) such as 'Katie
Dwarf', 'Bonita' Pink Dwarf 'Katie', and the Dwarf White
Each of these Texas SuperStar plants will be/have been one-quarter of a million dollars generators:
The Texas’ state flower -- the bluebonnet --- was the first Texas SuperStar in the fall of 1989. The natural affinity for this beloved state flower made this promotion an overnight success and launched the Texas SuperStar program.
Peterson Brothers Nursery in San Antonio and I had spent 10 years developing a process of growing bluebonnet transplants which are easier to plant than seed and interesting color variants as described at:
Eleven years later in 2000, the ‘Texas Maroon’ (‘Alamo Fire’) bluebonnet was the eighteenth SuperStar promotion. The connection to Texas A&M Aggies and winning the EuroFlora Award for the Most Unique Color as ‘Alamo Fire’ in Europe launched this bluebonnet color as a standard in Texas. Wildseed Farms (www.wildseedfarms.com) in Fredericksburg is now producing and distributing seed of this Texas SuperStar.
Red, purple and a ‘Patriotic Mix’ of red-white-and-blue bluebonnets will eventually be available..
‘Firebush’ (Hamelia patens) was the root-hardy perennial, drought-tolerant plant which was the second SuperStar plant promotion in May, 1990. The firebush was the first shrub-small tree plant to be introduced as a Texas’ tough perennial for difficult growing conditions. It blooms in small containers as a transplant and is the ultimate hummingbird-butterfly plant for hot, dry weather. It was considered difficult to root before horticulturists discovered the timing and conditions needed to increase the rooting percentages. Complete information can be seen at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/cemap/firebush/firebush.html
In August, 1990, using a cheaper-to-produce, showier American (African) marigold to beautify the fall landscape rather than the customarily used chrysanthemum was the third Texas SuperStar plant concept and product. To enhance the image and explain the concept of chrysanthemum substitution, a name was given to the American marigold variety chosen --- the "Mari-Mum" was born.
The tomato is the favorite vegetable of gardeners all over the U.S. and especially in Texas. The ‘Surefire’ (GoldSmith 12) tomato variety was the fourth Texas SuperStar plant in August, 1992. This tomato variety was first noticed by Dr. Frank Dainello in test plots in San Antonio. It was the most reliable fall-producing, heat-setting variety in Texas until seed became unavailable in ‘2001. It was a medium-size tomato fruit which had an extended shelf life.
Some gardeners who wanted a larger-fruited tomato variety were satisfied in the spring of 1997 when the large-fruited tomato variety named ‘Merced’ became the ninth Texas SuperStar.
Both Surefire and Merced were great tomatoes but they were both susceptible to tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). To address this problem, a new virus-free, large-fruited tomato named BHN 444 (‘Large Healthy Surprise’) should be named a Texas SuperStar in the near future. This tomato can be seen at:
The fifth Texas SuperStar plant promotion was satsuma mandarin trees in the spring of 1993. This offered Texans the most cold-tolerant citrus with the highest quality, seedless fruit. Plants can be grown in a container in northern areas of the state. It is an evergreen and has fragrant flowers in the spring as well as deep orange, delicious fruit in the fall.
The main varieties offered in 1993 were ‘Kimbrough’ and ‘Armstrong Early’. In 2002, Dr. Larry Stein and I introduced several new satsuma varieties which ripen earlier and produce higher quality fruit. Hopefully most of these selections will be grown on their own roots to control tree size and avoid rootstock sprouting problems. The new satsuma mandarin orange selections are named ‘Miho’, ‘Seto’, ‘Okitsu’ and ‘Mr. Mac’ (an ‘Owari’ selection) and will be available in several years as soon as sufficient plant numbers can be grown. The fruit can be seen at:
The sixth Texas SuperStar released in the spring of 1993 was the ‘Texas Gold’ columbine. The ‘Texas Gold’ columbine is one of the first flower of spring, grows best near the trunk of a deciduous tree (for shade in the summer and sun in the winter), and is the only columbine which will live through Texas summers. It is a Texas’ native.
In some markets, a combination of two Texas’ native columbines named ‘Blazing Stars’ Columbine (Aquilegia x puryearana 'Bernice Ikins')
will be available in the spring of 2003; it will be more widely available and probably reach SuperStar status as seed become available.
The first Texas SuperStar tree and the seventh SuperStar was the ‘Chinese Pistache’ (Pistacia chinensis) in the fall of 1993. This is a drought-tolerant, bird-friendly, fall-colored tree which Dr. Steve George had popularized in San Antonio in the ‘80's when he was the Bexar County Extension Horticulturist.
This was followed by Deciduous Holly (‘Possum Haw’) (Ilex decidua) in the fall of 1999 as the seventeenth SuperStar.
This was followed by Oriental Maple (‘Chinese Maple’, ‘Purpleblow Maple’, ‘Shantung Maple’) Acer truncatum in the fall of 2001 as the twenty-third SuperStar.
This was followed by ‘Lacey’ Oak (Quercus glaucoides) in the fall of 2002 as the twenty-seventh Texas SuperStar..
And this will be followed by ‘Chinquapin’ Oak (Quercus muhlenbergi)
The moderate successes of all of these SuperStar promotions was limited only by the supply of product during the marketing blitz.
The SuperSun Coleus named ‘Plum Parfait’ and ‘Burgundy Sun’ were the eighth Texas SuperStar entry in the spring of 1995. These were the first coleus to possess the characteristics to survive and thrive in the full sun exposure of hot Texas’ summer heat as well as in the shade which is preferred by most coleus. ‘Burgundy Sun’ was a stable sport selection from ‘Tiger Stripe’ made at Peterson Brothers Nursery in San Antonio.
The tenth Texas SuperStar was declared in the summer of 1997. It was Trailing Lantana. Two named Trailing Lantana -- Imperial Purple or Weeping Lavender (Lantana montevidensis) and Weeping White or White Lightning Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) -- were chosen for fragrance and beauty. The interesting thing about this lantana is that it blooms as much, if not more, in the winter as it does in the summer.
New Gold Lantana (Lantana x hybrida 'New Gold' ) was later added because of the local promotions which had been previously done. ‘New Gold’ is the most floriferous, sterile (makes no seed so has longer bloom cycles) golden lantana that exists.
The eleventh Texas SuperStar promotion was done in the fall of 1997. The Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) promotional program was not very impressive since this plant had been on the market for years and is mostly a fall bloomer.
Hopefully an improved selection of Salvia farinacea named Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ (Duelberg Sage) by Greg Grant will be more successful. It is available in blue and white. The leaves are larger and the blue is darker than the common Salvia farinacea and this selection blooms more during the summer. Since Salvia farinacea is a Texas native and is not a deer preference plant, this improved selection holds much promise.
The twelfth Texas SuperStar promotion and one of the most popular plants ever introduced was ‘Blue Princess’ verbena. This promotion was accomplished in the spring of 1998. A made-for-Texas verbena named ‘Blue Princess’ was brought back from England by Greg Grant. This verbena and its offspring are the only true perennial verbena for Texas. They are more cold-and-heat tolerant and have larger flower heads than any previously tested verbena. They are more disease and insect tolerant as well. Blue Princess verbena was the most floriferous and vigorous growing variety in Texas when propagated from virus-free stock. Because the original stock of ‘Blue Princess’ became contaminated with virus, a seedling selection from ‘Blue Princess’ named ‘Dark Lavender Princess’ from BallFlora is often substituted for and sold as ‘Blue Princess’. Many seedlings of ‘Blue Princess’ possess the many strengths and attributes of the parent. In 2003, BallFlora will release the first certified, virus-free cuttings of ‘Rose Princess’ which is a seedling of
‘Blue Princess’. Other seedling selections are being tested and will be released for consideration as Texas SuperStars.
In the spring of 1998, Scaevola aemula ‘New Blue Wonder’ Fan Flower was made the thirteenth Texas SuperStar mainly because of outside forces and considerations. This was a miscalculation and received a lack-luster reception by gardeners who could only have success with the plant when it is grown in a container and exact lighting requirements.
Memorial Day (May 22, 1998) hosted in the fourteenth Texas SuperStar in the form of a larger-flowered purslane in vivid colors which has never been equaled in the market. The Yubi-type purslane quickly replaced the smaller flowered versions and purslane became even more popular for hot summer color. It was determined that this purslane is the best color plant for areas which can never receive supplemental watering.
In the spring of 1999, a cute little petunia named ‘VIP’ (Violet In Profusion or Very Important Petunia) became the fifteen Texas SuperStar. The original plants were grown from seed brought from Germany by Greg Grant. Commercial nurserymen felt that the flowers were too small to be successful BUT it was the only plant they produced that the workers wanted to take home. It was the only plant consistently removed from demonstration plantings. The public had spoken; something about this profusion of cute little flowers on a tidy plant made this truly a Very Important Plant. It is Petunia violacea which is a parent of all modern petunia hybrids.
The ‘VIP’ petunia was a stand-alone SuperStar which was soon to give rise to one of the most famous Texas SuperStars of all time. Greg Grant genetically crossed the ‘VIP’ with an old-fashioned petunia. The seedlings produced a superior selection of old-fashioned, fragrant, reseeding petunia which was given the name ‘Laura Bush’ after the then first-lady of Texas. Mrs. Bush married well and now the ‘Laura Bush’ petunia is the only flower named after the First Lady of the United States of America. In the spring of 2001 the ‘Laura Bush’ petunia (Petunia x ‘Laura Bush) became the twenty-first Texas SuperStar, a couple of years before George W. Bush became President of the U.S. We had previously named a lavender bluebonnet for Former First Lady Barbara Bush (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/flowers/bluebonnet/BarbaraBush.html)
In May, 1999, ‘Gold Star’ Esperanza (Tecoma stans) or Yellow Bells became the sixteenth and one of the most spectacular of all Texas Superstars. Esperanza or Cup-de-Oro (Called Cup of Gold in West Texas) had been considered as a possible superior landscape plant for over 10 years when Greg Grant and I had noticed it blooming in the Hell-ish conditions of Laredo in August alongside firebush. Esperanza, as is firebush, a root-hardy perennial and a very drought-tolerant plan. The Esperanza is also a shrub-small tree plant which could be used as a Texas’ tough perennial for difficult growing conditions. Firebush which was the second SuperStar plant promotion in May, 1990, but Greg and I looked for 10 years before we could find a selection which would bloom on a very small cutting and could be maintained in small containers. Greg spotted this superior plant in a front yard located just off of Highway 90 and General McMullen in San Antonio. ONLY THEN did Esperanza become the most widely planted Texas SuperStar in San Antonio and the ultimate hummingbird-butterfly plant for hot, dry weather and neglected planting sites.
In the summer of 2000, the big bloomer (perennial hibiscus) Texas SuperStars became the nineteenth selections.
The perennial hibiscus with the largest bloom (12 - 14 inches in diameter) in the world named ‘Moy Grande’ was the standard bearer for this promotion. The bloom of ‘Moy Grande’ is not necessarily the most shapely but IT IS THE LARGEST. In fact, the 14-inch bloom of ‘Moy Grande’ is the second largest bloom of ANY flower in the world---and Texans like BIG!!
I found ‘Flare’ perennial hibiscus in my hometown, Somerville, Tennessee. It had been bred by Dr. Sam McFadden while working as a plant breeder-teacher for the University of Florida. He developed three hibiscus: ‘Swanee’ (a pink), ‘Red River’ (a velvet red), and ‘Flare’ (with a color Dr. Sam could not describe except with the name--it is the color of a burning signal flare that some found "gaudy"). There were only three plants of ‘Flare’ left in the world when I found it----since then thousands have stolen the hearts of "gaudy"-loving people all over the U.S. This "gaudy" color is best described as red-with-a-shade-of-pink which makes it a glow-in-the-dark florescent color. Another thing Dr. Sam didn’t like about this plant since he was a plant breeder was that it was "a bad Mother" and produced very few seed. To the gardener, this means that the plant is practically sterile and keeps blooming rather than producing an abundance of worrisome seed. Dr. Sam didn’t like the poor vigor of the plant-----horticulturists refer to this trait as DWARF making it ideal for small spaces and containers. What Dr. Sam overlooked and we only noticed when growing it in comparison with ‘Moy Grande’ and ‘Red River’, is that ‘Flare’ is a very efficient utilizer of nutrients. It grows well, leaves stay dark green and it flowers profusely with very little fertility.
The ‘Lord Baltimore’ was chosen as a red perennial hibiscus to round out this group. ‘Lord Baltimore’ was more available in nurseries, had a more visible bloom than ‘Red River’ and produced more blooms in certain areas of Texas. However, ‘Red River’ should have been the choice since it is more adapted to Texas growing conditions and breaks dormancy and blooms faster in the spring.
The Bunny Bloom Larkspur (Consolida ambigua) was named as the twentieth Texas SuperStar because of the bicolor blooms with pink petals and white "bunny" head. It was to be promoted in February, 2001, as a once planted, forever beautiful annual from seed or transplant. The single-flowered ‘Bunny Bloom’ was to be combined with double flowered types from Wildseed and seeded in the fall of 2000 or transplanted in February, 2001. Unfortunately, major transplant producers had difficulty producing enough plants to do the promotion so it was never widely promoted. It has been done in San Antonio for several years.
‘Butterfly’ Deep Pink’ Pentas ( Penta lanceolata from Pan American became the twenty-second Texas SuperStar in May, 2001. This Penta was to offer a smaller growth habit and more compact plant. Because Pentas are not an extremely popular bedding plant and since this smaller-growing plant was excessively stunted when exposed to adverse growing conditions, the impact of this promotion was minimal.
SPRING, ‘2002 ----- Dwarf Ruellias (Mexican petunia) (Ruellia brittoniana) such as ‘Katie Dwarf’, ‘Bonita’ Pink Dwarf ‘Katie’(patented as ‘Bonita’ by ColorSpot Nursery in San Antonio), and the Dwarf White ‘Katie’ were promoted in the spring of 2002 as the twenty-fourth Texas SuperStar promotion. The original ‘Katie Dwarf’ was introduced several years earlier by Lynn Lowery. While in San Antonio, Greg Grant crossed ‘Katie Dwarf’ with a standard, large-growing pink and produced
a pink version of ‘Katie Dwarf’ named ‘Bonita’. The white version was found in Florida several years later. The drought-tolerance of this plant is unsurpassed and the short stature of this plant makes it much more acceptable and manageable than the taller, more invasive type. This is not a deer-preference plant and must be in sunny location to bloom the best. However, some landscapers are using this plant as a groundcover in shady areas and sacrifice the blooms for the insect and disease resistant, dark green foliage.
SPRING (April), ‘2002 ----- The Belinda’s Dream (Rosa x ‘Belinda’s Dream) became the twenty-fifth Texas Superstar in the spring of 2002 and the first rose ever selected. It is a combination of the old-fashioned (antique) and hybrid Tea with fragrance and durability. The reason this rose was chosen was because it is extremely easy to root from cuttings and can be successfully grown by large commercial producers using frequent (daily) overhead watering without severe damage from fungus diseases. This means that the rose can be mass propagated without the need of expensive and time-consuming grafting onto a root-stock. Because of these characteristics, growers were able to have over 100,000 plants available on the market during the promotion. To the credit of the rose, the producers were able to grow large quantities of marketable plants before the promotion was scheduled to begin. The merits of the rose sold over 50,000 plants before the actual promotion began! Because this rose "looks like a rose" and "smells like rose", people did not have to be convinced that it IS a rose. This is not the case for most antique roses. Because this plant is growing on its own root system, it has the strengths and advantages of antique roses yet is has the modern rose look.
When you find a good plant, inevitably someone wants a different color!! To fulfill this need, I am testing several yellow rose selections which I hope will be a yellow ‘Belinda Dream’ type. The best candidate so far is the 'Sequin' yellow rose (named because it was found in the town of Sequin. It is presently being evaluated by commercial producers.
In the spring of 2003, ‘Marie Daly’ Rose (Rosa x polyantha ‘Marie Daly’) will become the twenty-ninth Texas SuperStar. It is a pink-and-pretty thornless sport of a favorite (old-fashioned) antique rose -- ‘Marie Pavie’. Time will tell whether this antique look will be remotely as popular as ‘Belinda’s Dream’. The ‘Marie Daly’ is as fragrant, if not more so, than ‘Belinda’s Dream’ but it lacks the modern rose look which a large percent of the buying public wants for uses such as for cutflowers. Large commercial numbers are not available because of the skepticism about its public appeal.
In May of 2002, the perennial phlox ‘John Fanick’ and ‘Victoria’ (Phlox paniculata ) became the twenty-sixth Texas SuperStar. The ‘John Fanick’ phlox is white with a burgundy eye
and the ‘Victoria’ phlox is lavender.
The simple reason why these phlox were chosen as Texas Superstars is because they are the only two selections of perennial phlox which will live any length of time in the harsh Texas’ growing conditions. All others are prone to severe powdery mildew and yellowing in alkaline soil.
In February, 2003, the Phalaenopsis Orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.) will become Texas SuperStar twenty-eight. Hopefully, this plant’s many desirable characteristics will make it a Valentine favorite. This particular orchid has simplified orchid growing for the homeowner. If you can grow and bloom an African violet in your home, you will successfully do the same thing with the Phalaenopsis orchid. An adequate supply will be coordinated by Dr. Yin Tung Wang, Texas A&M Research Horticulturist in Weslaco.
Other plants which have many desirable characteristics and will probably soon become Texas SuperStars are:
Chinese Trumpet Creeper (Campsis grandiflora)
New Dwarf Bush Morning Glory named 'Squirt’
Ipomoea fistulosa Mart. ex Choisy
‘Texas Lilac’ Vitex (Chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus)