In the horticultural world, countless numbers of plant cultivars have been discovered and propagated to produce more desirable forms of desired plants. These include dwarf or other growth forms (such as upright, pendulous, prostrate); foliage color and texture (including variegations, leaf color, leaf forms); and improved adaptability(including tolerance to environmental or climatic conditions that are better than the species) . There are so many new cultivars being created that growers can’t keep up with them., so they are less known or often hard to find.
A cultivar is a subdivision of a variety/species that identifies a plant characteristic which originated in nature but can only be replicated by asexual reproduction and human intervention. In other words, it is a sport and began as a genetic mutation that was discovered by someone and reproduced as a clone
I even discovered one of these mutations but was unable to save it as a new cultivar – a variegated yaupon holly. To this day, there. still is no variegated form of this plant in the horticultural trade. I did discover a variegated form of Hamelia patens which lives to this day in my garden and is recognized on Dave’s Garden named “Beyer’s Variegated’. So anyone with a sharp eye can discover a new cultivar of any plant. Some are worthy of marketing, many are not but are novelties.
Here’s an example of how cultivars of desired plants can help solve garden and landscape problems. Most of us live in small residential sized yard communities where space is limited. We recently converted our entire yard to xeriscaping where perennials and shrubs take the place of turf grass. We researched native and adaptive plants that met requirements of ranging from 1 to no taller than 3’ height, both deciduous, hardy, and evergreen. Our desired plant choices included use of Jerusalem Sage, Copper Canyon Daisy Texas Sage, and Fragrant Sumac, but all these plants grow to 6’and larger.
Research on the internet found dwarf cultivars or forms of each of these plants — Phlomis lanata, a dwarf Jerusalem sage that gets no higher than 3’, albeit a different species rather than a cultivar; Tagates lemmonnii ‘compacta’, a cultivar of Copper Canyon Daisy that remains compact; ‘Siverado’, a dwarf form of the Texas Sage that grows compact and can easily be maintained at a small size, and ‘Gro-low’, a cultivar of Fragrant Sumac that stays 2’ tall and spreads to 6’. Another example of a problem solving cultivar is the upright yaupon. Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’ discovered in Hempstead, Texas. There was recently introduced a female, berry producing cultivar of the upright Yaupon named “Scarlet’s Peak”. This plant is ideal for a corner planting and takes up only a square foot of ground space. There is a dwarf cultivar of Hamelia patens that is much smaller than the species but provides the same ornamental features in smaller size. Then there is Miscanthus sinensis ‘gold bar, a dwarf cultivar of the Zebra grass – itself a cultivar, that gets only 2’ tall rather than over 5; tall. Then there is the dwarf cultivar of Mexican Bush Sage called “Santa Barbara” which is very compact but retains the desirable characteristics of the species. In the way of desired shrubs for our area, the dwarf Pomegranite and dwarf Barbados Cherry are highly desirable over the much larger natural species. Dwarf forms of Crepe Myrtle abound. There is even a dwarf species of the fast growing Wax Myrtle that stays below 4’ – Myrica pusilla.. So you may not have to give up growing a plant you like because it gets to big.
In fact, so many plants that we desire to have in our gardens may come in a dwarf, space saving, problem solving form. The first challenge is to find them through internet research, then find a source, or a retail nursery willing to order it from a grower for you. I focus this article on dwarf and compact forms of plants because with limited space, they allow you to grow a larger variety of plants in a given amount of space, which adds interest and variety to your garden. They reduce maintenance chores as well by growing much slower. Do keep in mind that variegated plant cultivars also grow at a much slower rate than the parent plants and can also help in space limited areas.
Ironically, I discovered a perennial plant for my garden that went the opposite direction – a shrub form of Verbena rather than the prostrate ground cover form I was accustomed to. I am amazed at how many varieties and forms there are of our favorite garden plants that can fit a specific need or niche in our gardens. An excellent example of this is the research Texas A&M has done with ‘earthkind’ roses to develop and introduce water saving, drought tolerant, and disease resistant roses which are a favorite plant for our gardens and landscapes.
On my wish list of new cultivar discoveries that haven’t been found yet includes a dwarf form of Yellow Bells Esperanza. Wouldn’t that be something! Well, maybe someday. New cultivars are being discovered all the time and introduced into the nursery trade. Be looking for them. I sure am!
Pictured below are examples of dwarf cultivars that save space. Top to bottom, left to right are Miscanthus sinensis ‘gold bar’ (dwarf zebra grass), Phlomis lanata (dwarf Jerusalem sage), Tagates lemmonii ‘compacta’ (dwarf copper canyon daisy), and Hamelia patens ‘nana ‘ (dwarf hummingbird bush).