Seedless grapes and watermelons, year-round strawberries, and zucchini the size of your forearm—these are all examples of foods that have been genetically engineered to meet the demands of today’s society. When it comes to the floral industry, the same concept applies. Science plays a significant role in creating those picture-perfect arrangements our clients look for, and our breeders work hard to engineer the ideal flower every time.
Plant breeding is both an art and a science has been practiced for thousands of years. It involves changing the traits of plants to produce desired characteristics via different methods. These methods may range from more simple tactics, such as selecting plants with ideal qualities for reproduction, to more complex strategies involving knowledge of genetics and chromosomes. A plant’s genes determine what type of traits the plant will have (i.e., bigger blooms or longer stems). Plants that have been altered using complex molecular techniques are called cultivars (cultivated varieties) or cultigens (any plant modified by humans).
While flower breeders around the world create millions of new flower varieties annually, only a few hundred of these varieties are deemed distinctive enough to reach commercial production. Such varieties are made using classic breeding techniques, such as crossing cultivars and mutation of plant genes. Thanks to advancements in DNA technology, breeders have more tools to help create new and alluring varieties. Most recently, breeders have experimented with introducing new genes from unrelated species to produce groundbreaking traits in flowers. Examples include carnations that don’t produce ethylene (a naturally occurring chemical that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen, or flowers to wilt faster), allowing the flower to last longer; chrysanthemums that are resistant to common agricultural pests; and roses, petunias, and carnations in exciting new colors.
Cultivars that result from these breeding processes enter the market as soon as patent negotiations and regulatory approvals are completed. These trials are an integral part of the breeding process, and help ensure that these innovative new flowers will be successful on the market. Wholesalers and retailers can work with breeders to offer a competitive product that is unlike anything on the market. In some cases, businesses can also use new breeds in unique situations, much like the “Lynn rose” created by Rio to honor Lynn Lary Mclean! These processes help ensure that the flower business remains an ever-growing, ever-adapting industry, prone to a myriad of possibilities for new products.