EL PASO – Move over, yellow rose, the way to a Texas heart may soon be a bouquet of long-stemmed bluebonnets.
These Texas-sized beauties, developed by researchers at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in El Paso and Dallas, are expected to fill a void in the floral market.
“In the cut-flower market, there’s a real gap in blue flowers that can be used,” said Dr. Wayne Mackay, a horticulturist who specializes in arid ornamentals. Mackay worked on breeding the long-stemmed version of the state flower while Dr. Tim Davis, a plant physiologist in Dallas, studied the flower’s ability to withstand the rigors of shipping and handling.
The idea for a floral bluebonnet stems from a tall variety found in the Big Bend area, Davis said. Using seed they collected several years ago, Mackay and Davis began growing and selecting plants in the greenhouse to meet with floral market expectations. To be acceptable to consumers, the cut flower has to look good in a vase and avoid wilting for a certain minimum time, Davis said.
“The standards, roses and carnations, last up to 10 days. Novelty plants (such as the bluebonnet would be) can probably get by with a five- to seven-day vase life.”
Also, cut flowers have to withstand being shipped — usually by air freight in a dry, cool environment that may take 24-48 hours to the destination. Upon reaching the florist, flowers are re-cut and put in water to “come back to life.”
Davis said the team already has a long-stemmed bluebonnet that has those qualities and that produces about 25 flowers per plant, but some genetic improvement is needed. Native seed contains a lot of genetic variability, and nurseries need uniformity.
“Right now we are working with a plant that is still somewhat of a wild flower, so we have flowers that don’t all look the same,” Davis said. “The cut-flower market is like a factory — they must have uniformity, and the flowers have to bloom en masse at the same time.”
Mackay said now that the research has shown the flower is feasible for marketing, the breeding effort may turn to tissue culture to assist with uniformity.
The researchers expect to test-market the long-stemmed bluebonnet within a couple of years and to license the seed to growers shortly thereafter. Although the emphasis has been on developing a blue bluebonnet, tentatively called Desert Sapphire, the researchers also have developed a long-stem white known as Desert Ice and a long-stem pink called Desert Sunset, Mackay said.
Davis noted that such color choices are important for the floral market because retailers like to have varieties for different occasions, such as white for weddings and pink for Valentine’s Day.