Hibiscus lovers around the world know the name of Texas A&M AgriLife’s Dariusz Malinowski, Ph.D., who has earned his place as a renowned hardy hibiscus breeder.

Dariusz Malinowski carrying a tray of hibiscus plants amid a greenhouse full of plants with varying colors of flowers
Dariusz Malinowski, Ph.D., works in his greenhouse full of hardy and tropical hibiscus breeding lines. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

The City of Vernon ensured Malinowski will forever be celebrated for his research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Vernon by declaring Nov. 30 as Dr. Dariusz Malinowski Day. The honor coincides with the National Garden Bureau’s declaration of 2021 as The Year of the Hardy Hibiscus.

Malinowski, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant physiologist and breeder, leads the forage and ornamental plant breeding program, focusing on perennial cool-season forage grasses and hardy hibiscus at Vernon.

“Dr. Malinowski is well-deserving of the adulation his hibiscus breeding is receiving,” said Rick Vierling, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M AgriLife center at Vernon. “In 10 years, he built the world’s top hardy hibiscus program. Three years ago, he started a tropical hibiscus breeding program and has just licensed his first tropical. In the very near future, his tropical program will be No. 1 too.” 

At the Nov. 30 celebration, Mayor Pam Gosline announced the day dedicated to Malinowski and read a Texas Senate resolution proclamation recognizing his work as well as the efforts of the City of Vernon to be declared the Hibiscus Capital of Texas.

The proclamation reads, in part:
“Whereas, the Senate of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize Dr. Dariusz Malinowski and the City of Vernon for the development of an outstanding hibiscus breeding program … it is truly fitting that he receive special recognition for his exceptional accomplishments in the City of Vernon and the City of Vernon be applauded for support of his program; now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the Senate of the State of Texas, 87th Legislature, 2nd Called Session, hereby commend Dr. Dariusz Malinowski and the City of Vernon on remarkable success with the hibiscus breeding program; and, be it further Resolved, that a copy of this Resolution be prepared as an expression of esteem from the Texas Senate.”

Building the award-winning hardy hibiscus program

Malinowski started breeding hardy hibiscus plants in his yard as a hobby. In 2010, his hibiscus breeding program became an official part of the Texas A&M AgriLife center in Vernon and has gone on to produce award-winning winter-hardy hibiscus hybrids.

three vibrant pink hardy hibiscus flowers with deep maroon eyes
Winter-hardy hibiscus grown by Dariusz Malinowski, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research breeder. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

His program goal has been to produce a wide range of new shapes and novel colors. These have included a blue flowering winter-hardy hibiscus hybrid as well as a maroon, salmon, magenta and a number of dual or multicolored flowers on a single plant.

Since 2010, he has:

— Created and evaluated over 20,000 winter-hardy hibiscus hybrids.

— Disclosed 487 unique lines to the Texas A&M Technology Commercialization office, which makes these lines available for licensing by plant wholesalers worldwide to sell to the public.

— Had wholesale nurseries evaluate over a hundred of the unique lines.

— Developed nine cultivars brought to market by J. Berry Nursery under the trade name Summer Spice Hibiscus. These cultivars are sold to the public at garden centers and nurseries around the country.

Malinowski was featured on the cover of Seed World magazine in 2019, the publication’s first- ever cover story of a flowering-plant breeding program.

Expanding to the tropical hibiscus market 

Malinowski expanded his program to include tropical hibiscus in 2017. He has already created and evaluated over 2,500 hybrids and disclosed 228 exceptional lines to Texas A&M Technology Commercialization, making them available for licensing as well. One of his unique achievements is a “hanging basket” tropical hibiscus hybrid, which has not been seen before.

A vibrant red tropical hibiscus flower in a greenhouse setting.
A Hot Shot tropical hibiscus in the greenhouse of Dariusz Malinowski, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research breeder, at Vernon. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Dariusz Malinowski)

And he is already winning awards for his tropical hibiscus creations. The TAMU 14-0704-02 hibiscus developed by Malinowski was entered by J. Berry Genetics, the exclusive license holder, under the name Hot Shot in the Classic City Awards competition led by the Trial Gardens of the University of Georgia, UGA.

Classic City Winners are chosen based on their outstanding performance in UGA’s southeastern regional trials. The ratings are based on flower and foliage color, uniformity, vigor and overall resistance to the elements.

The following description accompanied the naming J. Berry Genetics’ Hot Shot as a winner: “These plants are as lovely as they are tough. The plants provided nonstop deep red flowers from start to finish. Whether on a sunny roadside or potted in containers, this hibiscus will put on a show. The plants maintain upright form without staking or manipulation.”

John Rutter, Ph.D., director of the Trial Gardens at UGA, states the Classic City Award winners are based on year-round performance and/or eye-clutching beauty in the over 2,000 plants in the garden. He adds, “Being a Classic City Award winner is equivalent to the Oscar and Tony rolled up as one.”

For more information on when the line might be commercially available, contact the J. Berry Nursery at [email protected].

City partners with AgriLife Research to build hibiscus reputation

In 2019, the City of Vernon, Chamber of Commerce and AgriLife Research partnered to donate hibiscus plants to community members. Around 600 plants that were no longer needed in the breeding process were donated to companies and organizations with the agreement that they be planted near their buildings.

The city has continued to promote the hibiscus plant giveaway annually, thanks to Malinowski’s donations. The official proclamation gives the City of Vernon the right to officially call itself the Hibiscus Capital of Texas and begin planning for an annual festival and other events.

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