are patented plants ruining horticulture?

davidrt28 (zone 7)April 24, 2014

Is anyone else sick of the way patented varieties disappear because the original producers want to move on to something else? And no one else can legally keep offering them? Plants are no longer offered on the individual merit, but on how much money they can make one exclusive producer.

Take for example, Heuchera 'Pewter Veil'. I had a bed of this in the late 90s. It did fine and had a demure beauty. Still looked like a wild plant. Grew fast enough you could divide it after a couple years. A few years ago I decided to shop for some Heucheras and noticed all of the new ones from Terranova et al. were much showier. Not what I wanted. For some odd reason it still shows up in some searches, as though it was briefly reoffered. But the UMN plantfinder, which seems to aggregate the past couple years, doesn't show any retail source.

Or how about Digitalis 'Spice Island'? It grew very well for 4 years, which is what you would expect for a short-lived perennial. Was the most interesting looking Foxglove I've ever grown, and was more vigorous than the straight southern European species from which it was hybridized. Is it still available in the UK? Yep. Can anyone else in the US market it in the US now that the owner, Sunny Border, decided to stop? Nope. (btw plain foxgloves grow like weeds in a wild part of my garden, so it's not like foxgloves struggle here and I had to coddle it.)

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I gave up on them about 5 years ago after learning more about some of them than I cared to know. Call it any name you like but I've decided to stick with perennial species I can grow from seed and plant in my garden without worrying about cultivar names.

Fundamentally, gardening is a very personal thing to an avid gardener. It's a marketing tool for growers/producers. As long as there are gardeners willing to shell out their hard-earned $$+ for new & more exciting perennial cultivars, money will drive the train.

Bottom line: I don't think patented plants are ruining horticulture. It's the humans behind the plants who are manipulating gardeners. It's only an assumption but I'm guessing the majority of gardeners don't have clearly defined goals for their garden beds. I do...and patented plants aren't on the list.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 7:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Plant patents for garden plants:
So many questions.

Re some of my favourite garden phlox, "invented" in recent years by Jan Verschoor, all with U.S. patents.

I have both Phlox paniculata 'Candy Floss' and P. paniculata 'Peppermint Twist'. The latter is a particularly striking phlox, with it's red purple and white bicolored flowers. It is also proving quite vigorous.

All of the four 'Peppermint Twist's I purchased had/have numbers of branch mutations.

All of the branch mutations look very much like 'Candy Floss', latter described as having dark pink-colored flowers. In fact, 'Peppermint Twist' was discovered and selected as a spontaneously occurring branch mutation of 'Candy Floss'.

Part of a plant patent requirement is that the patented plant must be new, distinct, uniform and stable. 'Peppermint Twist' was new, but, in my experience (above), it is not uniform and stable in the way in which it is distinct from the parent plant.

There is, in the patent description of 'Peppermint Twist', a disclaimer (?) concerning potential phenotypic variability resulting from differing growing conditions, but a question still comes to mind: does this amount of distinctive (genotypic?) variability invalidate the patent?

Below (August 5, 2103) one of our 'Peppermint Twist'. There is a potted pelargonium immediately behind.

(P.S. among so many other confusions; only the U.S. has a plant patent system. Canada uses Plant Breeders Rights).

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 5:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think it's good that plants are protected by patents. If you work so hard to create a unique plant, why shouldn't your work be rewarded?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In the scheme of things, doubt whether it actually matters much re patented plants in gardens.

The real issue for the future is with things like patented genetically engineered agricultural crops, coupled with the ability of agribusiness to control seed sources available to local farmers.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ditto, ditto & ditto gardenweed.

The more I read your posts, the more I think we share many similar interests, goals, & ideas in gardening. The patented-plant mindset offering the newest, latest, greatest, florific-est & most overdone-est engineered plants on the market is hoity toity & geared for selling some "New!" thing. For instance, screaming hot pink flowers sitting atop of busy variegated foliage--horrible-- but people do seem to want whatever is the latest new novelty. Obviously, I am not drawn to this kind of thing.

Most types of retail sales are like that, not just nursery sales. Look at clothing sales for instance. I do not consider gardening in the same category as selling or buying plants because buying plants is not my idea of gardening. Its shopping. This is about the horticulture market as the OP indicated but there are some gardeners not tempted by them.

I garden to be a part of nature, appreciate & observe it close hand, not to decorate around my house with the newest improved or high fashion plants sold in stores but again, thats just a reflection of my own view of gardening.

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Sat, Apr 26, 14 at 2:36

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 1:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I learned early on that in order to enjoy a garden that sustained pollinators as well as my own vision, design + purpose needed to trump appearance/curb appeal. No more than a season or two had passed when I concluded that the 'latest, greatest' cultivars of long-established perennials added nothing to my garden beds but empty spaces requiring the purchase (if I was foolish enough) of some other 'new and/or improved' cultivar.

It took fewer than a handful of horticultural eye candy failures to redirect and open my mind to less costly means of sufficiently filling my garden beds. I found it infinitely more satisfying to go walkabout my little green acre once I stopped going walkabout garden nurseries touting the latest/greatest cultivars.

I believe it's essential to identify individual garden goals early on and pursue those rather than chasing after whatever fads/trends are put before gardeners simply to increase garden center revenues. Are my own goals less or greater than they were 10, 20 or more years ago? It's a moot point. My goals are to (1) satisfy & please my vision; (2) sustain pollinators; (3) provide curb appeal.

If gardening teaches nothing else it teaches patience, sufficient to let nature set the pace. Once I accepted that I didn't need to control the garden, I began to enjoy it in a healthier way.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 7:34AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There are many examples of hybrids that were once popular and widely available that have disappeared for various reasons (lack of commercial success, mostly), going back to the turn of the 20th century or earlier.

It could be annoying if you had a favorite that's no longer on the market, but I hardly see that as "ruining" gardening.The "new and improved" syndrome affects nearly all products, and in gardening you can at least propagate most of what you like to keep it around long-term (try doing that with personal electronics).

And the good old unimproved species can usually be had easily (plants or seed).

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 10:30AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would think the reason certain plants are no longer offered is that they just weren't selling. Also, many patented plants revert back to the species eventually.

Also, don't all patents expire after a certain amount of time?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 10:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

20 years, RR, and there are no subsequent "maintenance fees" for plant patents.

Time period is a bit longer with PBR.

Make sense what you say, RR. There's also probably a sales strategy to offering new cultivars each year.

Personally I tend to like expensive perennials for the following reason: they are typically expensive because they were expensive to produce. That could be because they're difficult to raise from seed or because they originated with controlled breeding.

Such plants are typically well-behaved in mixed perennial beds. They are not aggressive growers/spreaders and they may have been selected for non-running and selected for (or be) non-seeders.

To me, maintenance is the key issue with the kind of mixed perennial bed that most people (gardeners or not) would chose when they see it in flower.

For me, the "good old unimproved species" or No Names are sometimes desirable perennials. But many of them are not tame enough (bad runners and seeders) for the kind of mixed perennial bed that maintains diversity of plants and changing flower colours throughout the growing season.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 11:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Seeders. What a thing. What could mother nature have been thinking?

Personally, I like a more natural look & choose plants that grow naturally in my conditions. I even love annuals, they come back next year for free from those nasty seeds, offer great long blooming color, texture & filler.

gardenweed..curb appeal?..definitely. Yes. Total control?..No. I can do that indoors with wall paint & furniture. Flying visitors.....always welcome. Sowing seeds for new plants? I do that every winter, its how I add plants.

I am more interested in searching out native plants not sold in the market that offer surprisingly overlooked garden interest, its a lot more experimental, fun & imaginative, especially when no one else is growing it. I get surprised all the time, often I wonder why this isn't marketed, its so nice.

Seems the breeders are after not only novelty but conformity as well. Plants well suited for The Gated Community mindset. Its a Levittown phenomena on a larger, more restricted scale. If I see one more typical entrance of Knockout Roses planted with the well behaved shrubs & always expected Miscanthus cultivar, I will die of repetition. They have done the same thing with this as they did with the Bradford Pear fad. That lovely well behaved perfectly oval tree that was over planted to the point of insanity. Nothing is more novel than seeing the new plants show up in these gardens so you can exclaim "Oh, I saw those at Home Depot" I remember when they first came out & were so expensive!

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Sat, Apr 26, 14 at 14:17

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 1:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
paul_(z5 MI)

â¢Posted by echinaceamaniac 7
I think it's good that plants are protected by patents. If you work so hard to create a unique plant, why shouldn't your work be rewarded?

Yes and no.

While I do agree that those who have invested time and $ into breeding/creating new plants, I have major issues with laws that allow big corps who create or breed lines of plants like superior strains of corn to dictate that the local small farmers around them cannot keep any of the seeds from their own plants because some of the pollen from the corp farm's superior plants has or may have fertilized the plants on the small farmers' lots.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 2:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mjc_molie(z6 CT)

Ditto, Paul, as it relates to the small farmer.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 3:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I see a big difference between horticultural industries, churning out novelties every year - of all sorts of plants like shrubs, bulbs, annuals-
And plants persons, breeding to improve a certain plant.
I once read an interesting article in which they defined one group/ tendency to take some natural species and just enhance it, like an interesting Salvia with slightly bigger flowers, better stalks, but all in all with a quite natural character.

On the other hand the kitschy tendency, like raising Daffs that look like roses, going for the stuff that is different from the natural type ( ruffled, double Hemerocallis etc.)

And plants can be a named cultivar without being patented. And with some species it makes all the difference, so I would not look down at named cultivars, they are important if you are seriously into garden design/ landscape architecture.

I guess a patent is kind of fair, if especially smaller breeders could benefit from it.

Geranium Rozanne is patented if my memory is right, and it is a remarkable plant. Not neat or particularly tidy, but resilient, vigorous and free flowering.

Well, it probably depends all on the context,

and personally I don' t like kitschy novelties.

And I just ordered some Asters that are re-discovered, introduced in the 1970 ies and now marketed as brand- new, but with good characteristics for low maintenance plantings.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 3:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Davidrt28 -

I don't seem to be able to email you, so I'll post this, even though it is somewhat off topic to the original question.

I looked on Plant Scout and found H. Pewter Veil at Lazy S's Farm Nursery. I have ordered from them and found the plants to be well grown and well shipped.

Here is a link that might be useful: H perennials at Lazy S's Farm Nursery

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 4:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
davidrt28 (zone 7)

"And plants can be a named cultivar without being patented."

This was kind of my point. There had been for over a hundred years before the craze of patenting really took hold in the 1990s. Classic varieties like the pastel Chrysanthemum 'Mary Stoker' moved from producer to producer and slowly acquired the reputation they have as time-tested varieties. If 'Mary Stoker' had been patented, it's possible the original producer would have thought after a couple years "OK, people are tired of Mary Stocker, we better start offering the brighter more saturated 'Mary's Daughter'" and the better plant would have been lost to commerce eventually.
I was using a bit of hyperbole to say it is ruining horticulture, but I don't think it's a good trend, overall. Nurseries that grow their own plants on a purely ad hoc basis (i.e. and e.g., don't have any patented varieties...think the former Seneca Hill Perennials) tend to struggle anyhow. It's not like they were really posing a threat to huge mega producers like Sunny Border, Monrovia, etc. A lot of those producers breed their own plants. So the only ones they have to worry about poaching their strains is another large wholesaler. But somehow this didn't affect the industry as a whole until about 1990. (there were patented varieties before then but it was very uncommon)

As for the species vs. cultivar debate, I do think it's valid to bring that up too. I like to have a mix of species and cultivars. A garden entirely of flashy cultivars would not be to my liking. In the world of rhododendrons, for example, people like Frank Fujioka and Jim Barlup have bred utterly amazing looking plants, but if you know rhododendrons, you wouldn't think in a million years that nature could have produced something similar. So, I see such plants as more of a accent to have here and there. I'd say in my perennial bed I only have a few plants that are obviously hybridized but they have their place. For example the Gaillardia called 'Tokajer' which is one of the only Asteraceae I grew that definitely looked hybridized. I don't care, for example, for the new strange Echinaceas. But the 2 plants I mentioned had serious ornamental appeal and it's a shame some small fry isn't allowed to continue propagating them for the handful of people who still want them. Maybe I'm complaining more about the nature of the licensing and whatnot than the notion of patenting itself.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 5:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
davidrt28 (zone 7)

Nhbabs...thanks, I have ordered from Debby several times over the past decade, she's a quality nurserywoman. But although she has a feature page for the plant, it's no longer in the main list where you can add it to a cart.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 5:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

David, not all cultivars need be flashy or accent plants. A cultivar is a selection made due to some attribute. It could be dwarfness, or foliage color, or bark (woodies), or fragrance or disease resistance or many other attributes. It's something that offers another choice. yes, sometimes its the flashy flower, but not always. The patent thing is just about cashing in on some noteworthy cultivar.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 12:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As a grower/retailer I respect the plant patent process and those who choose to go that route when introducing plants but in general I try to avoid growing patented plants unless I know the history and performance of that plant.

Too often I see new plants/cultivars that get introduced with a patent without truly knowing how it is going to perform in the garden or in different parts of the country, or without knowing if there is truly a market for that plant. If it has a patent the costs are too much higher for me to justify growing until I know it is going to do well, or sell well. And if it does have a patent, will I be able to get decent starter material that I can grow to a sellable size/quality in a reasonable amount of time (1 to 2 season)? There is nothing worse than getting junk starter material, losing half of it, and ending up with only half the crop expected. As a patented plant I can't even divide the remaining plants to make up for my loses. Then if the plants don't sell I can't divide the plants further to reduce my overall costs and lower the retail price so my only option, usually, is to dump that stuff at a lose. I've been burned too many times like this so I pick and choose which patented items to bring in here carefully.

Then, like you mention, there are some things that you can only get from the patent holder and when they choose to discontinue that item it drops out of the horticultural marketplace. I have a few things like that here where i have display clumps that will be held until the patent runs out and then propagated and sold again, but that takes a long commitment as a grower.

While I don't think it is necessarily ruining horticulture I don't think it helps anyone other than the patent holder. I also don't think that all that many of the patented plants are really all that unique or noteworthy, and too often just gimmicky and developed only to introduce something new.

Now don't get me started on trademarks and other branded marketing gimmicks...


    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 11:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
christinmk z5b eastern WA

I find it more annoying when they offer "new" varieties that don't have any discernible difference from the other ones on the market. It also seems that one company will offer their version of a plant that another co has made a lot of money on. Sometimes it is the exact same thing. Bah.

It's also frustrating when they don't trial these newbies for dependability or hardiness.

As far as the patents thing goes...I see both sides. What incentive would breeders have to develop cool new plants if they didn't make money off of it? And if patents weren't in place every co/nursery/grower would be propagating them (under the plants well-known name too) without paying dues to those who worked to bring that particular plant into being.

I just have a problem with the "asexual reproduction prohibited" thing applying to home gardeners that don't intend to seek financial gain by propagating (that includes dividing) a patented plant. That is a bit ridiculous to me.

I personally think the garden world would be a pretty dull if there were no bright shiny new (even gaudy) plants ;-) I'm also exceptionally glad they are developing versions of a particular species that are more compact and less prolific in the reseeding department. That is the reason I enjoy my double/sterile 'La Belle' Campanula more than the plain persicifolia nowadays (I say after having weeded out several buckets worth of them last week)! Lol.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 1:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Very interesting, Ctopher.

Would also actually be interesting to get you "started going on trademarks and ---", but as a working person you likely have more urgent things to do.

I can identify with what you say CMK. I've currently had difficulty getting reliable information on Primulas 'Perth Sunrise' and 'Perth Sunset'. You honestly get to wonder whether growers plant the seeds and if the resulting flowers turn out to have reddish-orange and yellow, call it 'Perth Sunrise' and if they turns out to be purple and yellow, call it 'Perth Sunset'. Is it just a matter of sampling the same gene pool?

"Asexual reproduction prohibited", as applied to home gardeners, is ridiculous. So when are they going to bring on the "no asexual reproduction police"!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 3:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
christinmk z5b eastern WA

-SB, LOL! I can almost see the Asexual Reproduction Prevention Unit breaking down my little gate and scouring my yard for the offending extra plants, looking thru my tag box, doing dna testing....

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 8:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

-SB, LOL! I can almost see the Asexual Reproduction Prevention Unit breaking down my little gate and scouring my yard for the offending extra plants, looking thru my tag box, doing dna testing....

Um, your tax dollars at work? Soylent Green anyone?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 8:44PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Border Patrol Plants
Border Patrol Plants: those small, front-of-the-border...
christinmk z5b eastern WA
Im looking for rare edible perennials for zone 5
I want things that require vary little work and do...
PSA: Please set up messaging feature in your profile!
Not sure if you guys are aware you are able to do this....
Agapanthus - where to buy?
I want to grow Agapanthus - the white one. Anyone know...
Whatcha' doing?
What garden related shenanigans are you guys up to? I'm...
christinmk z5b eastern WA
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™