The Top 10 Most Influential Plant Varieties

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1. The Knock Out Rose

Before Knock Out came along, who would have guessed a rose would become the most important plant for garden retail? David Austin Roses had made some progress in erasing roses’ reputation as fussy and unattractive garden shrubs. But The Knock Out Rose debuted and gained a reputation as indestructible in just about all climates. It was the highest grossing plant for many retailers for several years. Other varieties in the series have had success, but nothing like the phenomenon of that first Knock Out.

2. Petunia ‘Purple Wave’

This is the spreading variety that launched the petunia craze. Wave petunias not only captured consumer interest, but set the stage for the popularity of all the mini-petunia baskets that took off after ‘Million Bells’ calibrachoa hit the market. It’s hard to imagine an industry not dominated by petunias.

3. Endless Summer Hydrangeas

Endless Summer’s huge success just goes to show you what can happen when innovative breeding — old growth branches producing blooms and serious cold hardiness — meets great marketing.

4. ‘Stella d’Oro’ Daylily

Daylilies were a quiet part of the garden center mix before the revolutionary ‘Stella D’Oro’ came along. This tough, dwarf variety had spectacular success with landscapers and consumers, appearing in highway plantings and home gardens alike.

5. Super Elfin Impatiens

Many credit the Super Elfin series with making impatiens the industry’s No. 1 commodity plant. Its fast-track production, uniformity and reliable performance dominated small-sized bedding annual sales for both growers and retailers. And that dominance is why the impact of impatiens downy mildew is so profound. If the disease continues to spread in the coming years, it’s likely several plants will have to fill in rather than any one species being able to replace impatiens.

6. Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’

I’m going to cheat on this entry and sneak in two other shade-loving, fascinating-foliage plants under the ‘Palace Purple’ listing. ‘Palace Purple’ put heuchera on the map and is now a deer-resistant staple. Likewise, Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ was a breakthrough in hellebore breeding that made the species a commercially attractive option. Kong coleus made consumers and retailers look at coleus in a whole new way. Plantsman Allan Armitage says no list of most influential plants can hope to have any credibility without ‘Palace Purple’ and ‘Ivory Prince.’ His choice of coleus, however, would have been ‘Rustic Orange,’ which was part of the original Sunlover series.

7. Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’

‘Goldsturm’ was one of the first perennials (and the most widely used perennial) in commercial plantings, says Plants Nouveau’s Angela Treadwell-Palmer. The variety was so successful, it’s what many consumers think of for all rudbeckias.

8. ’Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple

‘Bloodgood’ is the best-known Japanese maple, mainly because so many varieties are sold under that name. Although Japanese maples were first introduced to the West in the 1700s by a protégé of Linneaus, they took off as a popular ornamental tree in the U.S. only in the past two decades.

9. Echinacea ‘Orange Meadowbrite’

‘Orange Meadowbrite’ isn’t sold much anymore, Treadwell-Palmer says, but it was the first orange coneflower introduced. That led to a race for more orange, then yellow, then double echinaceas.

10. Ipomoea ‘Margarita’

Another surprise success, ‘Margarita’ became a staple for combo planters when sweet potato vine was on no one’s radar.

Carol Miller is group editor of Today’s Garden Center and Greenhouse Grower. You can eMail her at

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7 comments on “The Top 10 Most Influential Plant Varieties

  1. Julie DeFlavis, Buckman's Gardne Works, Doylestown, PA

    Love all your top ten, but my eleventh would be Loblaria "Snow Princess". Very hardy, can be planted in spring with pansies and take some frost and will bloom all summer, even in the hottest temperatures, until frost. Some of the newer varieities need to be trimmed, but what a versitile plant.

  2. Phillip Townshend

    An interesting list of branded programs but I think you are forgetting the first of the branded programs developed for consumers Flower Carpet Roses.

    These were released many years ahead of Knockout and were the first to really address the easy care requirements that consumers wanted with their roses.

    Flower Carpet was easily recognised by consumers as the “Rose in the Pink Pot” (in fact they were the first in the industry to use colored pots and large informative labels thus setting the model for other programs like Knockout and Endless Summer) and they have continued to be popular with gardeners across the USA and available from many retailers with continued improvements in the breeding genetics.

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  7. Zack

    I liked seeing ‘orange meadow bright’ on the list. I can still remember seeing it for the first time and being in awe. the only other plant I remember being that excited about was ‘black lace’ sambucus, its still one of my top tens!