COLUMBUS, Ohio — A horticulture program, first developed to simply spark interest in perennials, has now become a highly recognized resource for touting plant species in the green industry.
The Perennial Plant of the Year Program, in its 15th year, is maintained by the Perennial Plant Association — an international trade organization whose 2,000 members of growers, retailers, landscape designers, gardeners, educators and homeowners vote to bring the next perennial plant (new or old) into public light.
"The original intent of the program was to promote perennials — to bring some awareness of the plants to the general public each year. When it was developed in 1990, it was basically the first plant of the year program of its type," said Steven Still, executive director of the Perennial Plant Association. "It's since been imitated by others in the green industry, and it's a program that now others turn to promote and educate the public on perennials."
Still, who holds a research appointment with Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, along with a teaching appointment for the university's Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, said that the Perennial Plant of the Year is chosen based on several factors: its suitability within a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, easy propagation and ability to attract interest throughout the year.
"The goal of the program is to choose species that garden-lovers anywhere in the country and Canada can grow and maintain," said Still. "It's also important to pick plants that can be readily purchased, either at a nursery or your local Lowes."
This year's Perennial Plant of the Year is Lenten Rose, or Helleborus xhybridus, so scientifically named because of the variety of cultivated garden hybrids that now exist. The species is sometimes also referred to as Helleborus orientalis, the true wild type.
Lenten Rose, an evergreen, late-winter or early spring flowering plant, is a member of the buttercup family. It's a hardy plant that can survive as far north as Minnesota and Montana, perhaps even colder with adequate snow cover.
Still said Lenten Rose is unique in that it thrives in low light or shady areas and can tolerate dry conditions. It's year-round evergreen foliage makes for good ground cover when not in bloom, and the plant contains alkaloids that tend to detract deer from feeding. Flowers come in a wide range of colors, including red, pink, yellow, white and plum; mature plants can have as many as 50 or more blooms per plant.
"Lenten Rose is an easily grown plant, but it's not a well-known perennial," said Still. "The fact that it was chosen as a Perennial Plant of the Year may help boost the public's awareness of the plant."
The Perennial Plant of the Year for 2006 will be announced later this year. A list of previous winners and information on the history, cultivation, propagation and use of each plant can be found on the Perennial Plant Association Web site at http://www.perennialplant.org. Information about the association can also be found here.