Insights into the lengthy, painstaking and expensive process of developing new flower varieties.

By Nita Robertson, AIFD

It all begins with the seed. Around the world, plant breeders are working in labs and greenhouses to develop better cut flowers for florists and their customers. I’m perpetually astounded by the array of novel varieties fashioned through the application of science and technology. Countless hours of research and meticulous development are poured into this captivating endeavor.

Cut flower breeders specialize in breeding and developing new varieties of flowers as well as improving existing varieties. Their work involves a combination of scientific knowledge, creativity and practical skills, and they play a crucial role in expanding the diversity and enhancing the beauty of cut flowers, contributing to both aesthetic enjoyment and environmental sustainability.

In the selection process, breeders meticulously choose parent plants that exhibit desirable attributes such as bloom color, fragrance, size and shape; disease resistance; and suitability to specific climates, for example, drawing from existing varieties and even wild species. Employing controlled pollination techniques, they orchestrate crossbreeding to introduce fresh genetic permutations. This meticulous process necessitates meticulous planning to ensure compatibility and mitigate genetic vulnerabilities.

Upon achieving successful crosses, breeders propagate the resulting seeds or cuttings, employing methods such as grafting, cloning or tissue culture to propagate plants bearing sought-after traits. Experimental cultivation in designated plots or field trials facilitates the evaluation of new varieties across diverse conditions, assessing factors including those mentioned above as well as flower quality and durability, including post-harvest vase life; growth dynamics, including bloom and stem production per plant per month; and pest tolerance and pesticide sensitivity—among other criteria.

Ball greenhouse

Through meticulous observation and analysis, breeders discern plants exhibiting the most promising traits, selectively breeding those that meet predetermined criteria while discarding those failing to meet performance benchmarks. Multiple generations of testing are conducted to ascertain the stability and consistency of desirable traits, subjecting plants to varying environmental conditions to gauge long-term performance. Once a new variety attains stability and acclaim, breeders collaborate with growers, nurseries and/or seed companies to bring it to market. This process of creating a single new variety involves thousands of man-hours over a number of years.

It’s important to understand that the lengthy and complicated process of creating new flower varieties typically has a success rate of less than 1 percent! Many trials simply do not produce flowers that are marketable in the end, and those varieties are generally discarded. However, some genetic breeding misfires and perceived failures have resulted in unusual and unintended new varieties of flowers—both colors and bloom forms—that captured the fancy of enough florists who were lucky enough to see them before they were discarded, so much so that the breeders took a gamble and continued the journey of bringing them to market. Two such examples are ‘Ivanhoe’ garden roses, with their green grass-like centers, and the similar-looking ‘Romance Crown’ series of Ranunculus.

Brilliant Breeders


Founded in 1953, Danziger is today one of the world’s most innovative floriculture companies, engaged in the breeding, propagation and production of unique cut flowers and annual and perennial plants. The company is headquartered in Israel and has facilities in Kenya, Colombia and Guatemala. Its ‘Million Stars®’ variety of Gypsophila was introduced in the late 1990s and quickly earned global recognition and awards. Among the hundreds of Danziger’s imaginative cut flower introductions are the wildly popular ‘SCOOP®’ series of Scabiosa; ‘Green Dragon®Lepidium; ‘PagodaCaryopteris; the ‘Queen® Cutflowers’ series of cut Kalanchoe; ‘TRIGREEN XLDianthus, the unique green ‘Unicorn’ variety and the ‘Skyler Splash’ series of spray Veronica; the unusual light-cream-colored ‘Moonlight Glory’ variety of Solidago; ‘EnchantéLimonium; the multicolored ‘Star’ series of Ornithogalum; the ‘Paintball’ series of Pycnosorus (previously known as Craspedia), which features round and oval flower heads; and the Xlence Collection of Gypsophila.

wedding arch
Featuring Enchante by Danziger- Floral Design Blue Jasmine


Ball SB is well known for its innovation in developing new varieties and breeding programs. With a cutting-edge research center located in Sesquilé, Colombia, 35 miles northeast of Bogotá, equipped with a fully operational TC (tissue culture) lab, Ball SB conducts hundreds of trials annually. Its R&D team follows a rigorous and strict process of evaluation and selection to provide and introduce new varieties and genetics to bring more color and beauty to nature. Part of the Chicago, Ill.-based Ball Horticultural Company, Ball SB distributes seeds, plugs, cuttings and TC plants in Central and South America as well as Kenya and Ethiopia, offering their own genetics and representing third parties in the region. Furthermore, Ball SB provides comprehensive marketing programs to support the growth of their clients’ businesses in consumer markets, ensuring the success from propagation to market.

ball seeds greenhouse


Suntory Flowers, which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and has an R&D Center and Innovation Field in Higashiomi City, revolutionized the floriculture industry in 1987 by introducing the ‘Surfinia®’ series of Petunia, the first trailing/hanging Petunia brand on the market. In the world of cut flowers, Suntory is known for synthesizing delphinidin, the blue pigment in most blue flowers, thereby creating the unique blue-violet series of Florigene® Mooncarnations and the Suntory ‘Blue Rose Applause®’. Most recently, in the fall of 2023, Suntory introduced BluOcean® Chrysanthemum, a series of five unique purple/violet-blue decorative-flowered spray mums.

Suntory Flowers booth at Proflora trade show in Colombia earlier this year

The development of BluOcean® Chrysanthemum was a years-long collaboration between Suntory Flowers and the Japan-based National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO). The two organizations started applying Suntory’s know-how of creating “blue” carnations and roses via genetic modification to Chrysanthemum flowers in 2016, but because it is a genetically modified crop, the process of obtaining permits and approvals, etc., took time—longer than expected—and it was not able to be introduced to the market until late last year.



Based in Ecuador (Quito) for more than 33 years, Plantec was the first to introduce rose varieties in that region. Historically, growers would travel to countries such as Germany, Holland, France and Australia to see new rose varieties, order the plants, and then wait—sometimes up to a year for the plants to make their way to Ecuador. Many challenges arose from this old system, the biggest of which was that rose plants change dramatically—including color—when grown in different light and climate conditions.


“For example, I have seen a wonderful, brilliant productive yellow rose in Europe turn into what can only be described as ‘orange looking cacti’ when grown in Ecuador,” shares Aviram Krell, new product manager at Plantec. “This variability and inconsistency made planting new varieties incredibly risky for Latin American growers. Plantec changed this mindset and began growing the new varieties in its Plantec Showroom and Flores Verdes Showroom [in Cayambe, Ecuador], which are actually greenhouses dedicated to showcasing how upcoming commercial varieties grow in Ecuador.”

Plantec’s 2024 collection promises to be one of the most exciting yet, featuring innovative varieties such as ‘Shocking Blue®’, a deep lavender-blue rose, and ‘Silver Sand’, a fragrant fully blooming sand-colored rose ideal for weddings and other events.

Krell explains that Plantec’s testing program is a five-to-seven-year process and that any new hybrids that are not significantly better than current commercial varieties are discarded. “This is a heavy-handed process, but it’s a common and necessary practice,” he explains. “To give you an idea of the success rate we work with, more than 99.99 percent of all new varieties we review do not make the cut.”

Determining what growers want poses a significant challenge, particularly with rose varieties. “For some markets, roses with 50 to 60 cm [20 to 24 inches] stem lengths and average bud sizes excel while others demand stems of 80 cm [30 inches] with buds measuring 6.0 to 6.5 cm [approximately 2.5 inches],” Krell explains. “How do we accommodate these diverse needs? With each variety, we collect continual feedback from rose farms, flower buyers and floral designers who visit our facilities. This input enriches our selection process, enabling customization for different markets within the rose industry, which ensures a variety of options tailored to each segment.”


Headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, Selecta One is another leading breeding and propagation company. A major goal for Selecta is the creation of new colors, flower shapes and plant features. Although the focus differs slightly in all cut flower crops, flower quality is determined mainly by the lasting quality during storage, transport and trading, as well as by vase life at the consumer level. At Selecta’s new biotechnology lab and facilities for professional vase-life testing, the company conducts research aimed at developing molecular markers that are linked to flower longevity.

As you can see, cut flower breeding is a multifaceted endeavor that blends science, art and commerce. Through dedication, innovation and collaboration, breeders continue to push the boundaries of floral diversity, continually enriching our lives with an ever-expanding kaleidoscope of flower colors and forms.

Kiwi Mello
carnation trial
carnation trial