The Mountain Crop Improvement Lab is responsible for several of the most popular plants on the market today. Working in cooperation with commercial breeders and growers, as well as the North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association, Ranney and his crew have developed such favorites as the series of Invincibelle Spirit hydrangeas, beginning with Invincibelle Spirit and adding the new selections Invincibelle Spirit II and Invincibelle Ruby. Incrediball Blush hydrangea also resulted from work at the Lab.
New selections also include a stunning shrub-form dogwood called Little Ruby (Cornus ‘NCCH1’) that features red new foliage, giving the impression that the plant is always in bloom. Developed by the Lab and introduced by the North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association (NCNLA), it’s an advanced hybrid between hongkongensis and kousa (Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’ × Cornus hongkongensis ‘Summer Passion’), and it’s said to be the first in a line of new dogwoods being developed through an NCNLA/Lab partnership.
Compact in size and form, Little Ruby boasts single to double, red bracts from late spring through early summer, with foliage that turns bright red to maroon in fall and winter in zones 6b to 10. “Extremely good disease resistance,” Ranney says, means it’s resistant to both anthracnose and mildew.
Working again with the NCNLA, “We just released a new redbud called Carolina Sweetheart, which has multicolored foliage in the spring,” Ranney says. “It’s actually got pink in the foliage; there are few trees that have pink leaves, and they can be a shocking pink. It looks like it’s in flower from a distance, but it’s really a foliage trait.”
Pink Cascade weeping cherry (Prunus ‘NCPH1’), which was recently introduced by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., is a “strict weeper; it grows straight down,” Ranney says. “It’s similar to Snow Fountains cherry, but with a dark pink flower color.”
Due out next year, an exciting new Miscanthus is the result of collaboration between the Lab and Star Roses & Plants. Coveted for its strong presence in the landscape, but often maligned for its invasive tendencies, Miscanthus has struggled in the market of late. My Fair Maiden (Miscanthus ‘NCMS1’) offers a strong, upright habit and is hardy in zones 6 to 9. Its best feature, however, is its sterility.
“We are just releasing a new miscanthus that has been bred for seedlessness called My Fair Maiden,” Ranney says. “We’re working on a whole series, and this is the first. It’s a triploid, so it’s the same concept as a seedless watermelon or a seedless banana. It has three sets of chromosomes, and though it looks like a typical miscanthus, it is extremely infertile and essentially seedless.”
Independent research as well as cooperative efforts have resulted in ‘Crystalina’ summersweet (Clethra alnifolia ‘Crystalina’), ‘Sweet Tea’ mountain gordlinia (Gordlinia grandiflora ‘Sweet Tea’) and ‘Blizzard’ pearlbush (Exochorda ‘Blizzard’), among others. (For a list of Lab introductions, visit http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/mcilab/introductions/index.html.)
All photos: Courtesy of Mountain Crop Improvement Lab