Published on 05/25/99

Where Do New Plant Varieties Come From?

crystal.jpg (14936 bytes)
Crystal White (Zinnia angustifolia), a 1997 All America Selection

New plant varieties don't just happen. It takes years of work to get that perfect tomato plant ready for you. Here's how it's done.

In 1999, All-America Selections celebrates 67 years of testing and introducing improved new flowers and vegetables. All-America means all of North America. AAS is the oldest, most established testing organization on the continent.

When you see the red, white and blue logo of All America Selections on vegetable and flower seed packets, bedding plant tags or in catalogs, it's a promise of gardening success.

AAS winners have been introduced since 1933. Gardeners trust them, knowing them to be superior new plants worthy of their gardens. The nonprofit organization has taken the guesswork out of finding reliable new flower and vegetable varieties.

juliet.jpg (2902 bytes)
Clusters of plum-type red fruits make Juliet a 1999 All America Selections tomato.

AAS was founded in 1932 by W. Ray Hastings when he was president of the Southern Seedsmen's Association. It began with an association donation during a meeting in Atlanta.

Hastings proposed the idea of AAS as a way for home gardeners to learn which varieties were significantly improved. He encouraged all seed companies to begin trial grounds to test new varieties.

He had the support of the seed companies and independent breeders to enter new, unsold varieties into the trial.

AAS began with a network of 10 trial grounds. The trials were grown and evaluated by skilled, impartial judges.

Winners have been introduced each year since 1933. In 1934, 30 AAS award-winning new varieties were introduced. There haven't been that many since.

A Simplified System

AAS trials have been conducted every year since 1932. The number of judges and sites may vary, but the trials are conducted each year.

In 1984, the AAS board of directors decided to simplify the award system and award only two types. An AAS gold medal award is reserved for a breeding breakthrough. These awards are rare, given only once or twice a decade.

The other AAS award honors a flower or vegetable for significant achievements proven to be superior to all others on the market.

AAS doesn't advertise. Magazines, newspapers, garden club bulletins and Extension Service agents spread the news about AAS winners announced each September.

In 67 years, there have been 323 flowers, 255 vegetables and 17 bedding plant award winners -- a total of 595 AAS award winners since 1933.

AnnPerGard.JPG (23922 bytes)
One of Georgia's four AAS display gardens is in the Annual/Perennial Garden of The State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.

Trial and Display Gardens

A network of almost 200 AAS display gardens in the United States and Canada allows gardeners to view the most recent AAS winners.

These gardens are open throughout the growing season and may charge a small fee. Many are near large cities. AAS display gardens can be botanical gardens, garden centers, shopping malls, universities, colleges, resorts or state fairgrounds.

In Georgia, Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain has both trial and display gardens. Another trial garden is at the University of Georgia in Athens. Other display gardens are at the State Botanical Gardens in Athens, Oak Hill Gardens at Berry College near Rome and The Cloister at Sea Island.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.