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Plant breeders have the blues.

October 7, 2011

Blue orchids are some of the new houseplants you can find in stores to dress up your home for winter.

Credit: Courtesy of Silver Vase.
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Blue roses at $50 a stem, vivid blue geranium houseplants and more of those shocking (some say ugly) blue orchids are headed your way. 

Plant breeders went crazy this year, trying to bring the impossible color of blue to flowers.  Although some used plant material such as blue pansy genes, most breeders incorporated dyes and even blue crayons into plants to produce the blue blossoms.

Here’s a rundown on what you’ll see at florists, garden centers and big box stores in the near future.


Blue roses have been unattainable forever; they’ve been a symbol of love and mystery in literature from fairytales to Kipling’s poem “Blue Roses”.  That’s because roses lack a plant pigment, delphindin, which makes flowers blue.  Suntory Flowers worked almost two decades to develop a blue rose by inserting a gene for blue pigment from a pansy.  APPLAUSE™ is now at florists and will be available as plants within a couple of years.  Retailers in Japan are charging $50 a stem for the rose; prices at U.S. florists are similarly high.

Florists are now selling this blue rose.  Look for plants in a couple of years.  Courtesy of Suntory Flowers.

The rose looks lavender to me, like the Sterling Silver rose my aunt had in her garden in the 1960’s. I’m sure subsequent blue rose releases from Suntory will be truer in color.

Indigo Mystique orchid

Sister to Blue Mystique orchid, Indigio is a darker and deeper blue in color.  Silver Vase Co., the U.S. licensed grower of these blue orchids, injects the roots of white phaleonopsis orchids with blue dye when the plant is budding.  Blooms after the dyed ones, revert to white.  That’s the downside of this plant which people either love or hate.  

Indigo Mystique is a deeper blue than Blue Mystique, an earlier release from Silver Vase Co.

Blue Crayon Geranium

The truest blue of all, Blue Crayon, a pot pelagorium, was created by a backyard breeder in Eastern Europe.  He crossed a white geranium with his child’s blue crayon!  The cross was possible because crayons are made from organic, plant-based material that is molecularly and biologically quite similar to geraniums and other monocots, according to Israeli scientists. Or, so the story goes.  GreenFuse Botanicals in California allegedly secured the exclusive global rights to distribute this stunning geranium.


Colored by a child's crayon, this very blue geranium would sell by the millions, if only!  Courtesy of Acres Online.

I received this press release last April and put it in a file for future blogs.  A number of blogs and gardening radio shows immediately reported the blue crayon break-through in breeding.  Before I include anything in my blog, I verify it.  It’s an old habit from 25 years as a newspaper and magazine editor. So, I contacted GreenFuse with a few questions.  This is the reply I received from Steve Jones, owner of the company, about the blue geranium.

“Sorry for the confusion.  That was reported in an industry publication (Growers Talk) on April Fools Day along with a couple of other breaking news stories.  I am friends with the editor and got the privilege of being the brunt of his ‘story’.  We had inquiries from around the world and it was fun.”

In other words, the blue crayon geranium is a hoax, much like the spaghetti tree the BBC reported on April 1, 1957!

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

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Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including Amazon.com.

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