Thinking of Spring: Recent Plant Releases from the Department

February 11, 2016

By Echo Martin

Photos By Dave Hansen

In the spring of 2015, media outlets were buzzing with the news: there was a new Minnesota apple in need of a name. Thanks to Honeycrisp fame, new apple releases from the Department of Horticultural Science tend to get a lot of people excited. The new apple, MN-55, is still a ways from having a name and showing up on market shelves. However, other breeding programs within the department have been hard at work. Since 2013, nine new plants have been introduced into Minnesota gardens and landscapes, with several more on the horizon for this year and next. Read about some of these new plants below, and learn more about these and other plants available for home or commercial use at the new Minnesota Hardy website.

Pink Popcorn® Blueberry

Pink Popcorn® Blueberry

Bound to be a talking point in a garden or pick-your-own operation, Pink Popcorn® is the only pink blueberry on the market that is hardy in zone four temperatures. Despite its color, the fruit has a great traditional blueberry taste and ripens mid-season. The bush also offers a great splash of color to the landscape: white flowers greet you in the spring and orange to maroon leaves signal fall weather.



Summer Cascade™ Wisteria

Summer Cascade™ Wisteria

Summer Cascade™ wisteria, the U’s first flowering vine, was released in 2013 and given the cultivar name ‘Betty Matthews’ after the White Bear Lake resident in whose yard it grew for many years. This beautiful ornamental vine produces large, lavender-blue flowers in early summer. It is a vigorous, twining grower and is great for covering an arbor or pergola to create a shaded seating area. It requires full sun for best growth and flowering.



True North™ Kentucky Coffeetree

True North™ Kentucky Coffeetree

The Kentucky Coffeetree is a moderately fast-growing tree that makes an excellent replacement for ash or even elm trees in the Minnesota yard. True North™ is notable for its narrow, upright-oval form, superior branch architecture, and lack of messy pods and seeds. It can grow 50–70 feet in height, but generally is only 20–30 feet wide at maturity. While it’s a gorgeous dark green in the summer months, it has coarse, scaly bark that gives it winter interest as well.



Royal Green
Green Emperor

Royal Green and Green Emperor

Recent releases from the turfgrass breeding program—perennial ryegrasses Royal Green and Green Emperor—are great examples of the more sustainable winter hardy varieties on which their program focuses. Both varieties are more winter hardy than previous releases in the program. Royal Green maintains a vibrant green color even during stress periods. Green Emperor is a darker green and mixes well with most commonly used varieties of Kentucky bluegrass or other elite turfgrasses, resulting in a more sustainable home lawn, golf course, or athletic field that maintains a traditional look.



Ground Dew™ Tomato
Ground Jewel™ Tomato

Ground Dew™ and Ground Jewel™

These little tomato plants pack a big punch. The first dwarf tomato varieties to be released from the U, Ground Dew™ and Ground Jewel™ each produce approximately 100 tomatoes per plant while only taking up 1 square foot of land. The main difference between these two varieties is the coloring of the unripe tomatoes; Ground Dew™ is white whereas Ground Jewel™ is green and white. Because they take up so little space, they’re great for potted plants and small gardens. On larger scale farms, these two varieties will produce up to 40 tons of fresh tomatoes per acre. Ground Dew™ and Ground Jewel™ have a growing season of just about a month and a half, ripen in late July, and are excellent for either fresh eating or processing.



Electric Lights Red™
Electric Lights Double™ Pink Azaleas

Electric Lights Red™ and Electric Lights Double™ Pink Azaleas

Two new varieties have been added to the world-renowned ‘Lights’ azaleas, Electric Lights Red and Electric Lights Double Pink, bringing the total number of cultivars to 16. The addition of these new cultivars expands the range of flower colors in the series from traditional pink-mauves to orange, white, lemon yellow, peach, lilac, and red. The release of Electric Lights Red in 2015 signifies the culmination of a long quest for a true red azalea that will thrive in cold climates, and is a point of pride for the breeding program. Electric Lights Double Pink™ has beautiful double pink flowers and an exceptionally long bloom period.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these new plants, you can contact your local nursery to see if any are available. Commercial growers should reference the Minnesota Hardy website for more information on commercialization and licensing, plant availability, and growing information. If you’re interested in Ground Jewel or Ground Dew, contact Thomas Hutton at [email protected] or 612-626-3429.