Bachelor Buttons Newest Texas SuperStar

Gomphrena QIS Carmine with several “votes” at 2011 Horticulture Field Day at Texas AgriLife Research & Extension Center in Overton

What do you think of when you hear the word “Superstar”? Perhaps Michael Jordan or Peyton Manning? What about a Texas Superstar? Troy Aikman, Nolan Ryan, Josh Hamilton? While you may be thinking about a sports, movie or music icon, I have superstar plants in mind.

For over twenty years, horticulturists with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension Service have conducted statewide evaluations of landscape plants, searching for outstanding plants for the gardeners of Texas.  Plants identified with superior characteristics, including great garden performance in all areas of Texas, reduced need for chemicals or sprays, and a relative ease of propagation and culture, are then designated as Texas Superstars (TM).

Texas Superstars have proven themselves in trials conducted across Texas, from Beaumont to Lubbock, and Overton to El Paso. Only the best performers are selected for the Texas Superstar name, which are then marketed through cooperation with growers and retailers and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.  So, if you are looking for something colorful for the landscape that will beat the Texas heat, you can’t go wrong with Texas Superstars.

The newest 2012 addition to the Superstar lineup is Gomphrena, also known as Globe Amaranth and Bachelor Buttons. These sun and heat-loving colorful annuals are no newcomer to the gardening world. Rather, they have been a reliable, easy-to-grow annual flower for generations of gardeners. Thomas Jefferson grew bachelor buttons at Monticello and wrote about them in his garden journal. What’s new is the increase in varieties with different colors and varying mature heights, all with the same sun and heat tolerance as the old timey gomphrenas.

Dr. Brent Pemberton showing some of newest gomphrena varieties.

Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research Horticulturist at Overton and chairman of the Texas Superstar Executive Board, has had dozens of different gomphrena varieties in his annual East Texas Bedding Plant Garden Trials at Overton. In his 2011 trial with 17 varieties being evaluated, they not only withstood the onslaught of the blistering heat and drought last summer, they performed like – superstars!

Besides the traditional light purple and white colors, new breeding has resulted in pink, orange and red hues being added to the available color pallet. Some varieties are more compact, getting no taller than 6 inches, while other varieties, like ‘Fireworks’, are taller, up to 4 feet, giving the gardener many options for ways to use these tough plants in the flower garden.

Bachelor Buttons make great cut flowers and are very easy to dry. Gather in the fall, hang upside down in a dry area, and they will hold up for months in floral arrangements. Dried flower heads can later be crushed up and sown in late spring and early summer in a sunny location.

Dr. Pemberton hosts a Horticulture Field Day “open house” at the AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton every year, where visitors can examine hundreds of varieties of plants, representing the latest breeding results from the top breeders, all grown in full sun (or under shade cloth for some of the sun-sensitive types). Results from trials like these help determine what new varieties of bedding plants will end up on nursery shelves next year. Mark your calendars for Thursday, June 28 for this year’s Horticulture Field Day. There you will see row upon row of the latest advances in breeding, and have the chance to “vote” for your favorite entries in the “People’s Picks” program. Then, after a catered lunch, Dr. Pemberton and Jimmy Turner, Horticulture Director of the Dallas Arboretum, will give updates on the latest and hottest new plants.

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