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2024 CAST chronicles

Breeders at this year's California Spring Trials showcase their breathtaking breakthroughs and innovative improvements

May 29, 2024  By Amy Kouniakis

Selecta One's new Osteospermum Zion Apricot Sun at the 2024 California Spring Trials.Selecta One's new Osteospermum Zion Apricot Sun at the 2024 California Spring Trials.

In late March, under sunny California skies, plant breeders from across the globe showcased some of their latest and long-standing cultivars and varieties. Visitors of the 2024 California Spring Trials were treated to many breathtaking breakthroughs and innovative improvements but one of the big themes at this year’s CAST was the continued push to make things easier for growers.

Whether it was by reducing the need for specific inputs or improving a crop’s uniformity or even adding colours to a series in response to grower feedback, it was evident that growers’ needs, and bottom lines, were top of mind for breeders sharing their plants at CAST 2024.

Before we get into our coverage, I would like to extend a very heartfelt thank you to the Ball Seed Company for including me on their 2024 California Spring Trials adventure. It was an honour to witness their team’s passion and dedication, and an invaluable opportunity for me to learn from them and grow within the industry.


Without further ado, here are just some of the highlights from this year’s CAST.

Santa Paula, California – Pan American Seed, Ball FloraPlant, Darwin Perennials, Kieft Seed, Selecta One and Morel.

PanAmerican Seed

PanAmerican seed is known for their vibrant petunia lineup. So much so, a selection of their Easy Wave lineup was used on the red carpet at the Grammy’s in 2024. This year, they introduced a number of new colours and improvements to an already solid line.

The E3 Easy Wave series welcomes the vibrant ‘Rose Morn’ shade to its lineup, which features a consistent rose-pink bloom with a striking white centre. This is an early blooming series which is also cold tolerant. In the standard Easy Wave, PanAmerican has added a new ‘Navy Velour’ colour to the series. This sumptuous looking petunia features huge, velvety dark blue-purple-black (depending on the light it’s in) blooms. It boasts a mounded habit with controlled spread and is cold durable. It’s gorgeous in mixes.

Solarscape Impatiens from PanAmerican is the first interspecific impatiens series from seed and this year, they’ve added a few more colours to collection. ‘White Pearl’ replaces ‘White Shimmer’ in the series and boasts an improved pristine, non-blushing white colour with a small pink eye. In the XLs, they’ve added lovely ‘Lilac Spark’ bi-colour and vibrant Pink Jewel (an All-American Selections winner). According to the breeders, this series performs beautifully in the landscape, readily bounces back from stress and does not abort flowers as easily as traditional New Guineas. The XL series is also known to be 20 per cent larger in the landscape than the standard Solarscapes.

Another gorgeous flower in the PanAmerican lineup this year is the Akila Hawaii Sunset Mixture of Osteospermum. This compact series from seed claims a high germination rate, no-pinch production and uniformity that flowers in within a seven- to 10-day window. This mix’s blooms are vibrant yellows, golds, oranges, and bronzes with centres ranging in shades of rose, mauve, purple, scarlet and pink; truly reminiscent of a Hawaiian sunset.

Ball FloraPlant

Over at Ball FloraPlant, a big introduction this year was their first-ever vegetative interspecific geranium. The Solera Series is a five-colour series (Fuchsia, Lavender, Red, Orange, and Watermelon) that exhibits a very uniform, medium habit and is said to be easy to control. Timing across the series is consistent. These are produced at BallFloraPlant’s YecaFlora Farm in Mexico for ease of transport and are available as direct-stick cuttings.

Pollinator plant lovers will be excited to see BallFloraPlant’s new vegetative Ageratum aptly named ‘Monarch Magic.’ This cultivar has a vigorous spreading habit that the breeder says works well in large combos, especially given its trailing nature. The almost-electric blue colour of the blooms is striking against the Monarch Magic’s lush, deep green foliage. It’s easy to see why the pollinators are so easily drawn to it.

If heat tolerance, vigour and and ‘wow’ factor are what you’re looking for, then look no further than BallFloraPlant’s lineup of Angelonias. This year, they’ve introduced new improved colours (coral, pink) to their Archangel Series as well as an improved spreading pink Angelonia to its AngelMist Series. The unabashed star of the show in this lineup has got to be this year’s new AngelFlare Series that introduces the first ever black-coloured Angelonia. The blooms start out as a purple almost pink colour that deepens into black, which is enhanced by its glossy, dark green foliage. On its own, the Black quite stunning. In combinations, however, it’s a showstopper.

Selecta One

One of the most talked about plants during CAST this year was Selecta’s new 4D Blue Ice Osteospermum. This eye-catching double-blooming Osteo hybrid features bright white and blue daisy-like blooms that are contrasted against lush emerald foliage. These are early-season, continuous (24/7) bloomers. They are cold tolerant up to -3.9°C and have excellent branching for masses of blooms and superior uniformity. They’d be a gorgeous addition to containers but would be breathtaking in the landscape. There are seven more colours available in the 4D Series (White, Yellow, Harvest Moon, Violet Ice, Purple, Sunburst and Berry White).

Selecta One has an impressive selection of Calibrachoa and this year, they’ve introduced a number of new colours and improvements to some of their popular series. The MiniFamous Evo Series, which requires no pinching or PGRs, and features unique double blooms and a compact habit, brings in five new colours (blue, magenta, yellow, white, and red.) In the MiniFamous Uno series, which are screened for powdery mildew resistance, and are an early finishing, medium compact series, six new colours are being introduced this year: double orange and double red (both of which boast a double bloom), Funtopia blue and Funtopia pink (also, double bloomers that appear as though painted with watercolours) and finally Ember eclipse (red and orange) and the eye-catching Pink Starfruit with its white-edged, pink flowers with a bright yellow star centre.

Morel (cyclamen)

New from world-renowned cyclamen breeders, Morel, is the Petit Moulin series. This double-flowering cultivar can be produced as an indoor arrangement but performs very well and for a lengthy amount of time outdoors in planters. It boasts an exceptional flowering time (reportedly more than 100 days) and is available in four pastel colours: white, rose, light rose and lilac. Growing time from seed is 32-34 weeks.


The Sombrero Series of Echinacea from Darwin adds a few new colours to the lineup this year. Replacing ‘Tango Tangerine’ is ‘Mandarin Mambo,’ a bold, rich reddish-orange colour that fades to peach. The Sombrero Series is winter hardy (up to -32°C) and exhibits a sturdy upright, uniform habit with a high flower count. This deer-resistant coneflower supports pollinators and is a reliable first-year flowering perennial.

Darwin’s new Summerlong Agastache Series generated quite a buzz – literally and figuratively – at this year’s trials. This incredibly fragrant variety is hardy up to -9°C so may not perform well as a perennial in our Northern climate but would make an exceptional annual. This is truly a pollinator plant: on the day we were on site to see it, hummingbirds were all over these flowers. These could make for an interesting ‘thriller’ to a pollinator mix. They are heat and drought tolerant and flower through the summer and into the fall.

New to the Dreameria Series of Armeria from Darwin is a ruby red colour called ‘Hypnotic Dreams.’ This is a first-year flowering series, though the breeder says the variety does better when it has been vernalized. Dreameria boasts improved heat tolerance, which has helped to make this a season-long bloomer. The series is hardy up to -32°C and is frost tolerant.

Somis, California: GreenFuse, Beekenkamp, Hem, Schoneveld, and Westhoff
Carpinteria, California: Suntory, Planthaven, PP&L
Arroyo Grande: Dümmen Orange


In what might be a literal game-changer in the world of Hydrangea production, GreenFuse has introduced the first-ever daylength-neutral, no-chilling-required Hydrangea Game Changer Series. GreenFuse estimates that this new series removes upwards of 24 to 30 weeks of production time. Propagated from unrooted cuttings, this hydrangea will bloom in a matter of weeks and can be used in year-round programs. Game Changers are hardy up to Zone 5 and will bloom continuously from spring through frost.

As far as eye-catching succulents go, GreenFuse’s new Echeveria Coral Reef series is a stunner. Looking as though it was plucked from the seafloor, this plant’s sturdy, ruffled and glossy foliage begs to be touched. It’s slow growing and ideally suited for containers (recommended pot sizes range from 4” to a gallon) and garden height is 5 to 10 inches. This unique beauty would steal the show in any rock garden.


Beekenkamp has developed a stellar lineup of Dahlias in their Labella Series. “From big to small, we have it all,” is their tagline and it couldn’t be truer. A gorgeous new colour this year is their Grande Coral. Sturdy, upright stems full of lush, variegated foliage provide ideal support and backdrop for these massive blooms. The Grande Labellas are suited for gallon-sized pots and can be finished in under 13 weeks from an unrooted cutting. Another eye-catching colour in this series is the Medio Rose Fun which feature bright pink and white double-blooming petals with a vibrant yellow centre. These are suited for quart to 5” pots, with a production timeline of 10 to 12 weeks.


An all-new petunia series from Hem Genetics made some big waves at CAST 2024. The new Petunia F1 Shake series is a genetically compact Petunia hybrid that features unique bi-colour blooms that almost looks like they’ve been painted with watercolours. Shake Petunias are grown from seed, do not require the use of PGRs and possess a flowering time and growth habit that are uniform across the series.


Fun in the sun and the beach was the theme at the Schoneveld stop where the new Joybera Gerbera series was introduced for the first time. This series is currently offered in eight vibrant colours (Orange, dark orange, red, coral, white, yellow, golden yellow and pink). Shoneveld says much of this series’ development was focused on producing a compact, uniform and floriferous gerbera. Judging from the finished product on display, they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. First flowering brings three flowers and this series is said to have a very long shelf life. Ideal for pot sizes 4 to 6 inches.


New series of tuberous hybrid begonia called ‘Beaugonia.’ Available as unrooted cuttings from Germany. Westhoff’s diversified supply chain means cuttings for these will be easily available to North American growers. This hardy, compact variety boasts huge bright, bi-coloured blooms and dark green, serrated foliage and comes in seven show-stopping colours.

A new addition to Westhoff’s line of heat-tolerant line of ‘Hot’ Lobelias is the Stratus Blue. This floriferous cultivar features blue and white coloured blooms, a compact and rounded habit and, as with the rest of the ‘Hot’ lineup, outstanding heat tolerance. Westhoff says this is the first Lobelia on the market that features that striking picotee pattern.


Marvelous Mandevillas were on prominent display at the Suntory stop at CAST this year. New to the Sun Parasol Original lineup is the XP Bluephoria, XP Mauvelous and XP Double Pink Blush. The XP line exhibits superior branching and is earlier to flower. The Bluephoria starts out pinkish and deepens to a deep purple-blue in the heat. The Mauvelous blooms feature a unique speckled mauve-pink pattern while the Double Pink Blush appears just as the name suggests: gorgeous delicate pink double bloom (it almost looks like a rose). This line requires no pinching and is ideal for containers, hanging baskets and would fit well in a pollinator program.

A delightful new hybrid Dipladenia, also under the Sun Parasol umbrella, is the all-new FiredUp series in Orange. It has a markedly different habit from the other Dipladenias and Mandevillas that were on display at the Suntory stop. Not only does it have those striking orange-yellow blooms, but its glossy green foliage is also narrower and it has a sturdy very upright habit. Ideal thriller in a container, or eyecatching in the landscape. Great for pollinators.

Suntory’s Soiree Double Catharanthus series got an upgrade this year. The line has a more compact, tighter growth habit and features lovely double blooms and they have been bred to improve disease resistance. Ideal for production in pots 4 inches and larger. Excellent heat tolerance and lengthy bloom time from mid-spring nd into the fall. The Orchid Improved is a particularly fetching example of this series.


This year, PlantHaven shared the latest colour in their ‘Escential’ Nemesia series, bred by Penhow. The Passionberry Escential is VERY fragrant (you could smell them from quite a distance away when we were on site) and features dozens of bi-colour blooms in shades of plum and yellow with an orange centre. Escentials bloom from early spring to late fall and and possess exceptional heat tolerance. Good annual for early season sales.

Known for their robust series of Colocasia, PlantHaven highlighted one of their newest additions to the Royal Hawaiian line: the Hawaiian Luau. It features massive, velvety, dark bluish-grey, almost purple foliage with bright green veins. The Hawaiian Luau’s tubers are also edible, meaning they can be used in both ornamental and edible applications.


There’s a couple new additions to the Pacific Plug and Liner’s (PP&L) Echibeckia Summerina Glow Series. Echibeckia is a cross between Echinachea and Rudebekia and PPL’s Summerina series exhibits improved disease resistance and faster growing time. New for 2024 is the Sugar Shake. With its fully double flowers in peach (hello Pantone colour of the year!) which, in the sun, will transform into shades of red and pink. It’s very large so needs a big container. Blooms are long lasting and ideal for cut-flower programs. New for 2025 is the Limonata which has soft yellow-coloured, wrinkly looking flowers with a dark brown-black eye.

PPL also has an impressive lineup of Hellebore. New for 2024 is the Hellebore Frostkiss Elemental. This new hybrid variety features a pinkish bloom with magenta edges and bright yellow centre The Elemental is an early bloomer and has a compact habit. The Frostkiss line has exceptional heat tolerance and has been bred for improved uniformity in terms of appearance and bloom time.

Dümmen Orange

At the Dümmen Orange stop at CAST 2024, they were really trying to mix things up with their new Garden Party Icons combos. This collection has been inspired by influential and empowering women including Oprah Winfrey and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Justice RBG combo in particular was breathtaking featuring Dümmen’s thrilling Salvia Icon Glacier, Alternanthera Little Ruby, Verbena Empress in Sun white and the new Petunia Potunia in Black Satin. Combos inspired by cities across the globe have also been added to the Garden Party line. City Lights Vancouver is a very colourful combo with Dümmen’s Revelation Red Dahlia as the centrepiece, surrounded by Coleus Down Town NYC Nights, Petunia Potunia in red and Verbena Empress in white. Garden party combinations are ordered as rooted kits or unrooted components.

A new series featured at the Dümmen Orange at CAST this year was the Glory Days interspecific geraniums that feature a single-flower ivy bloom on zonal foliage. There are currently just two colours in the series – Red Orange Bicolour and Pink Bicolour – but plans are in the works to introduce more.

In Dahlias, (and Dümmen has so many standouts) the variety that really caught a lot of attention was the new Candy Corn which has been added to the Hypnotica series of Dahlias. It’s quite obvious where the name comes from as the petals of the blooms literally look like Halloween candy corn. It exhibits a medium-vigorous habit and superior branching.

Over in the perennials section, Dümmen introduced their new compact Buddleja series, Little Rockstars. These plants feature large, cone shaped blooms (although we didn’t have a chance to see one in full bloom) and dark green, almost feathery foliage. Good for small pot production. The Little Rockstars Red colour is a particularly vibrant addition.

Gilroy, California: Danziger
Salinas, California: Takii, Sahin, HilverdaFlorist, Kientzler and Sakata


At Danziger, they’ve introduced several fun new colours in some of their petunia series – which have a reputation for being grower friendly, requiring little to no PGRs. The vibrancy of Capella Fuchsia Lace is quite breathtaking with its bright pink flowers and fuchsia-purple, lace-like centre that streaks out towards the edge of the bloom. This floriferous series boasts a very tidy, compact, mounded habit, early flowering and exceptional heat tolerance.

As the vibrancy of the Capella Fuschia Lace drew much attention, the more muted tones of the new Ray Shadow garnered many a second — and even a third — glance. This early-flowering petunia starts out with yellow-tipped blooms that deepen into a rose colour with a big, dark aubergine centre. There’s a definite gothic vibe to them which might make them and ideal addition to a Halloween-themed program. The flowers are huge and no pinching is required to obtain its sturdy, mounding habit. Reaction to these were mixed: I overheard the word ‘muddy’ used to describe them while others were quite taken with their unique and mysterious beauty. The flowers are huge and no pinching is required to obtain its sturdy, mounding habit.

Danziger is introducing the new Sol Luna Prime series of hybrid impatiens. The series is starting out with six colours: Pearl, Light Salmon, Orchid, Red, White and Peach. This series is quite compact, rounded and study – a little shake produced no fallout. Performs well and similarly in both sun and shade and produces a lot of blooms. The series has been selected for its uniformity and reliability in production.

American Takii

One of the most dramatic varieties at this year’s Spring Trials, has got to be American Takii’s Black Forest Ruby. The foliage and stems are a very dark green-burgundy colour that looks black and is a sensational backdrop for bright red, semi-double and double flowers. Its sturdy, upright habit adds to the drama and is perfect for statement-making containers and would be a show-stopper in the garden. This could be a nice addition to Fall programs.

The Cannova Gold Leopard is the newest Canna Lily from Takii. This hybrid is more compact than other varieties and features a unique speckled bloom that looks like leopard print. This is a seed variety works in pots ranging from 4” to two gallons and would be a thrilling addition to a landscape.


Some striking new Alstroemeria varieties were front and centre at HilverdaFlorist’s CAST 2024 display. Hula is the latest introduction to the Alstroemeria Inticancha series. It features large, blooms in shades of fuschia, pink and white with touches if lime green at the tips of the petals. The Inticancha series is heat tolerant, floriferous, uniform and compact. A very sturdy branching habit makes these easy to transport. Another new colour in this series is the moody Paraiso, featuring dark magenta blooms with flecks of dark purple.

As far as Garden Gerberas go, HilverdaFlorist is really sweetening things up. In its Garvinea Sweet Series, selected for pest and disease resistance, there are several dazzling new colours: Maggie, the series’ first hot pink, green centre, semi-double flower; and Blaze, a bold orange-yellow bicolour with green centre. From unrooted cuttings, Garvinea Sweet gerberas are tidy little plants, very floriferous with glossy, emerald-green leaves and thick, sturdy stems.


As far as marketing goes, Sakata was spot on at this year’s California Spring trials. The trial, located in Salinas, California, paid homage to music through the eras. The musical theme played particularly well into Sakata’s launch of Playlist, a selection of mixed vegetative combos featuring some of the breeder’s greatest (genetics) hits! Varieties in each combo are selected to be in ‘perfect harmony’ when it comes to production in terms of planting, inputs, habit and timing and are a vibrant, easy-to-care-for product for the end consumer. Playlist has combos for programs through the spring, summer and into the fall.

Burning Embers is the name of Sakata’s new AAS-winning series of Celosia. Named for its blazing red plumes and bronze leaves, Burning Embers’ colours burn brightly and consistently through the heat of summer and into the cooler days of fall. This is a vigorous series with strong basal branching and upright habit. Available from raw seed, crop time is 9 to 11 weeks.


Over at Kientzler, a colourful collection of coleus were capturing a lot of attention. It seems this family-owned operation has a variety for every season across their new TerraScape series. For full sun, partial shade, these tidy varieties would be perfect for combos and baskets and would create interest in the landscape. Heat tolerant and available with an upright or a more unique free-branching habit.

Kientzler is promoting a new addition to their selections of Petunia. In the Petunia Veranda series, by renowned breeder David Kerley, the new Double Sugar Plum is early blooming with a compact, mounding habit that fills out with sensational magenta and dark-purple-veined double flowers. Kientzler’s new Petunia Glamouflage series features unique variegated foliage and comes in two peppy colours that look breathtaking against that backdrop: Pink Lemonade (bright, almost neon pink) and Grape (bright, almost iridescent purple with dark centre).

Gilroy, California: Syngenta, ThinkPlants
Watsonville, California: Benary, Cohen, Hishtil, Jaldety


Syngenta’s selection of Petunias welcomed some truly noteworthy new additions. First up: Painted Love, a new series of vegetative hybrid Petunia that features a dramatic bicolour pattern on the bloom that looks as though it’s been painted with purple watercolours. It boasts a compact, mounding habit and has been selected for its exceptional garden performance. Dekko Maxx is another new series of vegetative hybrid petunia with a more low, spreading habit and smaller flowers, but equally impactful in that there’s so many of them! Again, selected for their durability in the landscape but also will also provide a reliable pop of colour in a container on a patio.

Nirvana XDR is the newest series of vegetative Vinca from Syngenta with a tried and tested resistance to numerous strains of aerial Phytophthora. The series contains four unique and very distinct colours: Blackberry, Blue Halo, Blush Splash and Cranberry Halo (a perfect candidate for Canada Day programs). Available as an unrooted cutting or as a calloused cutting but Syngenta recommends starting from the latter as it shortens production time by up to two weeks and reportedly produces better quality liners.

One of the highlights of Syngenta’s CAST display was undeniably the new Sunfinity Double series of sunflower. This vegetative, double flowering, well-branched sunflower features a bushy, upright habit and possesses high resistance to powdery mildew. This is a jaunty variety with delightful blooms that bobbed along happily in the breezy area in which it was situated without making a mess. This promises to flower from mid-spring through the summer.


Our friends at ThinkPlants have been working closely with Creekside Greenhouses out of Vineland, ON, to introduce the ‘My Beautiful’ series of Hydrangea macrophylla. This series is hardy from zones 5 to 9 and comes in a range of vigour. Most in this series promise three months of blooms, aside from the My Beautiful Metta that offers an astonishing six months. There are currently eight unique varieties in the series but all boast large blooms, sturdy stems and lush foliage. A particularly lovely example is the My Beautiful Picotee with its bicolour blooms that deepen in colour as the bloom ages.

ThinksPlants was touting a breeding breakthrough in Hemerocallis at this year’s trials. The ‘See You Tomorrow’ daylily, which is bred by Unex, boasts blooms that last for four to five days as opposed to the traditional one day. Buds and flowers start green and gradually turn yellow. Hardy from zones 4 to 11.

The new ‘Hunky Dory’ series of Delphinium from ThinkPlants has generated quite a bit of buzz at CAST 2024. Bred by Syngenta, this series exhibits F1 vigour, is heavily branched and very floriferous with large blooms and is hardy from zones 4 to 9. Grown from seed, the Hunky Dory boasts exceptional germination and young plant performance and is very uniform. Currently available in three colours: white, Sky Blue and Blue.


For 2025, Benary is introducing Masterpiece Blue with Eye, the first F1 Lobelia hybrid from seed. This FleuroSelect Gold Medal winner is an early-to-bloom variety with exceptional heat tolerance and mounding growth habit. The flowers are vibrant and large with spiky, bright green foliage. Great addition to a pot and container program but this series has also been selected for its reliable performance in the landscape.

We can’t talk Benary without mentioning their world class selection of Begonias. To their ‘Nonstop’ series, Benary welcomes several gorgeous new colours: Flame, Lemon, Peach Shades and Light Pink in the Mocca (dark leaf). Nonstop Joy, which features a more trailing habit than the other Nonstops, also welcomes the new Mocca Rose colour to the series. Nonstops feature big, double flowers and are uniform in terms of vigour, habit and flowering. Also new to Benary’s Big Begonia series, is the White Bronze Leaf. Just as the name says, Big has large flowers that reportedly bloom two-weeks earlier than most other competing varieties and is rain and heat tolerant.

New this year is Benary’s Silver Surfer Dichondra. This long, trailing variety features dense, silvery-green foliage. Ease of production was top of mind when developing this variety as it has been selected for its superior germination rate (85% and up) and root development. Siver Surfer holds up well in both hot and dry conditions and would be an eye-catching addition as a spiller in combos and even on its own in a hanging basket.


Cohen is a family-run propagation operation based out of Israel that specializes in the export of unrooted cuttings of bedding and ornamental plants. When it comes to Calibrichoa, Cohen’s genetics are top-notch. Brand new this year is the Calibrichoa Caliloco Caramel. This compact, floriferous, slightly trailing variety features multi-coloured coloured blooms with shades of yellow, orange white and some pink. They’ve also added the super fun new Calibrichoa Candy Shop in Double Grape Splash. A very tidy, colourful and sweet-looking little package.


Hishtil had some exciting and exclusive herbs on offer in California this year. Their new ‘High Mountain Mint’ variety is more mounding, semi-trailing variety of mint that would make a very interesting addition to combo planters. It smells heavenly: like mint, yes, but earthier with hints of citrus. Hishtil says where it grows natively — mountainous regions throughout central Asia — it’s used to flavour foods like yogurt or brewed for tea. In the summer, it blooms with white and pink flowers.


Over at the Jaldety CAST 2024 display, visitors could not keep their hands off the new Selaginella Green Spikemoss. This is a low-growing evergreen perennial in zones 9 to 11 (annual or indoors outside of that). Its mossy, almost fluffy, bright green foliage demands to be touched. It exhibits a very high heat and humidity tolerance and a very dense, compact spreading habit. Gorgeous addition to any shade or rock garden.

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