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Inside View: November 2012

October 26, 2012  By Gary Jones

A perennial plant (Latin per, “through”, annus, “year”) is a plant that
lives for more than two years.1 However, geographical location should
play a role in this definition.

A perennial plant (Latin per, “through”, annus, “year”) is a plant that lives for more than two years.1 However, geographical location should play a role in this definition.

For example, most of us in Canada would see tomato as an annual, yet in its native setting it is classified as a perennial. Similarly, the ubiquitous Christmas poinsettia would hardly be considered by most of us to be perennial, yet it is indeed a small perennial tree in many warmer climes. (I’ve seen several schoolchildren hiding under a single bush for shade in Vietnam.)


My point is that the term should be geographically sensitive.

That said, we consider perennials in our industry as typically large plants produced for their long-term industrial, ornamental or food production value … forestry trees, buddleia bushes and apple trees, as examples.

At the retail level, these plants are often sold in containers with great picture tags and point-of-sale information, bundled into the trunk of a car, and taken home to be planted nearby by the purchaser/homeowner. On a commercial scale, forestry tree seedlings are shipped in bulk, often heli-lifted into a remote location and then back-breakingly planted on some remote hillside ready for cropping in the next 50 years or so.

■ However, one company in the U.K. has taken a somewhat innovative approach to perennials (though still using the helicopter theme!). Micropropagation Services (EM) Ltd. has teamed up with Soil Horizons in offering a service to professional ecologists integrating conditions of upland site restoration.

The types of plants they produce already included Common Cotton Grass, Hare’s Tail Cotton Grass, Bilberry, Crowberry, Cloudberry and Common Heather. Such plants can be difficult to propagate by conventional methods and using the micropropagation technique means that large quantities of a site-specific plant (or rare variety or species) can be produced in a short timescale at an economical cost.

Micropropagation Services brought some lateral thinking to a serious national problem. In some parts of the U.K., natural issues are causing severe erosion of peatland moors. Vast moorland habitats are being left exposed as the living sphagnum moss covering is killed by sulphur dioxide, fire and animal grazing.

■ In answer to this, Microprop, in association with the “Moors for the Future Partnership,” has developed its “BeadaMoss” product, a pelleted form of sphagnum peat moss.

Following initial stabilization of the exposed peatland and some subsequent restoration work, BeadaMoss is seeded into the area by helicopter, thereby quickly returning living sphagnum back to the moorland. Over time, blanket bog is re-established, preventing further erosion of the moor and bringing twofold carbon capture benefits. For more information, e-mail or visit

The point here is that most of us would not really give a second thought about moss being a viable perennial product that we could produce and sell, and yet it is clearly an important part of the ecosystem in many parts of the world. Further, it’s about the innovative application of technology to develop a niche “perennial” product for solving a long-standing natural problem in a key area of the wider agricultural/environmental arena.

■ Of course, by definition, “niche market” means it’s not for everyone, but perhaps in a tough economic climate for perennials like we had during the spring of 2012 (well, in the West at least), there are such opportunities to be had at home here in Canada. Perhaps you are already doing something innovative that editor Dave Harrison would love to hear about – give him a shout! Maybe you have an idea for making money out of that wretched liverwort that we all deal with on pots of perennials?

And finally, not being a botanist, here is something I didn’t know about perennials: the symbol for a perennial plant, based on Species Plantarum by Linnaeus, is also the astronomical symbol for the planet Jupiter.2 Who knew?

  1. “The Garden Helper,” at
  2. Stearn, William T., “Botanical Latin” (four editions, 1966-92), sourced at

Gary Jones is a faculty member in the School of Horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and would welcome comments at

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