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Lamberts, M. 1993. New horticultural crops for the southeastern United States. p. 82-92. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

New Horticultural Crops for the Southeastern United States

Mary Lamberts

    1. Alabama
    2. Florida
    3. Georgia
    4. Kentucky
    5. Louisiana
    6. Maryland
    7. South Carolina
    8. Tennessee
    9. Virginia
    1. Florida
    2. Georgia
    3. Kentucky
    4. Louisiana
    5. Maryland
    6. Mississippi
    7. North Carolina
    8. Tennessee
    9. Virginia
    1. Alabama
    2. Florida
    3. Georgia
    4. Kentucky
    5. Maryland
    6. North Carolina
    7. South Carolina
    8. Virginia
  6. Table 1
  7. Table 2
  8. Table 3

There are many reasons for the upsurge in interest in new horticultural crops. One industry expert (Cook 1990) reported that during the period between 1978 and 1989, consumption of fresh produce in the United States expanded 23%. The retail produce industry is now worth $32 billion. While the aging of American consumers also is a factor which can lead to overall reduced food purchases, it also has the potential for proportional increases in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 consume 39% more fresh fruit and 34% more fresh vegetables than the national average. As consumers move into their peak income-earning years, they purchase more high-value products and look for greater diversity.

According to Manning (1990), the American produce industry has been riding the crest of a powerful demographic wave which will flatten by the year 2000. Manning predicts that although the nutritional appeal of fresh fruits and vegetables will continue, health options for consumers will increase; growers will need to create more demand and retailers will need to be convinced that consumers will pay more for produce before raising wholesale prices.

Cook (1990) reports that the growth in ethnic populations also contributes to demand for product diversity within the produce department. Foods previously considered ethnic or regional in nature increasingly are being consumed by a broader portion of the population. This helps explain why shipments of Oriental, Mexican, tropical, and exotic produce accounted for about 5% of fresh vegetable shipments in 1988, whereas in previous years the volumes had been too low to track. Some of the states with large populations, such as California, expect to have minority ethnic groups make up almost half the population by the year 2000. This will lead to an increase in fresh produce consumption and will continue to broaden the product mix within the produce category.

One of the challenges that will come with meeting these demands is the need for information on production, packaging, temperature management, storage, merchandising, preparation, and other handling requirements. These require changes, not only for researchers and on the farm, but also in the distribution chain since there is a lack of knowledge about proper handling of specialty products.

With these in mind, this paper will examine steps the Southeastern states have taken in meeting these projected needs for new horticultural crops. The paper has been divided into sections on fruit crops (Table 1), vegetable crops (Table 2), and ornamentals (Table 3). A table summarizing the new crops within each category follows the state by state discussion. Work within each section has been separated by state. Studies carried out in a particular state are based on information supplied by state extension specialists and other researchers. Some of the information was obtained through telephone conversations, with the remainder gathered through correspondence and a survey.



An active breeding, evaluation, and development program is underway for Chinese chestnuts, a potential new nut crop for the South. Research is needed on mechanical harvesting and on postharvest handling. Other fruits which are part of active evaluation programs in Alabama are kiwifruit, Asian and American pears, Oriental persimmon, and pomegranate. Researchers report the need to identify adapted seedlings.

Other new fruit crops which are in the experimental stage include mayhaws, and pineapple guava, or feijoa. Of these, mayhaw seems to have some promise, while pineapple guava or feijoa has problems at present since it sustains winter injury and has no known pollinators in Alabama.


Most of the new fruit crops being grown in Florida are discussed in much greater detail elsewhere in this volume by J. Crane (1993). They include carambola (240 ha), atemoya (80 ha), passion fruit (40 ha), and sugar apple (30 ha). All are commercially important. Hectareage is increasing for all but sugar apple, though demand for this fruit is still good. For carambola, current research includes field trials on fertilizer, pruning, and cultivar evaluation. 'Arkin' is the dominant carambola cultivar; 'Gefner' is the dominant atemoya cultivar. Current research includes field trials on tree training and pruning and laboratory trials on seed germination. For passion fruit, purples and reds are the most popular types. Research efforts are directed towards pesticide clearance trials. Research on sugar apples is limited to laboratory trials on seed germination.


There are about 40 ha of Asian pears being grown on an experimental basis. Mayhaws are also part of an active research program (Krewer et al. 1990; Payne and Krewer 1990; Payne et al. 1990). Some plants are wild, others are cultivated, but interest is increasing on the part of both researchers and industry. Oriental persimmons are being screened, with some success, for cold hardiness. Georgia currently has 65,000 bushes of Southern highbush blueberry, and this number is increasing. Florida bunch grapes, figs, jujubes, pawpaw, plums, and pomegranate are other potential new fruit crops that we may see in the future in Georgia (Krewer et al. 1990; G.W. Krewer pers. commun.).

Both feijoa and kiwifruit have been tried, but neither shows much promise in Georgia (Krewer et al. 1986). There are currently about 5 ha of commercial kiwifruit, but this is declining since it is difficult to grow commercially.


There is interest in Southern highbush blueberries, brambles, and Asian pears. Trials are underway with pawpaws.


Studies are underway with Southern highbush blueberries (La. Coop. Ext. Serv. 1992) and mayhaw. There are currently 4 to 10 ha in mayhaws with an increase likely; some wild plants are being harvested as well. Mayhaws are currently being considered for processing. Trials are underway with figs and persimmons.


Only Asian pears are under trial.

South Carolina

Potential new fruit crops include kiwifruit, Asian pears, and pawpaws. Of these, kiwifruit appear marginal.


New fruit crops include brambles and both Southern highbush and rabbiteye blueberries (A. Rutledge pers. commun.).


Cultivar trials are underway with Asian pear and apricots. There are currently 24 to 30 ha of Asian pears, but less than 4 ha of apricots (R. Marini pers. commun.).



Trials are underway with calabaza, seedless watermelon, asparagus, bulb onions, Japanese muskmelons, rhubarb, and leeks (D. Maynard pers. commun.). Florida growers are producing several Oriental vegetables commercially. These include Chinese okra or angled luffa, lauki or bottle gourd, smooth luffa, tindora or ivy gourd, very small amounts of parvar or pointed gourd, guar or cluster bean as a green shell bean, hyacinth or lablab bean, yard-long or asparagus beans, winged bean, and pea and Thai eggplants (Lamberts 1990). There is very little research on these latter commodities except for limited surveys of diseases and insects. Most of the initiative for these new vegetables comes from the growers themselves.


Several new vegetable crops have been tried with varying degrees of success. The main new vegetable produced today is collards, which is now at 3,645 ha and expanding. It is grown as a second crop after peanuts and so is a specialty crop for those growers. Green onion area has also expanded, with 81 to 101 ha planted in recent years. The third most popular new vegetable is hot peppers, primarily 'Piquin' and jalapeño types; the different colored bell peppers are also being grown. The fourth most popular is English peas, grown as an early crop which can take advantage of a market window (W. McLauren pers. commun.).

There is limited production of pumpkins of various types for roadside stands and pick-your-own. There is limited area in beets, some Oriental vegetables, including lemon grass, and asparagus. Other new vegetable crops for Georgia include ginseng, fresh cut herbs, green peanuts for the early market, and husk tomatoes for the Mexican market in Atlanta. Radicchio was tried, but problems with marketing have resulted in declining production; a recovery is not anticipated (W. McLauren pers. commun.).


Commercial production of Oriental vegetables such as napa, bok choy, and daikons is underway and expected to increase with a growing ethnic population. Other new vegetables under trial include staked and processing tomatoes and sugar enhanced and super-sweet sweet corn. Various mushrooms are currently being tried. The mushroom industry is very competitive and in a state of flux (D. Ingram pers. commun.).


The early phase of domestication of apios is underway (Reynolds et al. 1990). Researchers think it will be productive for home gardens, but there is a need to commercialize this crop, which will require work on marketing. Apios will most likely be used as a processed product, and could also be developed as a high protein food, possibly for developing countries, or as a health food. Apios is highly productive and harvesting can be mechanized. The tubers have a taste similar to a combination of boiled potatoes and boiled peanuts. Apios is mealier than potato and chips well. Other new vegetables being tried some on a commercial basis, include Shiitake and oyster (pleurotis) mushrooms, tomatillo, and greenhouse cucumbers (Koske 1989; W. Blackmon pers. commun.).


An increase in Oriental vegetable production is underway (B. Quebedeaux pers. commun.).


Little is being done with new vegetables. There is interest in two cultivars of hot pepper, 'Mississippi hot' and 'Passion', the latter from Japan, and 'Little Fingers' eggplant. There is some commercial mushroom production of shiitake and pleurotis types. Paste tomatoes are a new crop for Mississippi (M. Burnham pers. commun.).

North Carolina

Several new vegetables are being tried, including intermediate day dry bulb onions. Researchers have evaluated 90 to 100 cultivars for bolt tolerance and winter survival with some success. Onions are planted in October and harvested June or July; there were 120 ha in 1990-91. Broccoli is usually planted in August-September as a fall crop and harvested from mid-September through Christmas. Spring plantings are sown in late February-March and harvested in May. This is seen as an alternative to a potential increase in California production.

Production of ethnic vegetables is increasing, especially for Oriental vegetables such as Chinese cabbage (napa and bok choy), melons, greens, and daikon; and ethnic peppers such as jalapeño, ancho, Anaheim, and other chiles. The major problem for scientists working with these items is the lack of published literature in English. This is one of the reasons the same item may be marketed under a variety of different ethnic names. There have been some changes in specialty lettuce cultivars which allow for an extra day or two of shelf life (D. Sanders pers. commun.). There is some herb production, including ginseng, in the mountainous areas of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Shiitake mushrooms are also being evaluated.


Limited cultivar evaluation trials have been carried out with Chinese cabbage for spring and fall production since 1989. Researchers have recommended fall production since many cultivars, especially from Group Pekinensis bolt under spring conditions. Some cultivars from Group Chinensis are quite susceptible to Fusarium spp. Yield and quality for both Groups have generally been acceptable (D. Coffey pers. commun.).

Some domestic and some wild ginseng is being produced; nitrogen and copper evaluations on farm have been carried out for this crop. Both cherry and paste tomatoes are being produced (A. Rutledge pers. commun.).


Broccoli is a small, but growing industry with a bright future. Cauliflower appears to have excellent potential for mountainous areas at elevations of 1,800 m, but it is not yet grown commercially (C. O'Dell pers. commun.). Other vegetables include storage cabbage, Belgian endive, elephant garlic, heat tolerant head lettuce, exotic mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, medicinal herbs such as American ginseng and goldenseal, golden-fleshed potatoes, and commercial production of organic vegetables (G. Welbaum pers. commun.).



The focus of work on new ornamental crops is primarily on means of adapting woody plants from the temperate zone for interior environments (Keever et al. 1986, 1988).


New crops include anthuriums for foliage and flowering and new cut foliage and bedding plants, and Calathea spp., amaryllis, and caladium (R. Henley pers. commun.).


Various verbenas such as native moss verbena, are under investigation for roadside plantings in southern and coastal Georgia and for commercial landscapes. Flower colors range from white, pink, and pale lilac to darker shades. Verbena is drought tolerant and requires low maintenance. Vervain, another native, has primarily dark royal purple flowers and can be used for roadsides. It has been in cultivation for some time. The cultivar in the trade is 'Polaris' with pale lilac-blue flowers. Rose verbena or creeping vervain, an old species, is widely used in landscapes because of its hardiness and drought tolerance. The most common cultivar is 'Rosea' or 'Roseum' which has pinkish rose flowers; additional colors are available. Various vincas are now heavily used in landscaping as well. Use of gomphrena, a tough, hardy plant, is increasing in landscapes (J. Lewis pers. commun.)


Research is underway in godetia or satin flower, including trials on field production and greenhouse trials (Anderson 1990a,b,c; Anderson and Hartley 1990; Anderson et al. 1991). This crop requires cool, high light conditions and so probably will not be a major cutflower in the Southeastern United States. Greenhouse trials are continuing with velvet sage which shows good potential as a greenhouse cutflower grown under the same conditions as a 7-week chrysanthemum. Other greenhouse trials are being conducted with yarrow, which has good potential as a greenhouse cutflower. It requires three weeks in propagation plus six weeks in the greenhouse under 6 h supplemental high intensity daylight (R. Anderson pers. commun.).


Ornamentals are the fastest growing part of the agricultural industry in Maryland, with a 10% increase annually over the past 5 years. In the metropolitan areas, there has been an increase in direct marketing of cut flowers through roadside stand, farmers markets, and as an add-on at pick-your-own operations. Cut flowers is a generic term which is applied to any dried material such as everlastings, yarrow, and statice, and to anything that can be cut which will last 5 days.

There is a new market for bedding plant material from 4 July to the first frost. Some of the production now includes greenhouse production of containerized annuals which are sold in various pot sizes throughout the season. Flowering cabbage and flowering kale are used for fall color.

The market for woody ornamentals is exploding, particularly with specialty trees and shrubs and clonal selection of unique cultivars such as Japanese maple, but anything unusual is being sought (Healy 1986, 1989; Healy and Aker 1988a,b; Healy and Espinosa 1988a,b; Healy and Graper 1987, 1989; Healy and Wilkins 1985; Healy et al. 1990).

North Carolina

Research on flowering plants is focused on orange browallia, pink trumpet vine, and blue daze. Orange browallia shows excellent potential as a flowering potted plant and a hanging basket. Pink trumpet vine has potential as a flowering hanging basket; it has very fragrant pink flowers. The major problem with this crop is bud and leaf drop with sudden changes in environment. Blue daze is a newly introduced bedding plant and hanging basket plant which has blue flowers (D. Bailey pers. commun.).

South Carolina

Studies are underway with new cultivars of holly and crape myrtle and heat tolerant shade trees (A. King pers. commun.).


Research is being carried out on bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, on nursery crops, and on dried flowers (G. Welbaum pers. commun.).


The new fruit crop being tried in the greatest number of states was the Asian pear (Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, South Carolina, and Virginia). Southern highbush blueberry was second in importance (Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee). Four fruit crops are being evaluated in at least three states: mayhaw and persimmons (Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana), kiwifruit (Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia), and pawpaw (Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina). Brambles are being tested in Kentucky and Tennessee; passion fruit is under trial in Alabama and Florida.

Oriental vegetables are being grown in six states (Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia). Ginseng is being grown in five states (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia). Mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, and various types) are being tried in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Four states are growing either hot or colored bell peppers (Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina). Onions and herbs are being evaluated in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina; tomatoes in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Broccoli, lettuce, sugar enhanced and super-sweet sweet corn, asparagus, pumpkin/calabaza, and husk tomato (tomatillo) are being evaluated in at least two states each.

In contrast, there is little commonality for ornamentals where unique crops are being evaluated in each state. At present, there is no one single crop which shows promise to become the South's kiwifruit. For fruits, a number of crops such as Asian pear, Southern highbush blueberry, mayhaw, persimmon, pawpaw, and the subtropical fruits of Southern Florida all have potential, though most likely as combined enterprises rather than as sole crops. For vegetables, this same trend of a combination of crops is more likely than any one single crop. Oriental vegetables, which is a very broad area, are becoming more popular. Other crops with promise include ginseng, various mushrooms, and peppers, both hot types and colored bells. With few exceptions, state programs or local growers or a combination of the two, are interested in expanding the horticultural horizons of the South beyond the crops for which this area has traditionally been known.


Table 1. New fruit crops for the Southeastern United States.

Crop Scientific namez State(s) examining the new crop
American pear Pyrus communis L. Alabama
Apricot Prunus armeniaca L. Virginia
Asian pear Pyrus pyrifolia (Burm. f.) Alabama, Georgia,
Sand pear Nakai Kentucky, Maryland,
Chinese pear P. serotina Rehd. South Carolina, Virginia
Atemoya Annona cherimola Mill. x A. squamosa L. Florida
Brambles Rubus spp. Kentucky
Bunch grapes Vitis aestivalis Michx. Georgia
Carambola Averrhoa carambola L. Florida
Chinese chestnut Castanea mollissima Bl. Alabama
Feijoa Feijoa sellowiana Berg. Alabama, Georgia
Figs Ficus carica L. Georgia, Louisiana
Jujubes Ziziphus spp. Georgia
Kiwifruit Actinidia chinensis Planch. Alabama
A. deliciosa Georgia, South Carolina
Mayhaw Craetaegus aestivalis (Walt.) Torrey & Gray Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana
Oriental persimmon Diospyros kaki L. f. Alabama, Louisiana
Passion fruit Passiflora spp. Florida
Pawpaw Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal. Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina
Persimmons Diospyros lotus L. Louisiana
Pineapple guava Feijoa sellowiana Berg. Alabama, Georgia
Plums Prunus spp. Georgia
Pomegranate Punica granatum L. Alabama, Georgia
Rabbiteye blueberry Vaccinium ashei Reade Tennessee
Southern highbush blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee
Sugar apple, Sweetsop Annona squamosa L. Florida
zScientific names and authorities listed in Hortus Third.

Table 2. New vegetable crops for the Southeastern United States.

Crop Scientific namez State(s) examining the new crop
Apios Apios americana Medic. Louisiana
Asparagus Asparagus officinalis L. Florida, Georgia
Asparagus bean Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis (L.) Verdc. Florida
Belgian endive, witloof chicory Chicorium intybus L. Virginia
Bottle gourd Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl. Florida
Broccoli Brassica oleraceae L., Botrytis Group North Carolina, Virginia
Brussels sprouts Brassica oleraceae L., Gemmifera Group Virginia
Cabbage Brassica oleraceae L., Botrytis Group Virginia
Calabaza Cucurbita moschata (Duch. ex. Lam.) Duch. ex. Poir Florida
Chinese cabbage Brassica rapa L. Chinensis Group Kentucky, North Carolina
Pekinensis Group Tennessee
Chinese okra, angled luffa Luffa acutangula (L.) Roxb. Florida
Cluster bean Cyamopsis tetragonolobus (L.) Taub. Florida
Collards Brassica oleracea L. Acephala Group Georgia
Cucumbers, greenhouse Cucumis sativus L. Louisiana
Daikon Raphanus sativum L. var. Longipinnatus Bailey Kentucky, North Carolina
Garlic, elephant Allium spp. Virginia
Ginseng Panax quinquefolium L. Wallich North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis L. Virginia
Guar Cyamopsis tetragonolobus (L.) Taub. Florida
Herbs, fresh various Georgia, North Carolina
Husk tomato Physalis ixocarpa Brot. Georgia, Louisiana
Hyacinth bean Dolichos lablab L. Florida
Ivy gourd Coccinea grandis (L.) Voigt Florida
Lablab bean Dolichos lablab L. Florida
Lauki Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Standl. Florida
Leeks Allium ampeloprasum L. Porrum Group Florida
Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratis DC. ex. Ness Georgia
Lettuce, specialty Lactuca sativa L. North Carolina, Virginia
Luffa, smooth, sponge gourd Luffa aegyptiaca Mill. Florida
Mushrooms Agaricus spp. Disparus spp., and others Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia
Muskmelons, Japanese Cucumis melo L. Florida
Onions, bulb Allium cepa L. Florida, North Carolina
Onions, green Allium cepa L. Georgia
Organic vegetables various Virginia
Oriental vegetables various Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina
Parvar Trichosanthes dioica Roxb. Florida
Peanuts, green Arachis hypogaea L. Georgia
Peas, English Pisum sativum L. Georgia
Pepper, hot Capsicum spp. Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina
Pepper, bell (colored) Capsicum annuum L. Georgia
Pea eggplant Solanum torvum L. Florida
Pointed gourd Trichosanthes dioica Roxb. Florida
Potatoes, golden-fleshed Solanum tuberosum L. Virginia
Pumpkin Cucurbita spp. Georgia
Radicchio Chicorium intybus L. Georgia
Rhubarb Rheum rhababarum L. Florida
Sweetcorn, super-sweet Zea mays L. Kentucky
Thai eggplant Solanum macrocarpon L. Florida
Tindora Coccinea grandis (L.) Voigt Florida
Tomatillo Physalis ixocarpa Brot. Georgia, Louisiana
Tomatoes Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) Karst Kentucky, Tennessee
Yard-long bean Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis (L.) Verdc. Florida
Watermelon, seedless Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai Florida
Winged bean Psophocarpus tetragonolobus (L.) DC Florida
zScientific names and authorities listed in Hortus Third (1976).

Table 3. New ornamental crops for the Southeastern United States.

Crop Scientific namez State(s) examining the new crop
Amaryllis Amaryllis spp. Florida
Anthuriums for foliage & flowering Anthurium spp. Florida
Bedding plants various Maryland
Blue daze Evolvulus glomeratus grandiflorus North Carolina
Bulbs various Virginia
Caladium Caladium spp. Florida
Calathea Calathea spp. Florida
Containerized annuals various Maryland
Crape-myrtle Lagerstroemia spp. South Carolina
Cut flowers, dried various Maryland
Dried flowers various Virginia
Flowering cabbage Brassica oleraceae L. Acephala Group Maryland
Flowering kale Brassica oleraceae L. Acephala Group Maryland
Godetia Clarkia amoena ssp. Whitneyi ('Grace' series) Kentucky
Holly Ilex spp. South Carolina
Nursery crops various Virginia
Orange browallia, firebush Streptosolen jamesonii (Benth.) Miers. North Carolina
Pink trumpet vine Podranea ricasoliana(Tanfani) T. Sprague North Carolina
Satin flower Clarkia amoena ssp. Whitneyi ('Grace' series) Kentucky
Specialty trees & shrubs various Maryland
Velvet sage Salvia leucantha Kentucky
Moss verbena Verbena tenuisecta Briq. Georgia
Rose verbena, creeping vervain Verbena canadiensis (L.) Britt. Georgia
Vervain Verbena rigida K. Spreng. Georgia
Woody ornamentals various Maryland
Woody plants for interior use various Alabama
Yarrow Achillea millifolium, German hybrids Maryland
zScientific names and authorities listed in Hortus Third (1976).

Last update April 7, 1997 aw