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Macdonald, B. 1993. A program for the selection and introduction of new plants for the urban landscape. p. 608-611. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

A Program for the Selection and Introduction of New Plants for the Urban Landscape

Bruce Macdonald

    1. Evaluation and Selection
    2. Propagation and Distribution to Participating Nurseries
    3. Contracts and Royalties
    4. Test Sites
    5. Promotion, Publicity, and Marketing
  7. Fig. 1

The aim of this paper is to outline an innovative plant introduction program through which a university botanical garden in close cooperation with the British Columbia Nursery Trades Association (BCNTA) and the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects (BCSLA) is able to evaluate, select, and introduce new and improved plant material into the nursery trade and the urban landscape.


Under the leadership of Roy L. Taylor, then Director of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, a 12-member committee was formed in 1980 and included representatives from growers, wholesalers, landscape contractors, and architects, as well as Botanical Garden staff. Initial meetings addressed the needs of a program for innovative plant introduction for urban landscape plants and set the overall objectives of what was subsequently named the Plant Introduction Scheme of the Botanical Garden of the University of British Columbia (PISBG). These needs, justification, and objectives were as follows:
The development of a superior, successful introduction program demanded a close and critical evaluation of past and current programs of other institutions and companies. Assessments of successes and failures, costs and returns, and staff and time requirements led to the committee establishing:


The committee quickly realized the necessity of "seed funding" to make improvements and additions to the Garden's nursery, to provide additional staff, and to establish an effective marketing and promotional program. Matching funds totalling CDN $300,000 were received from the Devonian Foundation of Calgary, which supported new horticultural projects in Western Canada, and Science Council of British Columbia--the major function for the latter is to fund research and development that directly benefits industry. At the request of the Science Council, a consultant was employed to assess the projected benefit to the nursery industry. Arcus Consulting Ltd. of Vancouver concluded that: "This analysis indicates a program of substantial benefit to the nursery trades industry of British Columbia. Further, the analysis indicates a program capable of generating positive cash flows one year after the first commercial sale of plants provided by the PISBG and within fours years of the commencement of the scheme."

There are two main sources of revenue. Firstly, the sale of stock/mother plants of new introductions to participating nurseries. Secondly, payment of royalties by nurseries propagating PISBG introductions. Each new introduction is registered with the Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation (COPF) and royalties are paid on a quarterly basis. Royalties range from 4.0 cents to 34.0 cents per cutting or scion bud. COPF retains 10% and 90% is returned to the Botanical Garden for the continuation of the program.

PISBG plants registered with COPF include: Anagallis monelli 'Pacific Blue', Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Vancouver Jade', Artemisia stelleriana 'Silver Brocade', Clematis 'Blue Ravine', Genista pilosa 'Vancouver Gold', Penstemon fruticosus 'Purple Haze', Potentilla fruticosa 'Yellow Gem', Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle', Rubus calycinoides 'Emerald Carpet', Sorbus hupehensis 'Pink Pagoda', and Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake'.

Recently, Canadian Plant Breeders' Rights legislation has been passed by the federal government. This will provide much greater protection for new cultivars in the future.


There are five parts to the program--evaluation and selection, propagation and distribution to participating nurseries, contract and royalty payments, test sites, and promotion and marketing.

Evaluation and Selection

The UBC Botanical Garden contains over 15,000 different accessions, thus providing a wide basis for selection. The three Garden areas that have provided the major sources of introductions are the Asian, Alpine and BC Native Garden components. The selection process begins with a 32-member evaluation panel which meets annually to review some 12 to 17 potential introductions. The panel is diverse, comprising representatives from retailers, wholesalers, landscape architects and contractors, parks boards, and retired members of the nursery industry. Recently, evaluations have been carried out with smaller specialist groups, e.g., landscape architects, to advise the committee on what they feel will be the trend in plant materials for the next five to ten years.

Each panel member completes an assessment form for each plant and its potential as an introduction. The form includes reasons for or against its selection, information on ease of production, possible uses in the landscape, and potential sales. Slides are used to illustrate plant characteristics during different seasons.

Subsequently, the forms are analyzed and reviewed by the evaluation committee which makes the final selections. The final choice of one to three plants per annum is made by the nursery industry and not the Botanical Garden. Experience has shown that it is far more effective to release a few good plants per year to the industry than numerous new plants--in the latter case there is a risk that they will be quickly relegated to collectors' items again, and momentum and energy lost could have been more efficiently used in developing other plants.

Propagation and Distribution to Participating Nurseries

The next phase is for the Botanical Garden's nursery to multiply the new selections to produce 600 to 1000 stock/mother plants. During this process, research and development work is carried out on propagation and growing and on developing recommendations for the extension service and growers. Once a sufficient number of plants has been produced, they are sold at a premium price to the participating nurseries. The PISBG program commenced with nine participating nurseries and today there are 42 nurseries, with associate nurseries in five different countries--England, France, the United States, Holland, and New Zealand.

Contracts and Royalties

A contract is sent to each participating nursery for consideration prior to the release of the stock/mother plants. Among the details included with the contract are colored photographs, production and cultural details, market potential, and the price of the plants. A major portion of this contract involves the date for public release and the royalty to be paid. For the program to work successfully, it is essential that no plants are sold prior to the release date and that sufficient quantities of plants are available for marketing.

Test Sites

A priority of the committee was the establishment of test sites to assess plants in areas of diverse climatic conditions. Winter hardiness was an obvious concern, but data on drought resistance and heat and humidity tolerance were also collected. Currently, there are seven test sites across Canada and six sites in the United States.

The plants are sent for testing prior to release. The length of testing is dependent on the species. For example, a little-known species from South America requires considerably more testing than a new cultivar of the widely grown shrub, Potentilla fruticosa. It is also important to trial plants under commercial conditions which are difficult to create at the Botanical Garden. Greater emphasis will be given evaluating new plants from propagation to marketing in selected nurseries in BC prior to general marketing.

The value of a test site to PISBG is dependent on goodwill, the ability of the staff to care for the plants correctly, and the return of accurate information.

Promotion, Publicity, and Marketing

Careful planning with the industry is essential to create an effective promotion, publicity, and marketing strategy.

Important features of this phase include:


The success of the PISBG program has led to a number of international awards, and this, in turn, has given the plants wider recognition. An example is the recent signing of a licensing agreement with a consortium of United Kingdom growers to market plants in Europe. The BC nursery industry has established the Henry M. Eddie Plant Development Foundation, named after one of the province's pioneer nurserymen and plant breeders. The aim is to provide an endowment of CDN $1 million, the interest from which will be used to fund programs in plant breeding, new plant development, and plant exploration.

The continuing success of a plant introduction program depends on new plants coming into production on an on-going basis. With this in mind, the Botanical Garden has recently received funding for the collection and evaluation of lesser known and improved forms of native plants. The collections made so far are considerable, thus, providing a valuable germplasm pool for future research.


The 13 introductions from the PISBG program have already resulted in over 5 million plants being produced world-wide for sale. More than 600,000 plants of the ground cover Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Vancouver Jade' were propagated in BC during 1991. New plants from PISBG have been exported to the United States, Holland, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea. Not every introduction is expected to be a success, due to changes in consumer demand, unforeseeable pest and disease problems, and revisions of plant health regulations in provinces, states, and other countries.

Botanical gardens and arboreta are a unique source for potential plant introductions for the nursery industry and urban landscape. The University of British Columbia Plant Introduction Scheme has demonstrated that an institution can effectively cooperate with the nursery and landscape professions to commercially utilize their collections and research for mutual benefit. Detailed attention to planning, liaison with key personnel, promotion, marketing, and, not least, a clear consensus on the selection of the correct plant for introduction are vital for a program's success.


Fig. 1. Diagrammatic representation of the PISBG program.

Last update September 17, 1997 aw