CAST 2021: 7 eye-catching  varieties and trends

CAST 2021: 7 eye-catching varieties and trends

Features - CAST Coverage

The annual California new plant introduction pilgrimage returned in June 2021 after a brief (online) hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some trends we noticed and a few varieties we liked during our time in the Golden State.


The 2021 California Summer Trials (CAST) had horticulture industry professionals back trekking up and down U.S. Route 101 in late June. Although there were less stops than in year’s past due to several breeders deciding not to participate, the maskless, smiling faces were out in full force for the week-long new plant extravaganza.

Before we get into some of the new and slightly new (more on that in a second) introductions that we saw and liked throughout the week, here’s a quick breakdown on four trends we noticed on our trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and all points in-between:

1. It’s pretty clear that plant breeders are doing everything they can to maintain the momentum horticulture has developed over the last 18 months, focusing many of their latest breeding efforts on varieties that are easy for new plant parents to find success with. This means plants that are sold at retail in their final container and do not require transplanting by consumers, as well as a robust level of “weather tolerance,” meaning the plants can take a few cold sub-60°F nights in row or a mid-summer dry spell here or there without keeling over and dying. Disease resistance — particularly for diseases that develop in moist, cool environments — is another baked-in aspect of many of the new varieties for 2022. Nobody likes a sick plant, after all.

2. Of course, bold and diverse color options, as well as the hot foliage trend of late — variegation — remain sought after plant variety characteristics as well and are featured prominently in many of the 2022 introductions we got to see. There are a whole lot of new introductions in bold pink, purple, and even orange hues — catering to homeowners that want vibrant colored plants that draw eyes and attention from nearby neighbors.

3. Breeders are also clearly following consumer trends when selecting new varieties. Varieties that require less pinching (i.e. manual labor) as well as less PGR-usage to keep them compact and blooms timed precisely, were clearly a recurring aspect among the many young plant launches we viewed all week. Pollinator friendly varieties featured prominently among the many displays and planted landscapes, a welcome development that any nature lover will value and appreciate.

4. And finally, another trend we noticed was that many of the 2021 growing season introductions that normally would have been unveiled last spring — unfortunately coronavirus had other plans for CAST 2020 — were mixed in among the 2022 upcoming releases. Considering many of these plants are truly worthy and yet were deprived of the normal CAST spotlight last year, it makes sense to include the most notable and interesting 2021 intros that many of us missed with last year’s cancellation.

American Takki Helianthus F1 ‘Orange DMR’ 
Dummen Orange dianthus Odessa ‘Twiggy’

A few new varieties we liked

While we unfortunately do not have anywhere near enough room in these pages to list all of the new and new-to-us plants that we loved in California, here’s a handful of our favorite varieties that we saw:

American Takki (Takki Seeds) Helianthus F1 ‘Orange DMR’

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of American Takki’s Helianthus line, the breeder is debuting a new sunflower variety with stepped up Downy Mildew Resistance (DMR) for 2022. Big and plentiful blooms, eye catching colors, and low maintenance weather-tolerant growing characteristics combine to take this classic pollinator friendly genus to the next level.

Benary's 'Joey Improved'

Armstrong Salvia ‘Bodacious Hummingbird Falls’

The breeder says this is the world’s first hanging basket salvia introduction, and the dark blue-purplish blooms dotted with black calyx will be a guaranteed conversation starter in the landscape. This variety also blooms earlier than the popular Salvia Black & Blue series, and selection for improved branching habit limits climbing and spreading, resulting in a tighter, more rounded habit throughout the season. The pitcher-like blooms are a favorite of hummingbirds and other pollinators, too.

Benary Ptilotus ‘Joey Improved’

Benary introduced this Australian native years ago and is reintroducing this improved version. While the original Ptilotus Joey would be wobbly and hard to ship if it became rootbound in plug trays, this new version recovers well. Improvements include better branching as well. With large, fuzzy spikes and silver-green foliage, it makes for great impulse buys. It thrives in hot, dry climates and performs well in pots and landscape beds.

DÜmmen Orange Dianthus Odessa ‘Twiggy’

This new for 2021 dianthus introduction has eye-catching double flowers that the breeder says will stick around for the entire growing season, and it reportedly has impressive heat, drought and cold tolerance, as well as the versatility for landscape or container plantings. This introduction clearly checks the box on the bold and striking perennial trend that is becoming more prevalent.

Kieft Seed Leucanthemum ‘White Lion’ F1

Another solid candidate for the early spring sales season (10-hour day length), and the kicker is this version does not require any vernalization alongside stepped up disease resistance. The variety’s Zone 4 hardiness unlocks a significant portion of the North American flower market for cultivation, and it reportedly thrives in overwintered production scenarios. This is versatility in plant form.

Suntory Sun Parasol ‘Original Sunbeam’

This early-flowering (2-3 weeks), quick finishing mandevilla hybrid reportedly performs great in high light conditions with no fading or washing out on the blooms. The vibrant yellow stays yellow, which is precisely what consumers want. A prolific brancher – yet she requires no pinching or PGR use to maintain a bushy and upright growth habit – this new intro for 2022 is sure to be in high demand due to its vibrance and agreeable disposition in containers or in the ground.

Syngenta Cleome hassleriana ‘Sparkler 2.0 Lavender’

This new series offers a combination of both brawn and beauty that lasts all summer long, according to the breeder. Heat tolerant, pollinator-friendly, and able to withstand periods of drought, this workhorse plant is perfect as a landscape backdrop in the garden.