Insights from southeastern us nursery growers guide research for sterile ornamental cultivars.
Some ornamental plants important to the nursery and landscape industries escape cultivation, spread to natural areas, and become invasive, out competing native plants in those ecosystems. Development of sterile cultivars of these problematic species can be one way to continue their sales yet limit their invasive potential and protect natural areas. To maximize the economic (and ecological) impact of this approach, sterile cultivar research and development should directly address grower needs. We conducted a survey of southeastern US growers to quantify sales of five popular yet invasive ornamentals (Coral ardisia, Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Heavenly bamboo, and Mexican petunia). Firms ranged from small businesses to large operations with up to $30M in gross annual sales. Respondents expressed a largely positive opinion of sterile cultivar research (74%) and a willingness to sell the sterile cultivars once created. Most (40%) recommended that sterile cultivar research on Heavenly bamboo was most critical, while 30% suggested that Chinese privet was the most important research target of the five species. The industry's willingness to adopt sterile cultivars documented in this survey positions the southeastern US to lead development of sterile cultivars and reduce invasiveness of economically important plants; research and development will be most effective if guided by industry input revealed here.