The first two plants to be released in the WorryFree® Barberry Collection were Crimson Cutie® and Lemon Glow®. Lemon Cutie® and Mr. GreenGenes™ will be introduced in 2023. These barberries were bred by Dr. Mark H. Brand at the University of Connecticut, a process that took 15 years. 15 years is a long time by any measure prompting the question, why? Why is a sterile barberry selection so important that 15 years would be considered worth the wait?
The answer to that question lies in the ability of Barberry to thrive in so many different landscape locations while exhibiting great color and form, all in a deer-resistant package. It sounds like a homeowner’s dream plant but there was a dark side to the Barberry story that became increasingly apparent during the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the popular Barberry selections of the time like ‘Crimson Pygmy’, ‘Rosy Glow’, and ‘Atropurpurea’, produced huge amounts of seed. This seed was consumed by birds and deposited everywhere in their subsequent travels. Much of this seed germinated in fields and forests producing thickets of Barberry that proceeded to outcompete native plants in these varied environments. It was this invasive quality that caused Barberry to, rightfully, come under great scrutiny and, finally, led to outright banning in many states by the 2010s despite its incredible home landscape value.
This perfect storm of issues was also the perfect opportunity to a breeder looking to make a change for the better. “The key reason for any breeding is to try to create plants that are better than what is currently available or that can solve a key problem”, states Dr. Brand. “That thought process for Barberry was put squarely in focus for me after a meeting in 2000 with nursery industry officials where it was made clear that bans were coming across the northeast U.S. on this staple genus.”
Dr. Brand was anxious to get started but immediately ran into issues. “Finding enough sterile material to start the breeding process was difficult which made getting started slower than I expected,” Brand relates. Once the process began, promising plants were found and selected based on brilliant foliage color, compact, landscape-ready form, and, of course, the all-important need for complete sterility to completely remove the stigma of invasiveness.
These chosen plants, picked after a few years of crossing and backcrossing, might have been ready for introduction then and there if belonging to any genus other than Barberry. “To be completely sure that there was no viable seed produced, we had to slow down the process and do a few seasons of testing. Placing these plants out where they were readily available for pollination may have slowed introduction down by a few years, but it was the only way to be absolutely sure we could state with confidence that they were sterile,” states Brand.
The big question facing Brand now was how to bring this game-changing plant to market. Brand explains his thought process. “I really wanted to make this introduction into the northeastern U.S. where Barberry was so important for the landscape and under such regulatory pressure. I figured it was a perfect plant to be introduced by northeastern and upper Midwestern growers that served the independent garden center market, a group that could tell the story about this game-changing new Barberry the best. The SynRG™ Growers group seemed like the perfect group on all points.”
WorryFree® Crimson Cutie®, Lemon Glow®, and Lemon Cutie® are approved for sale in New York State by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
As of March 2022 WorryFree® Crimson Cutie®, Lemon Glow®, Lemon Cutie®, and Mr. GreenGenes™ are approved for sale in Pennsylvania State.
Dr. Brand’s research was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal HortScience and can be read in full HERE.