The intriguing world of novelty plants: Beyond just a label

While perusing an online plant catalog recently, I stumbled upon a section featuring “Novelty lilies.” This piqued my curiosity: what exactly did this term signify? Was it a category of lilies I was not aware of, or simply a label intended to intrigue customers?

Although I was already familiar with the general meaning of “novelty” – suggesting something previously unknown or unique – I decided to delve deeper into its significance within the field of ornamental plants. In ornamental horticulture, “novelty” denotes something new, fresh, and distinctive. Horticulturists and gardeners seek these plants for their ability to enhance visual appeal and introduce diversity into garden designs.

Novelty lilies

Further research revealed that “novelty lilies” encompass a diverse array of lily varieties characterized by unconventional colors, striking patterns, or distinct shapes. Typically bred or cultivated to emphasize their unique traits, these lilies enrich the visual landscape of gardens, bouquets, and floral arrangements. Examples include double-flowered varieties, lilies adorned with speckles or spots, new interspecific hybrids such as OA, and those boasting unusual color combinations. Both gardeners and florists, cherish them for their capacity to create memorable and captivating displays, and notably, they are relatively newer additions to the market.

The concept of novelty extends beyond lilies to encompass various other flower species. This broader category includes flowers distinguished by their extraordinary hues, intricate patterns, or unique fragrances, as well as those known for their distinctive blooming habits.

Novelty irises

At one time, novelty irises meant anything new. Later the expression became used for irises that deviated from the mainstream in form, pattern, or other characteristics. Today, many characters distinguish irises so they are considered novelties as a designated horticultural class. And it does not refer to new introductions at all. Variegated foliage (such as in Iris pallida cultivars), flat flowers, and a few others are among them.

To my opinion, the most striking character is color breaking, shown by my Iris ‘Batik’, a tall bearded iris bearing royal purple stripes on a white ground. In 2012, Mike Unser said that color breaking can be described as “a genetic instability causing the colors and/or patterns of the iris to express irregularly giving a flower that is splish-splashed [pattern] in a more or less haphazard fashion. No two blooms are ever just alike, and they can create a very lively and exuberant effect in the flower garden.” To learn more about novelty irises, I suggest consulting a very comprehensive article in the American Iris Society’s Iris Encyclopedia.

Iris germanica Batik

Novelty dahlias

As I’m wrapping up this blog, my friend Kate-Lynn from En Fleurs asks me if I have an orange single novelty dahlia cultivar. I was taken aback – again? It seems that some catalogs describe fancy-looking dahlias that deviate from the typical flower forms usually commercialized. These may include collerette or single types, or cultivars that are difficult to categorize, such as some mimicking coneflowers and other informal decorative forms. This needed to be researched a little more.

Indeed the American Dahlia Society in its Classification and Handbook of Dahlias recognizes two Novelty forms: Novelty Open (NO) and Novelty Double (NX). These Novelty dahlias display distinct and different forms from the other classifications. For instance, the flowers of an NX must display good symmetry, including a closed, tight center, with ray florets uniformly shaped and/or arranged differently from other fully double-form characteristics. On the other hand, the NO flowers will have an open center with the disc in proper proportion to the ray florets. Additionally, there are two more Novelty forms: Micro NO and Micro NX, with miniature flowers measuring less than 2 inches. After growing dahlias for nearly 10 years, I was surprised to learn something new!

Novelty peonies

Now, with my peony addiction, I’m asking myself: Are there novelty peonies also? Not per se according to literature. But some hybrids challenge traditional norms of our expected idea of a peony. For example, Paeonia ‘Pink Firefly’ showcases vibrant pink, twisted and curled petals. It stands out as a unique and captivating addition to the garden. While not commonly labeled as a “novelty” peony, it exemplifies the category of cactus-dahlia type peonies, known for their unconventional beauty.

Many more novelties

The novelty color hybrids of coneflowers (Echinacea) include all the new variants that have been created by breeding the purple-flowered species with other species. The array of novel colors and shapes is quite stunning and includes this Echinacea ‘Double Scoop Mandarin’.

Moreover, many newly marketed annuals, such as cultivars of zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and petunias, may also be described as novelties due to their recent introductions with unique characteristics and visual appeal.

Some novelties are protected by patents or by agreements regarding their future propagation and resale.

Novelty and novel traits in agriculture

Transitioning from ornamental horticulture to agriculture, the concept of novelty remains relevant. Agriculture Canada defines a novel trait as a distinguishing feature present in a new variety of a plant species that has not been previously seen within stable, cultivated populations in Canada. These traits have the potential to introduce transformative changes to agricultural practices while emphasizing responsible stewardship and environmental sustainability.

Conclusion: Beyond the label novelty

In conclusion, the allure of novelty lilies and other ornamental plants lies in their ability to transcend conventional boundaries, infusing landscapes with innovation, beauty, and a sense of wonder. As we explore novel traits in both horticulture and agriculture, we uncover endless possibilities for gardeners and farmers alike. However, it’s essential to recognize that while “novelty” celebrates uniqueness and innovation, such a label is often used as a marketing tool to highlight new introductions and create a sense of exclusivity. Therefore, as consumers and enthusiasts, it’s crucial to approach novelty with discernment, appreciating its allure while considering its broader context and implications.

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