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Texas Superstar water plants make for -

 

A Super Story!

by Duane Eaton, San Antonio, Texas USA
Images by Dr. Jerry Parsons - Click to enlarge


 N. 'Texas Dawn' 


 N. 'Colorado' 


 N. 'Laydekeri Fulgens'


N. 'Perry's Double White'


 N. 'Clyde Ikins' 


N. 'Panama Pacific'


N. 'Star of Siam'


N. 'Red Flare' 


Parrot's Feather
(Myriophyllum aquaticum)

For years, Texas gardeners have been taking advantage of a unique gardening program, Texas Superstar. Texas Cooperative Extension, an agency of Texas A&M University, administers the popular program.

Created by Dr. Jerry Parsons, Texas Superstar helps gardeners across our big state to select plants that readily thrive where they live. He recognized the need to fill a void in gardening information apropos the diverse Texas climates. The program includes everything from small flowers to big trees. Many books sold here are full of gardening information that does not apply to Texas.

Jerry decided to include plants in TS that pass a rigorous selection process. Not only must the plants grow well here, but also they have to appeal to Texas gardeners. Once a plant survives the review process, then it is field-tested.

Texas climates are so diverse that sometimes gardeners shovel snow in one area while gardeners elsewhere wear short sleeve shirts. As such, care is taken to ensure that plants readily grow in as many parts of our state as possible. To accomplish this goal, candidate plants are grown in four dissimilar parts of the state. For a year or more, these trial plants are monitored to see how well they perform. Those that "pass the final exam" receive the respected Texas Superstar designation.

Nobody in the TS program makes money on it, a novel concept! Although Texas Cooperative Extension promotes these plants to the state's nursery and landscape industry, TCE has no monetary involvement. It serves solely to promote the chosen plants.

TCE goes to great lengths to assure that gardeners can find TS plants where they shop. Failure here would be TCE's biggest nightmare. To help prevent this scenario, TCE officials coordinate closely with the state's professional plant growers.

You might wonder what all of this has to do with water gardening. Well, to make a short story long, we're getting there. Texas Superstar has gotten all wet.

In 2005, Jerry asked what I thought about adding water garden plants to the TS program. I became furious. Not on the concept, but simply that I had not thought of that earlier and asked HIM! His idea excited me tremendously.

With several others, we proposed a list of water garden plants for consideration in the TS program. It included hardy and tropical waterlilies and a bog plant. The initial list included one selection from each major color group. Obviously, the potential number of plants was massive; we could select only a few for consideration.

We sent that initial list to water garden leaders throughout Texas. An accompanying survey requested comments, negative or positive; we wanted as much feedback as possible. Follow-up emails and faxes went to those not replying to the first request.

Reviewing the comments, we made changes to the list. Several months later, a revised list went out, again requesting comments. The replies proved very helpful, and again we tweaked the list. To me, the most important factor was input from the state's water garden industry.

While our working lists were subject to changes, one plant was, as the saying goes, "written in stone". We could not exclude it. Jerry and I are both fans of the late Dr. Clyde Ikins, and we just had to include N. 'Clyde Ikins' *. A Dr. Kirk Strawn hybrid, this plant has always been special to us. All other plants, however, were fair game to the red pen of criticism. Fortuitously for me, it survived each review solely on its stupendous merits.

Interestingly, after it was all over, the owner of a retail store said he did not like the list. I reminded him that he neglected to reply to project emails. Then was his opportunity to offer his opinion. He had figured we "did not really want the input." Like elections in a democracy, if you do not vote, DO NOT COMPLAIN!

Upon identifying the winners, we sought plant donations for the TS trial stage. Four plants of each winner had to be tested at varied sites across the vast land of our great state. WGI Charter Member John Loggins of Lone Star Aquatics (a Truly Named Participating Member) in College Station and Burt and Sally Nichols of Water Garden Gems in Marion generously donated all of the needed test plants.

Jerry transferred the plants from Water Garden Gems to College Station. Luckily, that is the hometown of both Texas A&M University and Lone Star Aquatics. Jerry picked up the remaining plants from Lone Star Aquatics and took them to TCE at Texas A&M. From there, one of each plant went to each of the four trial sites for their "final exam".

Jerry had anticipated announcing the winners in 2008 or 2009. Meanwhile we could field-test them and prepare a marketing campaign. In 2006, Jerry called me on his way back to San Antonio from a meeting at Texas A&M. He stated that the TS coordinating committee was excited about our water garden plant program. They decided to promote aquatic plants in 2007, a year or two earlier than originally scheduled. WOW! Suddenly, activity on this project quickened.

Texans are very proud of waterlilies hybridized by two water garden legends -- who happen to be Texans. Ken Landon (San Angelo) and Kirk Strawn (then of College Station, now in Florida) originated three of our Texas Superstar plants. We promptly figured that Ken's N. 'Texas Dawn' must be the lead waterlily! We did not envision a lead plant until that waterlily made the final list. Something about the name struck home with us.

Both Ken and Kirk are in Texas A&M's Heroes for Horticulture for their contributions in the field. Clyde Ikins was the first person inducted into the Hall of Fame while alive. Jerry jokes that dying used to be the first requirement to enter the Hall of Fame. He says Clyde was so big in his field they waived that requirement for him.

When looking at the list of Texas Superstar water garden plants, you will see it contains not a single lotus. Did we forget lotus, or save it for a TS encore? And how about an Iris or two?  



 TEXAS SUPERSTAR AQUATIC PLANTS
Descriptions by Rolf Nelson
Nymphaea 'Texas Dawn' - Hybridized by Ken Landon of San Angelo, Texas. Bears yellow flowers in profusion and held slightly above the water surface. In early spring the base of the petals produce a light orange glow. Leaves display maroon speckles. 
N. 'Colorado' - Hybridized by Dr. Kirk Strawn of College Station, Texas. Probably the most profuse blooming of all hardy waterlilies; it is not unusual for this salmon pink variety to have 2-3 open flowers when grown in 7- to 8-quart (7-centimeter) pots. It can produce up to 15 open flowers in a 24-inch (61-centimeter) diameter pot. 
N. 'Laydekeri Fulgens' - The most productive red hardy for hot Texas summers. Smallish leaves, 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) across, producing many flowers. Hybridized by Latour-Marliac in 1895. 
N. 'Perry's Double White' - Hybridized by Perry Slocum of Franklin, North Carolina. A compact dependable-blooming white that fits nicely into a tub garden. 
N. 'Clyde Ikins' - Hybridized by Strawn and named for another giant of Texas waterlily culture and hybridizing. Holds apricot colored flowers that literally glow several inches above the water surface. At season's end, it consistently blooms weeks later than other hardy lilies. Along the Texas Gulf Coast when grown in large containers in large ponds often produces flowers EVERY month of the year.  
N. 'Panama Pacific' - Hybridized by William Tricker of Independence, Ohio. This is perhaps the most widely grown tropical waterlily. Wine purple flowers are produced non-stop from spring until a hard freeze. Sweetly scented flowers are held several inches above the water surface. This is a viviparous variety with plantlets formed at the sinus of the leaf in late summer. Novice water gardeners can grow these young plantlets into full sized blooming plants. 
N. 'Star of Siam' - An exciting tropical cultivar from Thailand, this plant is very much at home in hot Texas summers. Maroon mottled leaves provide an interesting backdrop for medium blue flowers borne in profusion. 
N. 'Red Flare' - Hybridized by Martin Randig of San Bernadino, California. Dark red tropical flowers open at dusk and close mid morning the following day. A great cut flower for surprising guests at the dinner table. The leaves reach 8-12 inches (20-30 centimeters) even when grown in a 7- to 8-quart (7-liter) pot. The solid maroon leaves contrast nicely with the green and mottled pads of other waterlilies. 
Myriophyllum aquaticum - Parrot's Feather - Bog plant from South America. Grows in the same soil as waterlilies. Cover its container with 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of water over the soil. "Fuzzy" lime-green stems trail across the water. 

* Clyde on Clyde

Clyde loved to talk about Clyde. That is, Clyde Ikins loved to talk about N. 'Clyde Ikins'. If it had not been for Clyde's visit to Strawn Water Gardens in College Station, the plant Clyde would never have made it to Texas Superstar status. Or even be around, for that matter.

Clyde loved to tell the story about one day when he had gone to College Station to visit his good friend, Dr. Kirk Strawn. Kirk was showing him around the place, including the latest plants in his ongoing hybridization efforts. Kirk pointed to one plant that he had discarded, saying that he was throwing it out; he did not like it.

Clyde replied that he thought that the flower was pretty, and that Kirk should keep the plant. Kirk said he not only would keep the plant, but that he would name it after Clyde.

Thanks to that visit and Clyde's chance comment, today we enjoy the very popular 'Clyde Ikins'! As Paul Harvey says, "Now you know the rest of the story."  

Texas Superstar Waterlily Cultivation
by Rolf Nelson

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