There has been a large increase in the use of native herbaceous prairie plants for ornamental purposes. They are also being used for cut flowers, medicinal purposes, and in restoration projects. To discuss the subject of breeding and selecting herbaceous plants for landscaping, it is convenient to divide the topic into three areas of interest: 1) selecting native ecotypes for use on specific sites; 2) selecting and breeding for nonnative/native plants for wildflower mixes; and 3) selecting, breeding and developing specific individual plants for ornamental/garden use. Native plant traits that are being evaluated at the Univ. of Nebraska West Central Center include competitiveness, pest tolerance, regional adaptation, flowering characteristics, foliage characteristics, proportionality of plants, ease of propagation, ease of establishment, and moisture requirements. In addition, research is being conducted at the West Central Center regarding genetic variation. For example, Dalea purpureum varies in height, foliage color, stems per plant, stem lodging, and time of flowering. Similar variation has been documented in Lithospermum, Calylophus, Penstemon, Liatris, and Echinacea, to name a few. Botanically, genetic variation has been documented within many native herbaceous species. However, plant breeders have done very little with these variations in genotypes, thus allowing considerable opportunity for breeding research with native herbaceous plants.
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