The UF/IFAS foliage plant breeding program was established in 1976 with the goal of creating new ornamental tropical foliage plants. Initial breeding research was divided into four stages, all of which still apply to ongoing research today:
Stage 1: Flowering. The primary barrier to breeding tropical foliage is the inability to achieve simultaneous flowering in many species. UF/IFAS plant breeders used tools such as gibberellic acid to stimulate flowering, allowing breeders to produce flowers on demand year-round. Growers applied this technique to Spathiphyllum, making this foliage plant one of the world’s most valuable flowering crops.
Stage 2: Seed production. Anthurium and Spathiphyllum plants have showy spathes that add to their ornamental value. Their bisexual flowers do not require any special aid for seed set. However, to obtain seed from Aglaonema and Dieffenbachia plants, 100 percent relative humidity is required for pollen germination. UF/IFAS plant breeders developed an effective technique for wrapping newly pollinated spadices with moistened paper towels and placing them in plastic bags for 24 hours to set seeds.
Stage 3: Variegation. The leaf variegation trait is controlled by a single dominant gene, with multiple alleles determining variegation patterns within Dieffenbachia and Aglaonema plants. Multiple genes control branching from the lower stems in both individuals, and different patterns can be combined in hybrids through direct crosses and selecting for favorable traits in the offspring. After favorable traits are selected, hybrids are propagated by tissue-culture techniques for rapid population production. These large populations are evaluated for stable characteristics before being released to the nursery industry.
Stage 4: Hybrid testing. Hybrids are grown and tested under simulated commercial and consumer conditions before release to ensure that UF/IFAS plant breeders produce quality plants that will have a positive economic impact.