Many exotic plants have undergone great changes over decades, and even centuries. The varieties seen today are usually the result of a long and exhaustive chain of plant breeding events. The Australian flora is largely underdeveloped, with little breeding, which suggests there are considerable opportunities for development through breeding.
Plant development activities at Kings Park and Botanic Garden includes plant breeding through controlled pollination to improve natural forms of desirable species. A major focus is providing environmental benefits including reduced water and fertiliser use in the new cultivars, and to provide urban habitat for birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals.
Desirable characteristics include compact form, attractive colouring, an extended flowering season and mass appeal in the horticultural markets. Plants that are adaptable to differing sites and climates, and use limited water and nutrients, fulfil the demand for sustainable and low maintenance gardens.
The plant breeding process typically involves the cross-pollination of desirable species and forms. Tissue-culture and advanced genetic testing techniques are employed to assist in the germination and propagation of hybrid material.
In 2010, Scaevola ‘Blueprint’ became a huge success story for the breeding program with over three million units been sold worldwide since its release. Scaevola breeding first commenced in 2002, focusing primarily on Scaevola aemula. Over 700 hybrid plants were tested commercially before the release of Scaevola 'Blueprint'.
In 2015, a spectacular Grevillea hybrid (the ‘RSL Spirit of ANZAC Grevillea’) was released to commemorate the ANZAC Centenary. Boasting vibrant red flowers, grey-green foliage and resilience to tough environments, it is a beautiful bird-attracting addition to the garden. Its blood red blooms and hardy nature are a reminder of the lives lost and hostile conditions experienced by the brave ANZACS during their WW1 campaign.
Other new releases in the past few years include Grevillea ‘Scarlet Moon’, Grevillea ‘Outback Sunrise’, Boronia ‘Magenta Stars’ and Scaevola ‘Midnight’. The current focus of breeding activities includes the development of new hybrid forms of Anigozanthos, Boronia, Chamelaucium, Corymbia, Grevillea, Leptospermum and Scaevola.