The History and Development of New Guinea Impatiens

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University of Delaware
New Guinea Impatiens is an important ornamental crop in the United States and Europe. In the United States they are quickly approaching the total market value of Geraniums and major growers feel their popularity has not peaked (Konjoian 1990; Drewlow, interview, 8 May 1990). The history of these plants provides insight into ornamental plant development. Future development efforts may benefit from understanding the procedures that made New Guinea Impatiens a success. New Guinea Impatiens were first introduced in Europe in 1886 and instantly became popular. By the early 1900s they had virtually disappeared from cultivation because of Begonia mite infestations (Hooker 1909). Plant explorers collected and distributed New Guinea Impatiens from 1886 until 1969 but the plant did not regain its lost status. In 1970 a plant exploration trip co-sponsored by Longwood Gardens and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rediscovered New Guinea Impatiens. Their cooperative venture became a turning point in the plants' development. The two organizations were interested in the possible display uses of the plant and in discovering and distributing information about its breeding and culture. Universities and commercial growers were able to work with the plants because of the commitment of Longwood and USDA to share information. Plant collectors, researchers, and breeders were involved in the advancement of New Guinea Impatiens in varying degrees. Only a handful of individuals were dedicated enough to promote and develop the plants. New Guinea Impatiens became a success after nearly one hundred years of obscurity because of the cooperation between not-for-profit and commercial organizations, and the persistence and commitment of a few individuals.
New Guinea Impatiens, Longwood Gardens, Plant exploration, History- public garden, Plant introduction, United States Department of Agriculture