Many types of sweet peas have been used for cut flower production over the years, but few have been really successful. Hereunder are listed some of the better known, together with a brief summary of their charcteristics and availability.
The Christmas series was was a strain of winter flowering grandiflora sweet peas bred in the USA by Zvolanek between 1902 and 1908. An important and successful strain in its day, but is long since superceded and lost to cultivation.
The Cuthbertson strain of sweet pea was developed by Frank G Cuthbertson of the Ferry-Morse Seed Company of San Fransisco, and was derived from a seedling which exhibited exceptional vigour and length of flower stem. This was crossed onto the existing winter flowering varieties to produce an early flowering strain of considerable merit. Seed stocks are now largely degenerate and many of the original 30 or more varieties have been lost, but the survivors still play an important part in modern breeding. Superceded by the Spring Sunshine™ strain.
Bred by Denholm Seed Company by crossing the old Zvolanek Early Spencer cultivars with the Cuthbertson Florabundas. Introduced in 1960 there were 22 varieties plus a few more unsuccessful ones which quickly fell by the wayside. The series proved popular in south Africa and Australia. A very good American strain, a few varieties survive but are mostly degenerate. Superceded by the Spring Sunshine™ strain.
Bred by Burpee in America, this strain has 5 -7 flowers per stem and dates from 1958. Never very suitable for cut flower production due to its short flower stems.
Bred in Australia, in the town of the same name just north of Adelaide. This winter flowering strain has a great reputation in Australia but does not adapt well to the northern hemisphere. In the UK growth is very weak, flowering is not very early, and quality is poor.
During the late C19th and early C20th, the grandiflora sweet peas were a popular and successful cut flower crop. By modern standards the flowers are small and the stems short, but they retain their elegant form and wonderful scent. Now better known as 'heirloom' or 'antique' varieties, this is still an excellent garden strain, but not really suitable for commercial cut flower production.
Bred by David Lemon from the Early Multiflora Gigantea series, this was an excellent cut flower strain which is still widely used in Holland by family businesses which maintain their own seed lines. Commercial stock is largely degenerate, but Mammoths are still worth growing if reliable stocks can be found. Available in about 12 colours, the strain has medium size flowers on stems of good length and is high yielding. Now being replaced by the Spring Sunshine™ strain which flowers at about the same time with longer heavier stems and higher yields.
Bred from a cross between Cuthbertson Florabunda and Spencer strains, the Royal Family sweet peas were introduced by the Ferry-Morse Seed Company in 1967. They had large flowers and were heralded as improved Cuthbertsons ideal for early glasshouse cut flower production. In reality they were excessively vigorous, gave low yields and the stems shortened very early in the season. Most of the colours are still available.
Cobbled together in the 1990s from the remnants of earlier strains, the Elegance series was never very uniform in time of flowering. Some varieties were reselected Mammoths others came from Japan and New Zealand. Field grown commercial stocks have not been maintained for time of flowering and many colours now contain only 5 - 20% of true winter flowering plants. The word 'Winter' has now been dropped from the name because of this.
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© 2006 P E M Rowland