Impatiens Imperiled

It's kind of scary when a bullet-proof plant starts acting up. Impatiens have been the top-selling bedding plant for at least a decade, starting its rise in the mid 1980s and skyrocketing to fame for its many colors, range of heights and ability to turn a dark and shady spot into a kaliedescope of color.

As ubiquitous as Impatiens walleriana has been, it's hard to imagine a world without them, but it's really not looking good for this colorful standard. The villian in this tragedy is downy mildew of Impatiens, or Plasmopara obducens. It affects standard Impatiens including hybrids of I. walleriana, I. balsamina, I. pallida and the native jewelweed, I. capensis. New Guinea impatiens are resistant to the disease.

Experts in the horticulture world have provided growers with recommendations that include the use of a fungicide to prevent the disease's spread. However, even if a batch of disease-free Impatiens arrives at a retail location, there could still be contamination via windborne spores traveling more than a mile. There are also concerns about spores that overwinter in the soil.

The father of the impatiens was Claude Hope, who hybridized it in Costa Rica after WWII. His first impatiens breakthrough was the Elfin series. It was in 1966 that Hope was satisfied with the pink F1 hybrid he devised. His breeding stock consisted of hybrids and hybrid varieties from seed. The first samples of Hope's impatiens were sent as trials to Michigan State University and Purdue University. By 1969, his Elfin impatiens were introduced to rave reviews in the U.S.

The State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture has a fact sheet that explains the issue. Michigan State University Extension offers details about managing impatiens that are suspected to have the fungal disease.

Colorful alternatives to Impatiens include Begonia, Coleus, and Torenia, to name a few.
I saw a post recommending Vinca (Catharanthus roseus) as a good Impatiens substitute, but that's not the case, as the Vinca needs full sun to bloom well.
 Ball Seed offers a list of alternatives for use in shaded garden beds. Michigan State University also recommends several plants to use as Impatiens Alternatives in this standard and mobile list.

1 comment:

  1. When I lived in Illinois I had beautiful impatiens, but here in Mississippi I've had very bad luck with them. Even though I watered them faithfully.