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What is a Plant of Merit?

By: Ellen Lampe


The Plants of Merit program, sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Garden, was established in 1998 as a way to educate and increase gardening success for homeowners. Plants of Merit are plants selected for their outstanding quality and dependable performance, and they grow consistently well in this region of the Midwest.

For a plant to be selected as a Plant of Merit, it must meet the following criteria:

• Easy to grow and maintain

• Not known to be invasive in this area

• Resistant or tolerant to diseases and insects

• Has outstanding ornamental value

• Reasonably available to purchase

The program’s running list is made up of regionally proven annuals, bulbs, perennials, shrubs, vines, trees and edible ornamentals.

“They’re plants that we feel the gardening public would like to know more about,” Chip Tynan, manager of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Horticultural Answer Service, said. “They’re generally plants that are not quite on everybody’s radar, but they’re good plants that are deserving of wider selection.”

A committee of experts is responsible for selecting the plants that will be added to the Plants of Merit list each year. The plants added to the list will not necessarily be the most popular plants at that point in time. They must endure a years-long study before they are eligible to be added to the list.

“The one rule that’s not likely to change is that a plant can’t be named a Plant of Merit until we’ve observed it for at least five years,” Tynan explained.

So, it’s possible that a “trending” plant in 2018 would not be named a Plant of Merit until 2023 – assuming it met all the criteria, survived the study and then was voted in by the committee.

Members of the committee have a chance to throw out ideas of what should be added to the list and, even if a plant appears to check all the necessary boxes, that doesn’t mean it will be chosen.

The committee talks over the Plants of Merit candidates and eventually whittles down the list until it is finalized.

The Plants of Merit list for 2018 has not yet been released; the 2017 list is available  for viewing at  missouribotanicalgarden.org. Under the “Quick Search” section, select “Plants of Merit.” If you’d like to see photos of each plant on the list, select “Profile View,” then click “Search.”

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