JARS v36n4 - Plant Awards Are They Worth It?

Plant Awards Are They Worth It?
By August E. Kehr, Hendersonville, N.C.

Plant awards have been a part of the American Rhododendron Society since 1949. In that year it was determined that "a system of awards should be worked at in this country. This should be distinct from the English system in order to avoid confusion." A committee of seven men (Clement G. Bowers, Lester Brandt, Jock Brydon, Rudolf Henny, Brian Mulligan, Henry Skinner and J. Harold Clarke, Chairman) established guidelines for the plant awards system with the Preliminary Award (PA) and the Test Garden Certificate (TGC). The first PA's were given to the 'King of Shrubs' and 'Nestucca' in 1950.
The TGC was supplanted in later years by the Superior Plant Award (SPA). Today there are three categories of awards, Eligibility List (EL), Conditional Award (CA) and Superior Plant Award (SPA). The Eligibility List is not an award, but only the first step in pursuing an award. It is supposed to be dropped if the plant is not advanced in 5 years.
In the book, "American Rhododendron Hybrids", (which did not include azaleas) there are 106 plants with PA awards, omitting those given to un-named plants. Of this number the majority of PA awards, a total of 69 or 65%, were given in the 8 years between 1955 and 1962. The PA award was discontinued as of December 31, 1967.
In this same book there are 23 Conditional Awards listed; but a total of 30 have been awarded. Omitted were 'Allure' '74, 'Siuslaw' '74, 'Yaqina' '74, 'Clackamas' '75, 'Winterset' '75, 'Chetco' '78, 'Yachats' '78. Four more CA's were awarded through 1981, CA '80 'Mrs. H.T. Krug', CA '81 'Lodestar', 'Party Pink', 'Yaku Queen', making a total of 34 Conditional Awards for the years 1968 though 1981, of which 9 or 26% were awarded in the one year of 1975. More are expected in 1982.
Between the years 1956 and 1979 there were 30 Awards of Excellence given, including one species, R. degronianum 'Rae's Delight' in 1956. Of these 18 or 60% were given in 1959, 1960 and 1973. There have been no AE awards given since 1973.
Two plants have received the Superior Plant Award; none since 1979.

Confusion of Plant Awards with Plant Ratings:
The American Rhododendron Society has two systems of plant evaluations, the Plant Awards program and the Plant Ratings system. The purpose of the Plant Awards program is a recognition of plants of exceptionally high merit, while the Plant Ratings system was set up to evaluate all plants on the beauty of the plant itself and its flower on a scale of 1 to 5. Under the ratings system the lowest would be 1/1 and the highest 5/5. It is obvious that both systems in general deal with plant appearance and flower beauty, though the AE considers performance, hardiness and pest susceptibility. Hence, it is difficult for many members of the Society to separate the two systems of ratings, if indeed they can be separated. According to policies of the ARS Board of Directors, plants must first be rated by the Ratings Committee (but not the Chapter Awards Committee) before they can be given an award. This policy is either tacit recognition that there is duplication in the two systems or else insurance to prevent unworthy plants from receiving an award. Is there any wonder therefore that in nearly every meeting of the Board of Directors of the Society there is a lengthy discussion of the two systems in an attempt to make them workable as two separate systems? Can it be that even among Directors there is some degree of confusion as to just how the two systems should operate independently, or collectively as in AE and SPA?
If we use the book, "American Rhododendron Hybrids", as our guide (is there any other standard guide?), there are none of the 30 plants receiving an Award of Excellence receiving a rating higher than 4/4. There are 10 plants with ratings of 3/3 or lower, along with 4 plants with no ratings at all. In other words, of the 25 plants (omitting the 1 species) with ratings, 40% are rated in the 3/3 category or lower. It is reasonable to wonder why there are no plants receiving as high as 5 for plant or flower among any of the Award of Excellence plants. There were some plants with ratings as low as 2/3 and yet received the AE Award!
If we look at rating of the two plants which have received the Superior Plant Award, the ratings are 5/3 and 5/4. One does not have to look in many nursery catalogs to find plants with ratings of 5/5.
It would likewise be reasonable to expect that most nurserymen would list for sale many of the 30 plants which have received the AE Award. However, in a careful study of my current catalogs, there were at least 5 of the list that could not be found, including 'Mrs. A.R. McEwan', 'Opal Fawcett', 'Beechwood Pink', 'Tyee', and 'Rae's Delight'. Rarely found were 4 more, including 'Annie Dalton', 'Atroflo', 'Lemon Mist', and 'Blue River'. Certainly there are few of the 30 plants that are 'best sellers', and many more than half of them are difficult to obtain from any one nursery. In any event, the AE list of plants does not constitute any recognizable service to the public, nor does the award create a demand so nurserymen can step up production.

Limitations of the Plant Award System:
American growing conditions for rhododendrons and azaleas vary from nearly ideal to impossible. There is general recognition that few plants perform equally well in all regions where these plants are grown. Hence a plant award given in one region may be meaningless in a different region. Plant awards are thus limited to given geographical regions only. The Board of Directors recognized these differences and regional designations were to be added to AE's and SPA's since 1976. However, there have been no nominations for either of these awards since 1973, so the regional designations have never been used.
Plants which flower very early or very late are usually overlooked in the awards system. Likewise elepidote rhododendrons represent the preponderance of plants receiving awards. There are only 3 lepidotes with awards, only one evergreen azalea, 'Allure' CA '74, but none for deciduous azaleas or vireya rhododendrons. A list of nominations for azaleas submitted by the New York Chapter for awards was rejected, because they were "too well known". Likewise a well-documented proposal to nominate rhododendrons and azaleas for awards in 1976 by the Potomac Valley Chapter was discouraged and never submitted to the Awards Committee. It is perhaps these actions more than anything else that gave impetus to the formation of the Azalea Society of America.
One frequently hears it said that plant awards honor the developer of the plant more than the plant itself. If so, the system is improperly named.
There is a hint that the Plant Awards program was set up as a copy of the British system, but in the words of the committee which first set them up "distinct to avoid confusion." Plant awards may be useful in the British environment, but less so in the range of conditions that exist in America. Here there are extensive regions where these plants cannot be grown at all without greatly modifying the environment.

A Proposal to Consider Dropping the Plant Awards Program:
At the Board of Directors meeting in Washington in May 1982 a motion was passed to consider dropping the Plant Awards program because of the poor track record to date. This move was prompted in part because no SPA or AE awards have been given to any American plant since 1973. However, the major reason for considering this action was because of the confusion of the Plant Awards program with the Plant Ratings system. There was general consensus that for the average grower of rhododendrons and azaleas, plant ratings serve a more useful purpose than plant awards. Dropping the Plant Awards program would end the ever-present confusion and duplication between the two systems. Of even greater benefit would be a more concentrated effort devoted to the Plant Ratings system.
It should be noted that the motion of the Board used the words, "to consider dropping", not the word, "drop". The purpose for leaving the action semi-finalized is to give the entire membership opportunity to express itself on the question. This proposal should be discussed in each local chapter meeting, after which each chapter secretary should send a letter before the 1983 annual meeting in Portland to: Mrs. H.C. Schlaikjer in which the wishes of the majority of the local chapter is expressed. Letters will be accepted until April 1, 1983.
Your chapter should discuss the proposed action re: dropping the plant awards system during the next year and record your wishes, or forever after hold your peace.

Dorothy Schlaikjer, Long Island, NY

Since its inception the Awards system has undergone many changes, as follows:

Bd. of Dir. 8/19/49 (REF. Reprints Bulletin ARS pg. 166)

Approved: A system of awards be established to grant recognition to worthy new varieties of Rhododendrons and Azaleas and to breeders who have produced them.

"Preliminary Award" (PA) to plant or truss.
"Test Garden Certificate" (TGC) to worthy plants...propagated vegetatively and growing in a recognized test garden. Must have been observed in bloom in test garden by judges for at least 2 years.

Bd. of Dir. 12/17/54 (Ref. Rhododendrons 1956 pg. 153)

Purpose of the awards is twofold. 1st, an award gives recognition to outstanding variety and through the plant to the breeder who produced it. 2nd, awards should give some indication to gardeners as to quality and desirability of the new varieties so recognized.

(PA) now given on cut truss where 3 official judges can meet. "Award of Excellence" (AE) introduced. Complete plant, by 3 judges.
(TGC) shall be given to worthy plants in test gardens OR grown and judged by 3 judges for at least 2 years in at least 3 private gardens...one may be originators.
Judges to be appointed annually by ARS Pres.
Judging in private gardens or small shows by request.

Bd. of Dir. 12/3/61 (Bull. 1/15/62 pg. 34)

Receipt of award may make a variety more valuable commercially, failure to receive Award may cause hurt feelings, but Awards Committee...must vote on merit alone.

(PA) no longer to be given to truss alone.
Certificate of Commendation suggested for cut truss.

(Bull. 1/15/64 pg. 36)

"Awards given to plant, not to person who grew it, although of course his name is mentioned...

Awards comm. will look at plants only on request by owner. Suggestions that such request be made should not come from Comm. as that would tend to commit him to vote favorably. Comm. members nominated by Chapter Pres. but appointed by ARS Pres. now for 1 yr. terms instead of indefinite.

(Bull. 1/15/65 pg. 40)

(PA) to carry date, i.e. (PA 1964). If after 10 or 15 yrs. not advanced, probably not worthy of award. Argument: Awards once given and publicized should hardly be removed.

Bd. of Dir. 11/12/67 Bull. Jan. '68)

Purpose: To improve the quality of Rhododendron plants available to the general public by discovering superior plants produced by breeding and selection, by publicizing these plants, and by utilizing the facilities and influence of the American Rhododendron Society to insure propagation and distribution.

Eligibility List introduced.
Conditional Award (CA) replaces (PA)
(PA) not to be conferred after 12/31/67
Superior Plant Award (SPA) replaces TGC

Bd. of Dir. 2/13/72 (Bull. Apr. '73 pg. 125)

Purpose: Same as that adopted in 1967.

Added 2 regional chairmen. East & West under 1 national chairman
Direct nomination for Conditional Award

Bd. of Dir. 5/20/76 (Bull. Spring 77 pg. 105)

Purpose: To improve the quality of the Rhododendron plants available to the general public by discovering superior plants, by publicizing these plants, and by utilizing the facilities and influence of the ARS to insure propagation and distribution.
The Awards Program shall not be concerned with plants already widely distributed, well established and generally well known. Direct nomination for Conditional Award discontinued. New: Regional designations to be included with AE and SPA:

Northeast (N.E.)
Middle Atlantic (M.A.)
Southern (S.)
Great Lakes (G.L)
Northwest (N.W.)
Northern Calif. (N.C.)
Southern Calif. (S.C.)

Well known and widely distributed plants no longer eligible for awards.
Plants must now be rated at least 4/4 for AE, 5/4 or 4/5 for SPA by the Ratings Committee not Awards Committee.