When we operated our garden center in Louisiana, I had a much anticipated task of going to Dupont Nursery once a month to hand select the hibiscus we sold. Needless to say, it was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. (Notice the sarcasm in that last statement.) Every visit to their greenhouse felt like the first visit, it never got old. Walking through hundreds of blooming hibiscus and buzzing hummingbirds, it always took my breath away.
Near the beautiful banks of Bayou Plaquemine, in Ibberville parish, nestled are 10 acres of land that harbors a jewel in the Green Industry of Louisiana. In the small bayou town of Plaquemine, where the majestic cypress trees rise out of the coal black waters and Spanish Moss sways lazily in the warm subtropical breezes, sits the well-known Dupont Nursery. The Dupont's are mostly known for their hybrid Cajun Hibiscus, which owner and founder, Mr. Robert Dupont, Sr. has been hybridizing since 1997, has captivated hibiscus lovers across the globe. With names like Ohh-La-La, Magnifique and C'est Bon, it isn't hard to see why hibiscus lovers anxiously await new cultivars from Mr. Dupont.
When Mr. Dupont Sr. retired from the florist industry in 1995 and began hybridizing hibiscus in 1997, he never imagined he would capture the title of Hibiscus of the Year. But that is just what he did. In 2005, one of his outstanding cultivated beauties called Black Dragon won him that honor from the American Hibiscus Society. Since then he has managed to place in the top four every year with his blooms, but never able to recapture his title. He has high expectations for the 2009 competition with a sweet-looking little beauty called Bridal Party. Like Black Dragon, if Bridal Party wins, hibiscus lovers across the globe will be scrambling to own a plant. The supply will be greatly limited due to the propagation methods of the plant. Bridal Party has a more sprawling nature than the upright, compact varieties of hibiscus introduced in the past.
The process of developing and evaluating new hibiscus requires a lot of patience. Mr. Dupont, along with a Jesuit priest, Robert Gerlich, whom he met in 1998, works on hybridizing many plants a year. He has an extensive list of parent plants from which to gather pollen. It is estimated that somewhere between 1,500-3,000 seeds are gathered per year. Seeds are planted at Dupont Nursery in one-gallon pots straight up until the plants begin to bloom. It takes about six months for a new seedling to start blooming. Each cross of seedlings has a parent plant, and some of the parent plants have been around for ages, they are varieties that have been obtained by Dupont through other hibiscus hybridizers. The seedlings' flowers are then observed very closely. Sometimes the first blooms of new varieties are not always consistent, so it takes many blooms before they decide if the plant will make it to the next stage. If, after close evaluation of the plant's performance, it doesn't meet Dupont Nursery standards, it is not used. If the goal is achieved, then cuttings are made and the plant will be given a name. Out of the thousands of seedlings, only 8-10 new varieties are introduced each year. Finally, those plants that have passed all evaluations are put on the market.
Dupont Nursery sells not only hibiscus; they also have an extensive list of hard-to-find plants. In addition they have other exciting plants they have cultivated. A new Scaevola that was a patent of Mr. Dupont called "Cajun Blue" has been introduced, and they have added a new Rudbeckia called Early Bird Gold. This Rudbeckia has a lot going for it. True to its name, Early Bird Gold is an early bloomer with vigorous & continuous flowers. It is a day-length neutral plant and will provide color to your garden all summer long. The butterflies will love you for having this. Dupont Nursery is a family owned and operated business. Three generations work together, all bringing new ideas and plants to the gardening community. Their service is outstanding as well as their knowledge of plants. It was always a pleasure to do business with them. I was proud to sell their products. I saw first-hand how my customers would anxiously wait for me to unload Dupont hibiscus and other plants at our nursery. My loyal customers knew when I was going to Dupont and would be waiting for my white van to return. I barely had time to put them out before they were gone. But then again, when you have names like Tres' Bon, Blueberry Thrill and Light My Fire, how do you expect them to stick around?
Images of Black Dragon, Bridal Party, and Early Bird Gold courtesy of Dupont Nursery, all other images are by the author.
About Lisa Neal
My dad was an alligator trapper in South Louisiana, I grew up loving the bayous, swamps and wildlife. My husband & I owned a successful landscaping business for seven years and a retail garden center for four short months. Hurricane Katrina & Rita made landfall and changed our lives forever. We packed up the farm and moved to West Kentucky. I homeschool my daughter and I see every moment as a teachable one. Life is good!