Caladiums have been in cultivation in Europe since the late 1700’s. Louis van Houtte and Alfred Bleu of France pioneered caladium breeding in the early 1860’s. Adolph Lietz of Brazil and C.J. Bause and Richard Hoffman of England advanced caladium breeding in the 1880’s. Adolph Lietz displayed many of his 400 plus varieties at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, which aroused tremendous interest from the general public and horticulturists in the U.S. At the beginning of the 20th century, Henry Nehrling and Theodore Mead, two of Florida’s pioneering horticulturists, began caladium breeding in the U.S. Henry Nehrling once had over 2000 varieties and some are still in commercial propagation today. Meade’s efforts were focused on new lance-leaved varieties. After Meade’s death, caladium breeding went into a decline until Frank Joyner started a backyard breeding project which ended in the late 1950’s.
In 1976, the University of Florida/IFAS initiated a caladium breeding program at its Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Bradenton, Florida. Since then, this program has been the only major organized breeding effort in the world. The breeding program was directed by Dr. Gary Wilfret from 1977 to 1999, and by Drs. Brent Harbaugh and Baldwin Miranda from 2000 to 2002. Since late 2002, Drs. Zhanao Deng and Brent Harbaugh have been directing the breeding program.
Our program has released 13 cultivars so far, and we are testing many new selections with improved or novel characteristics for future release. Currently, our primary breeding objectives are to develop new varieties with better leaf colors, resistance to diseases and nematodes, and tolerance to cold.
Gotha Gardens http://www.nehrlinggardens.org/