ASU “Sparky” Flower

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ASU fans can decorate their gardens with school colors in time for ASU’s homecoming. ASU horticulturist George Hull talks about “Sparky”, a flower he developed named after the ASU mascot.

Ted Simons: If you're a sun devil fan and would like your ASU spirit to Bloom, have we got the plant for you. It's the sparky, a shrub that sprouts maroon and gold flowers and was developed by an ASU horticulturalist. Here to talk about the ultimate in sun devil fan accessories, George Hull, the man behind the flower. Good to see you.
George Hull: thank you.
Ted Simons: thank you for being on the program. Is this the first flower you've ever developed?
George Hull: No. This is actually the third recently. This breeding program in queen creek, so two years ago we developed a red one. We call it bells of fire. I found sparky two years ago but it takes a bit of time to get the numbers up so you can release it. I-had a red one, then yellow. I have had sparky in the background but we didn't have the numbers up. You need 20,000 or so to start. Then I had to go through trademarking with ASU and everything. That went very smooth. Then there's a patenting process. Then getting the numbers up. That's where we are now.
Ted Simons: that's where you are now. That's what happened after you developed it. How does one begin to develop a flower?
George Hull: Basically you're forcing plants, taking yellow and red ones. I have traveled to Argentina and various places getting other colors, and so basically you force them to have seeds, between the two of them, you plant those, you may have 30,000 babies. You throw all but 100 away. Next year you do it all over. I have been doing this about ten years. I have probably thrown away 50,000 puppies. To keep maybe 100 or so.
Ted Simons: Again, when you're trying to breed these things together, what characteristics, are you just looking for the color, for something hardy?
George Hull: You're looking for something that is compact so it doesn't get too big, something that doesn't have a lot of seed pods on it, a flower that's not deformed. Big, flat, of a color that's unique. They basically started out being yellow and we worked toward a variety of colors. This thing popped out two years ago. It's like, oh! Being that I teach at ASU it's like, okay!
Ted Simons: How exactly -- can you get much more exacting than that?
George Hull: Then you just -- you can get more exacting. It's not really rocket science. It's basically just simple biology and botany anywhere you're putting the boy parts to the girl parts, taking the seeds, planting them, looking to see what comes up.
Ted Simons: obviously the result is you have to be happy with the results.
George Hull: yes.
Ted Simons: was this what you were looking for?
George Hull: You just keep your mind open. You don't know what Mother Nature is going to do to you. This popped out. There have been others appeared there are others coming after this. But this seemed to fit. It didn't have a lot of seeds on it. Being it's parents are native here, it grows here. It's not like something we brought in from Asia and all of a sudden are trying to introduce.
Ted Simons: is this an annual, a bush?
George Hull: It will grow in spite of you. You can put it in the grounds. It's a little bit tender. If it got really cold, but we haven't had really cold weather for quite a while. Basically it's going to Bloom from February through up until past Thanksgiving.
Ted Simons: So it's a summer Bloomer.
George Hull: Oh, yes. It loves full sun. Loves the heat. More so than we do. It does really well here.
Ted Simons: when you say loves heat and full sun, how much water does it need.
George Hull: We're still looking for plants that don't use an awful lot of water. We're not bringing in plants from the Midwest or something where they need too much water. Here it's moderate, oleanders, it's not going to require more than that. Once in a while it will need a hair cut. Chop it back and it will be more bushy.
Ted Simons: bougainvilleaish maybe?
George Hull: Most bougainvillas will get so big. This is more compact. We're talking five feet or so by three, four feet wide. It's not that big.
Ted Simons: how does it do around ducks?
George Hull: Ducks aren't a problem. Basically the ducks will take care of the worms.
Ted Simons: In other words, I made a joke about the ducks.
George Hull: Well, yeah.
Ted Simons: We don't joke about that. As far as animals, can the animals chomp on this.
George Hull: There's no poisonous parts. It would come back with even more flowers. There will be more branches.
Ted Simons: do you have to pinch the flowers off?
George Hull: You don't have to. You can do that if you'd like, if it makes you feel good. You don't have to. It's got a few seed pods on it. Every once in a while, middle of summer chop it halfway back.
Ted Simons: You named it after sparky.
George Hull: I didn't think that was going to happen because you have to go through a lot of bureaucracy but I have taught there for ten years. I walked into the trademark office they said, we're tired of trademarking chemicals and computer parts. Let's do something pretty. They were all for it. The nursery where we're doing it is taking the royalty and putting it into a fund for landscape architectural students.
Ted Simons: No real licensing problems at all?
George Hull: This is a patented plant. Basically I decide who gets to propagate this plant. So but it basically has -- in the future, I have an agent in Germany, this sparky logo will be on a plant and hopefully in southern Europe.
Ted Simons: isn't that something! Yeah. We have one onset here. We are looking at one in the nursery there. We have one also onset. It looks like a very healthy Arizona kind of plant. It has that look about it that says, you know, you can mess up with me a lot and I'm still going to survive.
George Hull: You can not water it. It will wilt and it will come flying back.
Ted Simons: how big does this get?
George Hull: About five feet tall, four feet wide, that neighborhood. Full sun. Don't put it in the shade. It will be just Green then.
Ted Simons: but it would survive full sun meaning even in the deepest darkest days of summer, full sun?
George Hull: Even half a day of sun where it got good light half the day would be okay. Even in a container. It could be in a container anywhere in this country.
Ted Simons: it looks beautiful on the set. That's a nice looking plant.
George Hull: wait until you see it in your yard!
Ted Simons: You should see all the stuff in my yard. Half of township isn't doing that well. It must be fun to look at a plant and go, I made that.
George Hull: The students like that. It's great when you look out on the dock in the morning or into a home depot or Lowe's, retail nursery -- I walked into one in San Diego this summer. That's one of my babies.
Ted Simons: So the interest is pretty high?
George Hull: Right now it's basically in Arizona because it's only been released for a month.
Ted Simons: The duck -- you got it?
George Hull: Chose to ignore it.
Ted Simons: Great to have you here.

George Hull:Horticulturist, ASU;

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