The great creators of Chrysanthemums

Creating a commercial Chrysanthemum variety is complex and multifaceted, incorporating the standard requirements of a cut flower – eye appeal and vase life – with the demands specific to growers, traders, and society. Hans Bosman and Rob van der Helm of Royal Van Zanten outline the details. 

This article was first published in the September edition of FloraCulture International.

Breeder Oguzhan Irmak smiles joyfully as he walks through his trial greenhouse in Valkenburg, the Netherlands. The company he works for, Royal Van Zanten, is a tried-and-trusted brand in the global Chrysanthemum market and has had two particularly bumper years at trials and trade shows around the world.

In 2021, for example, spray Chrysanthemum ‘Cresta Purple’ reigned supreme at Proflora’s Outstanding Varieties Competition, while the white disbud ‘Ararat’ ended third in the same contest. Then, in November 2021, the bronze disbud ‘Cruella’ was among the eyecatchers of Trade Fair Aalsmeer because of its quirky, spikey petals.

What’s more, lockdowns over the past two years forced consumers to spend more time at home and have driven demand for home decorating, floristry gardening, and garden leisure, sparking a renewed interest in Chrysanthemum.

Irmak is the breeder who comes varieties month after month, year after year. Trying to create the very best in Chrysanthemum may prove a daunting task. He explains, “Chrysanthemums are genetically hexaploid, meaning they carry six copies of each chromosome. Humans and animals are diploid with two chromosomes, one from each parent. We as breeders might want to omit one gene that decreases shelf life, but there may be six more copies of the gene on the plant’s other chromosomes.”

Chrysanthemum breeder Oguzhan Irmak.

A long-lasting love affair

Chrysanthemums and Royal Van Zanten are a long-lasting love affair. According to the horticultural historian Arie Dwarswaard from the media outlet Greenity, Royal Van Zanten has been one of the principal pioneers in photoperiodism research. Kees Veldhuyzen Van Zanten was influential in paving the way for programmed blooming for year-round availability of what is by its very nature a short-day plant.

While flower bulbs had already established themselves as Royal Van Zanten’s flagship product in the 1950s, Chrysanthemums continued to play an increasingly significant role. The 1960s and 1970s saw the completion of new greenhouses for Chrysanthemum cutting production while the company’s breeding programme steadily gained momentum.

In the 1990s, the once highly successful ‘Reagan’ cultivar helped the company to achieve ‘top dog’ status, which, at a certain point in time, had a more than 70 per cent market share in Dutch spray Chrysanthemums, a success which replicated across the globe. The top-selling variety originated from CBA, a breeder’s consortium.

Mapping the Chrysanthemum industry
The modern Chrysanthemum occupies an outstanding number two position among the world’s top three most traded and grown cut flowers.
“Today, the commercial Chrysanthemum growing landscape is a global one. With an annual output of 1.4 billion stems, growers in Colombia supply the North American and UK retail markets. Emerging Chrysanthemum power Kenya may challenge Dutch supremacy in Chrysanthemums (1.2 billion stems per year) for the EU market, fuelled by the onset of sea transportation of cut flowers.
Malaysia (400 million stems/year) and Vietnam (300 million stems/year) export their blooms to Japan and Australia, while Italy (200 million stems/year) predominantly produces for the internal market.
In terms of global production areas, in 2021, there was about 41,269ha under glasshouses or in the open dedicated to cut Chrysanthemums. Bosman says, “These stats automatically prompt the question among breeders what portion of a market is professional and accessible. For example, India has every reason to boast that with a production area of 20,000 ha, the country is the largest producer of Chrysanthemum.
The truth is that the Indian Chrysanthemum landscape is dotted with a myriad of smallholder flower farms that produce to decorate weddings, make flower garlands, or adorn temples and altars. We are present in the Indian market to a certain degree. Bosman adds, “The same applies to China, with 7,100 ha hosting a sizeable production area dedicated to Chrysanthemum. In conclusion, we as a breeder primarily look at the number of stems produced per country rather than production areas.”

Country Production area in hectares Annual production in stems
India 20,000 (protected and field crops) Unknown
China 7,100 (protected and field crops) Unknown
Colombia 919 (protected cropping) 1.4 billion
Netherlands 475 (protected cropping) 1.2 billion
Malaysia 800* 400 million
Vietnam 800 (protected cropping) 300 million
Italy 769** (protected cropping) 200 million

*The Malaysia figure is an extremely rough estimate as plant density varies. It is unclear how many year-round growers there are and the exact area in protected cropping and field production.
**The figure is reliable: the number of seasonal and programmed blooming growers (in Italian called ‘programmisti’) combined. However, counting the programmed blooming growers, only their area is between 160-200 ha).

Unique offering

Left to right: Royal Van Zanten’s product manager Hans Bosman and marketing manager Rob van der Helm.

Today, the company continues to be among the most reputable Chrysanthemum breeders in the world.

According to product manager Hans Bosman, a good reputation boils down to a proven record of reliability. “More recently, I travelled to Malaysia, where the Royal Van Zanten brand is known for bringing more than one and a half-century of expertise in plant breeding. Industry professionals told me they opt for our brand because they know that there’s much seriousness, dedication, perseverance, and passion behind our breeding programme.” The company’s tagline says it all: ‘Driven by Passion’.

Bosman continues, “Launching a new variety in the market is no small undertaking. We only decide to do so if we are sure to have a unique offering. We would rather ensure that there are sufficient additional growing characteristics and potential than continuously bombarding the market with varieties of which it is unknown if they will achieve their targets.”

Increasing the predictive power of breeding

Chrysanthemum breeding is a time-consuming process. The challenge is aggregating desirable traits in the crop while eliminating negative genetic traits. It takes a multitude of crosses to land on a good one, discarding many seedlings throughout the process.

It is no secret that ornamental horticulture is at least ten years behind in its acceptance of new breeding techniques compared to the vegetable sector. Bosman elaborates, “We strive to increase the predictive power of plant breeding by using the latest technology and tools. Yet, 70 per cent of global production accounts for spray Chrysanthemum, of which 70 per cent is white. As such, the variables to differentiate yourself with are limited. What counts most are yields per m2 and shelf life, which are the factors used in data-driven breeding. So, the outcome of our breeding programme is more guaranteed and not dependent on simple luck or serendipity only.”

Stage-gate process

Royal Van Zanten uses the Stage-Gate Process to assess the viability of developing a new Chrysanthemum. It is a project management technique in which the creation of a new variety is divided into distinct stages, separated by decision points (or gates). Bosman says, “When a variety is ready for its pre-commercial launch and testing, we are sure about its market value.

“There are criteria to check multi-fold through the different stages. These include transportability and resistance to Verticillium wilt, Chrysanthemum White Rust (CRW), and Fusarium wilt. Moreover, the flowering response is crucial as a new variety must allow for enough crop cycles per year (traditionally, crop cycles average between ten to twelve weeks). Equally challenging is to cater for the broadest possible portfolio while staying focused.”

Ideally, a strong breeding programme with a close eye on the needs of the future should result in cultivars that can be grown with fewer synthetic chemistries and more biological products.

Bosman explains, “With growing interest in sustainable crop production, developing crops that will perform well in durable systems is also necessary.

But Bosman warns against too much optimism: “Identifying the DNA markers that point to plant growth-associated genes can come at a cost. “Bringing in this trait will automatically coincide with the arrival of non-desired traits, forcing breeders to test all varieties again and find answers to the negative genes that will come afloat. I reckon the solution-finding process requires a symbiotic approach with growers and breeders evolving harmoniously.”

Campaigns and events
Royal Van Zanten launches several trade-focused campaigns and events highlighting their premium Chrysanthemums available year-round.
In the Netherlands, the company hosts Chrysanthemum spring and autumn trials.
Rob van der Helm says, “When the pandemic put in-person events largely on pause, our marketing team began to use its virtual product launch platform to make Chrysanthemum blooms shine.”
You can view the 360-degree virtual tour on this link.
Over the years, the company has gained a stronger foothold in the Colombian market, which is why it joined Colombia’s annual Chrysanthemum Week in 2019.
Van der Helm notes, “This is a joint initiative by Ball, Danziger, Dekker, Deliflor, Dümmen Orange, Floritec, Icon, Progeny, Royal Van Zanten, Selecta, Asocolflores, Fresh Produce and Procolombia.
This year, the Open House event ran from 29 August to 2 September at cutting farm Silvestres in La Ceja, Rionegro. Predominantly American wholesalers, event planners, florists and floral designers walked through a spectacular exhibit with cheery, colourful Chrysanthemums.
Four days later, between 6-8 September, Royal Van Zanten’s mums were one of the stars of the Outstanding Varieties Competition during the 137th convention of the Society of American Florists.
Royal Van Zanten is also a returning exhibitor at Wengfong’s Annual Inspirational Days in Malaysia.”
Italy is also a busy, albeit very traditional Chrysanthemum market, with All Souls’ Day fuelling a boom in disbud sales. In Italy, Chrysanthemums will mainly go to cemeteries. Van der Helm: “To change the flower’s image as a funeral flower Royal Van Zanten teamed up with top flower designer Fabrizio Filipini in November 2021. This collaboration saw the cultivars ‘Chic’ and ‘Myra’, and Charmelia Alstroemerias setting the celebration mood at the Secret Garden bridal show in Brescia.”

Noblesse oblige

Marketing manager Rob van der Helm brings up the question of societal change. People have become more sensitive to waste and the environmental impact of their shopping decisions.

In the long run, the flower industry may need to respond. Van der Helm says, “Which is why we are a proud member of the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI). In FSI, growers, wholesale, retail, associations, certification bodies, and NGOs work together to align and mainstream sustainability in global floriculture.”

A remarkably eloquent Bosman adds, “Yes, the consumer power is undeniably growing, and societal change is something to consider. However, ‘being good’ for the people and the planet also comes with a sense of noblesse oblige. Developing sustainable solutions and investing in greener practices requires a holistic approach. We as a breeding company are willing to be at the forefront, but sustainability is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders within the value chain.”

Multi-year research

Royal Van Zanten is keen to stay in touch with the leaders and technologies that are making innovation happen. Bosman says, “Participating in collaborative research can help expand our knowledge and breeding skillset. We participate, for example, in The Perfect Chrysant project – led by Delphy research centre in Bleiswijk – which evaluates year-round cropping of cut Chrysanthemum under full LED lighting. Preliminary outcomes show that ‘Chic’ performs remarkedly well and that even under LED, its growers can still choose high-density planting. LEDs in Chrysanthemum are clearly gaining momentum with growers.”

Varietal success

Royal Van Zanten works with high-quality Chrysanthemum growers worldwide to bring them the very best new flowers on the market, together with tried-and-tested, more established varieties.

Whether these are Colombian growers serving the big box stores in America, Dutch growers serving the EU, or specialist growers in Malaysia or Japan, the breeding company says it can meet the divergent customer requirements of different growers.

An important barometer of a variety’s success is the stats of Royal FloraHolland. At the world’s largest flower hub, the number of supplied Chrysanthemum stems in 2021 was 810 million spray Chrysanthemums, 337 million Santinis, and 131 million disbuds. Royal Van Zanten’s single-flowered white ‘Chic’ occupies a prominent second place in the auction’s top three most sold spray Chrysanthemums.

The two-toned spray Chrysanthemum ‘Haydar’ and ‘Saba’, double-flowered ‘Bonita’, and single-flowered pink ‘Myra’ equally ride the wave of popularity. In disbuds, the striking green disbud ‘Ofir’ is a promising ‘debutante’.

Bosman notes, “Our Santini ‘Paintball Sunny’ is a top-seller in Colombia although it is being traded as a spray Chrysanthemum. And the year 2022 marked the debut of Royal Van Zanten’s Santini Molly series available in white, yellow, and pink.”

State of the trade
Business-wise, the past few months have not been easy for the Chrysanthemum trade. Russia’s war against Ukraine continues geopolitical tensions and trade frictions worldwide. And in combination, the floriculture industry cannot ignore the growth of ‘regionalism’ nor the issues brought on by the rising temptations of protectionism.
While the Russian market – a top export destination for Dutch-grown Chrysanthemum – is in the doldrums, one of the industry’s biggest challenges is the rising prices of many commodities, including energy.
While in the Northern Hemisphere, the biggest headache is energy, in the Southern Hemisphere, the focus of the debate may be more on skyrocketing air cargo and sea freight costs, shortage in transport capacity and ongoing supply chain disruption.
In commenting on the current state of the trade, Bosman says, “The pertinent question post-Covid is whether the trend of rising energy and transportation costs will continue over the next five years. Overall, we anticipate a return to spray Chrysanthemum, which is less costly to transport. And in Asia, Santini will become much more prominent in the market. At home, we see how rising costs hammer growers, and we understand the current interest in new varieties capable of adapting to lower temperatures.”
The debate is challenging because reigning in inputs will ultimately lead to reduced yields and production. Bosman adds, “Disease and pest resistance continue to be our top priority while there’s an increased focus on climate resilience. But people should remember that you cannot change breeding direction overnight.”
Meanwhile, Bosman signals room for growth. “Lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic – including the collective switch to working from home and the consequent desire to spend more time in our ‘garden rooms’ – will continue to drive the demand for Chrysanthemum. In the USA, post-Covid consumers are now buying more flowers for use.”



This year, Royal Van Zanten’s Chrysanthemum Open House event ran between 29 August – 2 September at cutting farm Silvestres in La Ceja, Rionegro.




Sea transportation
Royal Van Zanten has developed a protocol for sea transportation simulation. Bosman details, “This protocol is practice-based and serves as one of our guidelines in breeding, but the real litmus test is at the grower’s level. Post-harvest handling processes vary from grower to grower regarding sea transportation. Each strategy will define how the variety will undergo the voyage. So, each variety is thoroughly tested on sea survival at Royal Van Zanten. But for each, the proof is in the pudding.
“We decided to set up this protocol because of market demand. In Colombia, for example, growers produce for the USA and UK market transporting their blooms by sea container.
“When we launch a new variety, they first ask about transportability. Our ‘Bonita’ has strong sea legs; this cultivar is transported from Colombia to Europe by sea container.”

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