Back to the Future with Beacon Impatiens

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Elmer explains our bed of Beacon Impatiens at Field Day 2019

We could say that the past decade has been a quest to find an acceptable replacement for Impatiens but nothing quite fits the bill. There have been contenders—New Guineas, Begonias, and Salvias—but nothing caught on like the original. Here we settled on SunPatiens as the best work-alike, but the truth be told, nothing does the Impatiens look quite like an Impatiens. In our hearts, we want the real thing, Impatiens walleriana. We know our buyers want it as well, because we continue to grow traditional Impatiens for the people who still buy them and love them, downy mildew and all.

Now along comes the Beacon series of Impatiens from PanAmerican with new breeding that brings us back to the future: our beloved walleriana has been updated with disease resistance. Beacon represents the return of the king, armored up to face the new horde of barbarians that crowd around the garden gate.

We’ve also noticed that tucked into this regime change there is a new concept for the market: the premium Impatiens.

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PanAmerican updates walleriana with strong resistance to downy mildew


If Beacon could not deliver disease resistance, PanAmerican had nothing. In the face of this obviousness the breeders went all-out, testing their plants against 27 different strains of downy mildew. Just like the flu, assorted variants of downy mildew roam across the globe so broad disease resistance is better than narrow.

There is a caveat here: highly resistant is not the same as immune. The more spores there are in the atmosphere, the more these plants are under attack. Think of the spores as barbarians—a lot of Impatiens cultivars are vulnerable to one or two of these brutes, but Beacon can deal with a band or even an army of them. Unfortunately a Mongol-sized horde would still overwhelm almost any of today’s Impatiens.

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Beacon grows and shows just like the Super Elfin series


Another reason we like the Beacon Impatiens is the PanAmerican heritage. It is the drop-in replacement for the Super Elfin, and it’s easy to connect the dots. Elfin built PanAmerican over 50 years ago—the company became famous as an Impatiens house and continued to improve the series with Super Elfin and Super Elfin XP. Now they’ve released the Beacon series for next year, which grows and shows just like the Super Elfin only with downy mildew resistance as part of the package.

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Performance is the same in both containers and landscapes


An overhaul of this size doesn’t roll out quickly so don’t expect a big selection year one. Next year we will have whites and a variety of solids from pink to violet (Salmon, Coral, Orange, Bright Red, and Violet) available for purchase. This is the nature of breeding—plants are notorious for reversions, so new colors mean performing the same tests repeatedly.

Other major series went through a similar build-out at the start. It takes three to five years to get a fully mature line with a broad range of color selections. We’ve been told that the pinks (Rose, Hot, Light, etc.) are next in the pipeline, so we are expecting to see more Beacon colors in the next couple of years.

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Dependability in bad seasons is the main concern for landscapers


Every journey begins by taking the first steps, so we are plunging in headlong. Beacon represents a change in how Impatiens does business but the limited color selection is only temporary. Eventually, Beacon will replace Super Elfin as new colors pass the test. The permanent change is a new concept: the premium Impatiens.

PanAmerican makes no bones about this — Beacons will cost more than traditional Impatiens but less than any of the suggested substitutes, like SunPatiens. This means that traditional Impatiens will never go away, just like traditional seed Petunias never did. Better Petunias do cost more, but they dominate Petunia sales because they are truly a lot better, and they don’t cost that much more. Most buyers want the superior reliability and improved look of the premium line, so we think the disease-resistant Impatiens will follow the same value/price track as vegetative Petunias.

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Coral is the pinkest Beacon—Salmon has a little more orange in it


For landscapers, Beacon is a solid win right now. Nothing is more expensive than a second trip to replace plants, and the Beacon colors are good, solid bright choices. Dependability in the face of downy mildew is a super win, and Beacon can be planted, watered, and maintained just like the Super Elfin. A major advantage is that the real Impatiens look is popular in the commercial market.

Retailers have to wrestle with the premium Impatiens concept more directly, and Beacons won’t fill a fully colored Impatiens bench by themselves in 2020. Gardeners expect a choice of colors so garden centers will continue to sell regular Impatiens next to Beacon Impatiens. Price helps here because it signifies to the consumer that a better choice exists, but the higher cost won’t be accepted without a clear message to explain why Beacon is different. Even if they’re paying a nickel more, folks understandably want to know the why.

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PanAmerican is trialing Super Elfin and Beacon habits—hard to tell them apart 

To mitigate the bad rap that Impatiens are getting right now, it’s better to showcase the change so customers know that it has occurred. Folding the Beacons into a larger group of older Impatiens just confuses results and robs the retailer of a powerful innovation; as long as the difference is clear, the retailer is on safe ground. Americans adapt to price shifts as long as they understand what they get in exchange, as we've seen with upscale coffee, gourmet burgers, and fancy bottled water.

On that note, the message here is simple: Beacon is the better Impatiens. It has the look we love that holds up in bad times when other varieties melt into the soil. To get this message across, PanAmerican offers free posters, bench cards, and other signage for the asking. Details can be found at www.beaconimpatiens.com.

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Beacon colors are solids running from pink to violet, with a white