Drew and the Snapdragon of Folly

January 14, 2021 Drew Habig , Manager of Propagation and Production

I didn't expect to have a plant named after me at this point in my life. Not that I didn’t hope that it would happen, eventually. I’ve had maybe just one fantasy of running from fans like I’m in a Beatles movie after giving a TED Talk about all the wonderful plants named after me. I usually keep those thoughts to myself though. This year, however, Plant Select® introduces a plant with my name on it: Drew’s Folly hardy snapdragon (Antirrhinum sempervirens ‘Drew’s Folly’). 

Drew’s Folly is an adorable little plant with dusty pink flowers and a compact habit. Much like its namesake it brightens up every space it’s put into, and unlike its namesake is a tidy and well-behaved addition to the garden. While I would love to have something named after me because of my piercing plant prowess and broad influence in the world of horticulture, the true story is not that flattering. This plant is named for me less because I am its hero and more because I am its antagonist.

In early spring of 2017, in my greenhouse were many plants of a white-flowered, hardy Spanish snapdragon grown from seed collected from a similar plant growing in Denver in the home garden of Curator of Alpine Collections Mike Kintgen. Mike tells me that he originally obtained the plant from Suncrest Nursery in California. Pedigree aside, an interesting thing happened when we germinated the seed from Mike’s plant.

Sexual reproduction in plants is as messy and unpredictable as it is in humans. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Genes cross over from one chromosome to another, traits that were previously unseen together are suddenly matched on the same individual new plant. 

I was walking through the greenhouses at Chatfield Farms with Associate Director of Horticulture & Curator of Steppe Collections Mike Bone, who is no stranger to plant-based fame. Mike pointed to a singular pink flower growing among a mass of white ones, attached to a tightly compact plant with deep green foliage. “That’s interesting, you should take some cuttings of that pink one. It might turn out to be something cool,” he said. Taking cuttings is a method of propagation wholly unlike growing from seed. When propagating vegetatively, you create clones of a single plant, locking in that particular combination of genetic traits that would be mixed up again if you collected and grew seed from it.

“Sure, sure,” I said and logged it away in my mind.

There are a lot of things to keep track of in the greenhouse, and at the time I wasn’t as fastidious at writing things down as I am now. Sometimes things get forgotten. In this case, the future Drew’s Folly was forgotten about. 

Sometime later, I noticed the plant was on the cutting propagation bench, having been propagated by someone who was not me. I’d say it had been a month or two, but that gets stretched each time Mike Bone tells the story. (The longest version I’ve heard him tell is eight months.) Either way, I was chastised for my negligence, and for nearly missing out on growing a truly lovely plant. Drew’s Folly quickly became a favorite in the Plant Select trial evaluations because of its long bloom time, drought tolerance and intense popularity with the local bee population. 

I guess the bees will get the adoration, even if I don’t.

Mike Bone may have named this hardy snapdragon Drew’s Folly to tease me, but really the reason the name stuck is that it brings forth an image of someone lost in their love of a plant, enamored and overcome with delight at seeing an old botanical friend poke through the previously bare garden soil in spring. Lost in folly is what we all hope to achieve in our gardening, and any of our other passions. 

This spring you can find the Drew’s Folly at your local independent garden center. Learn more about Plant Select and all their other wonderful plants.
 

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