Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea: Past, Present, and Future.

The following is a guest post by Proven Winners Color Choice Shrubs. They’ve answered my call for donations to the Garfield Park Conservatory repair efforts. In exchange for the donation to help repair the storm damage to the Garfield Park Conservatory, I’ve invited them to write about the history of ‘Invincible Spirit’ and how this garden shrub is helping raise money for a cure for breast cancer. 

Imagine a plant breeder – what comes to mind? Some nervous, bespectacled individual wearing a white coat in a gleaming laboratory, surrounded by beakers and flasks and the flowers of some obscure genus? Plant breeding is less mad scientist than you might think. Luckily for us, most plant breeders are plant lovers themselves, gardeners in their own fashion who are acutely aware of what types of plants are missing from the gardener’s palette and dedicated to using their time, passion, and know-how to filling those gaps. It was that kind of plant breeder that developed Invincibelle Spirit, the first pink ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea:

Invinvibelle Spirit
‘Invincibelle Spirit’ hydrangea photo courtesy Proven Winners Color Choice 

‘Annabelle’ is arguably the most widely grown hydrangea in North America, and for good reason: it is hardy, reliable, and beautiful. But its flowers – lovely as they are – are a creamy white, fading to green as they age. Absolutely delightful, but not exactly extraordinary, which is why plant breeders have long wanted to get some color into its flowers. Despite the occasional discovery of a pink-flowered form of its species, Hydrangea arborescens (one of our many amazing native plants), nothing garden-worthy had come out of any breeding attempts until 2001.

That summer, Richard Olsen, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, found a pink flowered Hydrangea arborescens while hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thankfully, he knew a good thing when he saw it, as few others would think ‘Wesser Falls’ was anything remarkable. Working with Dr. Tom Ranney at the NCSU Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, they crossed this plant (which Olsen named ‘Wesser Falls’ for the area where it was found) with ‘Annabelle.’ Five years and several thousands of plants later, they had precisely one pink-flowered individual that merited introduction – that was Invincibelle Spirit:

Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea against the sky
‘Invincibelle Spirit’ hydrangea photo courtesy Proven Winners Color Choice. 

Invincibelle Spirit shares the hardiness, beauty, and easy care of ‘Annabelle,’ but in addition to its pink flowers, it does it one better: it reblooms in the garden, continuing to flower up until frost. Clearly, a plant this extraordinary deserved a grand introduction to the gardening public, so we at Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs enlisted its power and appeal to raise money for an important cause. Pink flowers made breast cancer research a good fit, but coupled with the dismal fact that 1 in every 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease, it became the obvious choice. One dollar of every Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea sold is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, one of the highest rated, most effective charities in America.

To get more gardeners behind the cause, we started Pink Days, fundraising events organized by garden centers to raise money for BCRF or a local breast cancer charity. Close to $220,000 has been raised by garden centers and sales of Invincibelle Spirit in just one season on the market! We’d love to make you a part of the campaign as well – invite Invincibelle Spirit into your garden (here’s how to care for it). Find a Pink Day at a garden center in your area, and if there aren’t any planned, please approach your favorite nursery about hosting one.

Whether you’re taking in the festivities at your local Pink Day or sitting at home enjoying Invincibelle Spirit in your garden, please take a moment to consider the story – the characters, setting, and plot – that led up that moment. It is a shrub with a past and future every bit as vibrant and exciting as its present!

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