Research > Forage & Ornamental Breeding


The Vernon Center’s Forage Breeding Program produces cool-season perennial forage grasses that are resilient to climate change in the Southern Great Plains. The ornamental plant breeding program has developed an array of novel flower colors in winter-hardy and tropical hibiscus species.

For information on licensing any of these plants, contact Janie Hurley at or (979) 845-6337.

grass used as a banner

blue hibiscus


Cool-Season Forage Grass Breeding and Agronomy

We have introduced a new type of cool-season perennial grasses with summer-dormancy trait. These grasses originate from the Mediterranean Basin and are significantly better adapted to severe summer drought that occurs in the Southern Great Plains.

Why? In the 1970s and 1980s, temperate (summer-active) cool-season perennial grasses were introduced to the Southern Great Plains of the USA to complement forage for grazing cattle. Since the early 2000s, this region has experienced progressing drought due to increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation. A disturbed pattern of autumn precipitation has threatened timely planting of wheat, resulting in a lack of the major source of winter forage for grazing cattle.

The main objectives of the program are:

  • Develop cool-season forage grass varieties resilient to climate variability in the Southern Great Plains
  • Establish management practices of these new forages, including legume components of the mixed swards
  • Incorporate new forage grasses into winter wheat-based grazing systems
  • Characterize the mechanism of summer-dormancy in cool-season perennial grasses
  • Identify physiological traits for selection of dual-use wheat with reduced bloat potential.

Our pioneer research on summer-dormant, cool-season grasses was initiated in 2001. Since then, similar programs have been established at the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma and the University of Georgia at Athens. Our international collaboration with INRA (France), University of Jerusalem (Israel), and CSIRO (Australia) has resulted in a world-wide recognition of our research on summer dormancy in grasses.

Our summer-dormant grass breeding program is supported by a long-standing relationship with the industry partner, Grasslands Innovation (New Zealand).

In collaboration with scientists from the Noble Foundation Research Institute (USA) and Grasslands Innovation (NZ), we are developing the best management practices for this new forage grasses, including research on companion legumes, grazing tolerance, and tolerance to weed competition.

For detailed management practices of cool-season grass pastures, refer to these publications:

Press releases about our Forage System Program:

Winter-Hardy Hibiscus Breeding

hibiscus flower


The late Georgia Bost, the “Hibiscus Woman” from Waller County, TX, believed that extensive hybridizing among native winter-hardy hibiscus species would eventually result in novel colors and color combinations. The idea was based on novel colors achieved in their distant relative, the tropical hibiscus (H. x rosa-sinensis) in the last century.

We have focused on creating as much genetic variability as possible, by inter-hybridizing several species of winter-hardy hibiscus. We evaluated more than 12,000 hybrids and disclosed over 280 unique lines to TAMUS Commercialization Office. A number of these lines are being evaluated by our commercial partners, and the first 10 cultivars will be available on the market in 2018.

We were the first to develop a blue-flowering winter-hardy hibiscus hybrid that we call “Blue Angel”. Based on the genetics of this cultivar, we have created about 20 other blue hibiscus lines with improved flower color, increased flower size, and more compact plant shape.

Other novel colors developed in our program include maroon, magenta, purple, mauve, fuchsia, salmon, and many dual and triple-colored combinations.

Our ultimate goal is to create hybrids with yellow and orange flower colors.

Examples of novel flower colors developed in our program:

In response to the extensive hybridization, many of our winter-hardy hibiscus hybrids have started to develop flower color combinations that mimic these previously reported in tropical hibiscus, just like once suspected by Georgia Bost.

Examples of such a mimicry:

Press releases about our Winter-Hardy Hibiscus Breeding Program:

More About Hibiscus Breeding

Tropical Hibiscus Breeding

hibiscus flower illustrationThe tropical hibiscus breeding program was established at the Vernon Center in 2014. The main objectives were to create new flower and foliage colors and shapes, and plants with compact growth that would be more suitable for smaller gardens or as patio plants.

We have focused on creating in our hybrids as much genetic variability as possible, by inter-hybridizing several species of tropical hibiscus. Although this program is relatively new, we have already evaluated over 150 hybrids and disclosed 8 unique lines to TAMUS Commercialization Office. These lines are being evaluated by our commercial partners.


Examples of our tropical hibiscus hybrids:


More About Hibiscus Breeding

Dr. Dariusz Malinowski

Photo of Dariusz Malinowski

Dr. Dariusz Malinowski, plant physiologist, is a recognized world-wide authority on summer dormancy in cool-season grasses and mechanisms of mineral stress tolerance in cool-season grasses infected with Epichloe (formerly Neotyphodium) fungal endophytes.

His research focuses on adaptation mechanisms of forage crops to drought stress and management of forages in semi-arid environments of the Southern Great Plains.

Download CV

For information on licensing any of these plants, contact Janie Hurley at or (979) 845-6337.


Team Members

Taylor Fox, Research Technician