ForumNew Floral and Nursery Crop Studies
| America's home gardeners and
professional greenhouse and nursery growers are eager for new ideas to help
them grow attractive, healthy flowers and plants. Studies at
ARS labs across the country will provide
just that. And everyone will benefit.
Flowers and plants add beauty and cheer to the places where we live and work.
They help clean our air. And they may contain compounds that could prove
invaluable for medical, pharmaceutical, and nutraceutical uses.
Some of ARS' ornamental plants research is funded under the auspices of a
Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative. Members of several industry
groups, including the Society of American Florists, American Nursery and
Landscape Association, and the Ohio Florists Association, spearheaded the
effort to garner funds necessary to expand ARS' floral and nursery research.
This issue of Agricultural Research takes a look at some of the newer
floral and nursery crop investigations. Check the story on pages 12 and 13 for
a quick overview of work by California scientists who are seeking
environmentally friendly alternatives to the widely used soil fumigant methyl
bromide. Pages 14 through 16 present updates on greenhouse studies designed to
outwit formidable floral foes such as powdery mildew and mites.
Other articles this month will take you inside ARS laboratories where
ornamental crop studies have been under way for a longer time. Included among
them is a glimpse at what's new from ARS' Floral and Nursery Plant Research
Unit in Beltsville, Maryland.
These studiesand morefocus on key problems and research priorities
identified by representatives of the country's $11 billion floral and nursery
industry. Many investigations are long-term, high-risk endeavors that offer the
promise of reducing chemical use, improving the postharvest life of flowers and
plants, or providing new ways to control the most damaging soilborne diseases.
Other experiments will concentrate on breeding of pest-resistant flowers and
plants, reducing runoff from greenhouses and nurseries, or applying the newest
advances in robotics to streamlineand make safertasks such as
pesticide spraying. In addition to the research studies described, there's yet
more work going on. At Riverside, California, for example, ARS scientists are
determining whether two different kinds of statice (Limonium
species)sold as cut flowerscan thrive on salty water. That would
offer a way to reuse irrigation water, such as that which drains from
California's famed San Joaquin Valley. If growers could use this lower quality
water instead of fresh water, that could help conserve dwindling supplies of
The pesky banana moth (Opogona sacchari) is the target of new ARS
inquiries in Hilo, Hawaii, designed to quell this natural enemy of the familiar
dracaena plant. Also known as corn plant because of the shape and rippled
surface of its leaves, dracaena is one of America's most popular indoor and
patio plants. Banana moth eggs hatch into tiny whitish caterpillars that feed
under the bark, sometimes killing the plant. The Hawaii scientists want to help
growers find a safe, simple, effective way to quash the moth.
Meanwhile, molecular biologists are unlocking secrets to the genes that control
prized traits. Biotechnology offers breeders new possibilities for producing
plants with superb new colors, forms, and fragrances, as well as
characteristics that make the plants easier to grow.
How about blossoms with more petals than ever before? At the Plant Gene
Expression Center in Albany, California, researchers have pinpointed a gene
that apparently plays a key role in regulating the number of petals that make
up the blooms of thale-cress (Arabidopsis). In their experiments with
this gene, which scientists have named ULTRAPETALA, the researchers have
produced blossoms that boast six creamy-white petals instead of the usual four.
Genes and genetic diversity are also the focus of research at the new
Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center at The Ohio State University, Columbus. A
joint venture of ARS and the university, the center will safeguard seeds,
bulbs, and other germplasm of herbaceous ornamental species. Domesticated
varieties and their wild, rare, and heirloom relatives will be stored there so
that the genes of these plants can be preserved. And new studies there will
produce improved methods for keeping the stored materials viable.
All this is especially good news for those of us who enjoy gardening, America's
number-one hobby. Working with plants can provide solace and a welcome respite
from the harried pace of an increasingly high-tech world. It reestablishes a
connection with the soilsomething many of us have lost in the years since
our parents or grandparents left the farm to become urban dwellers.
Whether we are planting fresh geraniums in small pots on the sunny windowsill
of a city apartment or preparing a new bed in a suburban backyard for a few
flats of colorful pansies, we are enriched by the experience of helping to make
living things grow.
Judy St. John
Associate Deputy Administrator
Crop Production, Product Value, and Safety
"Forum" was published in the September 2001 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.