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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Photo of Dr. David Fairchild.

Sections of Plant and Seed Introduction

In 1898, David Fairchild became the first chief of the Sections of Plant and Seed Introduction. Along with a budget of only $2,000, he was given responsibility for sending plant explorers all over the world.

One of his major contributions: setting up a system to keep track of all the different plants brought back or sent in by other people. Still used today, Fairchild's system gives a Plant Introduction (PI) number to each new plant specimen that has something different from what's already been collected. It doesn't matter whether the introduction is a recent specimen collected by an explorer or a plant from breeding program.

The very first introduction was PI#1, a cabbage brought to the U.S. from Moscow, Russia, in 1898. It matured a little earlier than a common variety called the Jersey Wakefield, which was good, but it also formed heads too small for market.

Recently, a shorter-than-average sunflower marked the 600,000th PI. It's now part of an ARS sunflower breeding program.

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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