Plant physiologist Catherine Grieve (left) and
halophyte biologist Christy Carter measure the height of stock (Matthiola
incana) growing in special sand tanks. Click the image for more information
story to find out more.
Can Stand the Salt--and Save Precious Water
By Erin Peabody
August 2, 2004
With their papery-thin petals and
ornate blooms, many of the fresh-cut flowers used to fill a florist's bright
bouquet might seem high-maintenance to grow. But
Agricultural Research Service scientist
Catherine Grieve has found that some commercially important floral
species--including cultivars of stock and celosia--aren't necessarily fussy
when it comes to the quality of one of their key needs, water.
Grieve, a plant physiologist, works at the ARS
George E. Brown Jr. Salinity
Laboratory in Riverside, Calif. In that state, greenery and cut flowers
such as daisies, sunflowers and statice make up a $300 million-a-year industry.
But flower growers, especially along the coast and in inland valleys, are
having a hard time accessing quality water that lacks potentially
Salts--including chlorides of calcium, magnesium and sodium--often become a
problem when growers recycle water repeatedly to irrigate their crops, a common
practice in water-scarce regions. Salts are also easing their way into
groundwater supplies along California's coastline where high demands for water,
often in the form of overdrawn wells, are literally pulling seawater into
Grieve is trying to find floral species that can progress normally through
their life cycles while being irrigated with waters containing a variety of
salts representative of those present in different parts of the state. Her
findings can help growers make use of waters once considered undesirable,
thereby cutting their costs and conserving higher-quality water resources.
With help from Donald Suarez, a soil scientist and director of the Riverside
laboratory, and Christy Carter, a halophyte biologist, Grieve is studying an
array of cut-flower species, including varieties of statice, sunflowers,
snapdragons and celosia.
Those that have fared well for Grieve, despite the salty conditions, include
cultivars of sweet-smelling Matthioloa incana, or stock; ornamental
sunflower, and the more exotic Celosia species.
more about the research in the August issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.