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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Ornamental Seed Production in Field Cages with Insect Pollinators

Authors
item Widrlechner, Mark
item Abel, Craig
item Wilson, Richard

Submitted to: Plant Propagators Society Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: May 1, 1997
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: The North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) manages thousands of distinct populations of crop plants and their relatives (plant germplasm) used by scientists throughout the world for research and crop improvement. Most germplasm maintained by the NCRPIS is distributed in the form of seed. To produce genetically-pure seed, we must control pollination during seed multiplication. Some crops, such as corn and pumpkins, are pollinated by hand, and others, such as amaranth and quinoa, are grown in the greenhouse in plastic tents. But many crops rely on insect pollination and are otherwise difficult to pollinate. The NCRPIS's staff overcame these difficulties in the late 1970s, by designing a system of insect-proof screened cages which are placed over plants grown in the field. Typically, a small honey bee hive is placed inside of each cage to pollinate only the plants growing there. Studies have shown that this system produces high-quality seeds while preserving the genetic integrity of the germplasm. This report summarizes ongoing research to improve the effectiveness of caged seed production, such as testing solitary bees as an alternative to honey bees, and gives examples of successful seed production for a wide variety of ornamental plants. The methods developed at the NCRPIS have improved the efficiency of seed production and may be useful to commercial nursery propagators who seek to produce their own genetically-pure seeds of ornamental plants.

Technical Abstract: The North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) manages more than 40,000 germplasm accessions of crop plants and their wild and weedy relatives. Seed samples of these accessions are provided to researchers throughout the world for scientific study, new crop development, and crop improvement. To produce genetically pure seed samples of the germplasm held at the NCRPIS, pollination control is required during the seed multiplication process. Some crops, such as Zea and Cucurbita, are pollinated by hand, and certain others, such as Amaranthus and Chenopodium, are grown in the greenhouse in plastic tents. But many of the genera maintained at the NCRPIS rely on insect pollination and are difficult to pollinate by any other means. In the late 1970s, researchers at the NCRPIS designed a system using insect-proof screened cages which are placed over plants grown in field plots. Typically, a small honey bee hive is placed inside of each cage to pollinate only that accession. Studies have demonstrated the ability of this system to produce high-quality seeds while preserving the genetic integrity of the germplasm. This report summarizes ongoing research to improve the effectiveness of caged seed production, such as testing Bombus and solitary bees as an alternative to honey bees (Apis mellifera), and gives examples of successful seed-regeneration methods for a wide variety of ornamental plants, including annual bedding plants, perennials, and shrubs. The methods developed at the NCRPIS have improved the efficiency of seed production and may be useful to commercial nursery propagators who seek to produce their own genetically-pure seeds of ornamentals.

Last Modified: 10/22/2014
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