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Sunflower Marks Plant Collection Milestone

By Ben Hardin
April 29, 1998

The nation’s National Plant Germplasm System has reached another milestone, with the entry of a sunflower named Sunburst as the system’s 600,000th plant introduction. A ceremony celebrating the addition is scheduled to be held today in Beltsville, Md.

NPGS, a cooperative program among private, state, federal and international agencies, maintains the germplasm and holds key information on the seeds and cuttings from plants around the world. The collection includes more than 1,400 plant genera.

Helianthus, which includes sunflower, is the only genus originating in the U.S. to become one of the 20 major world crops. Sunflower, grown mainly for its high-quality oil, ranks among the top four oilseed crops worldwide. Catalogued PI 600000 in the system’s Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) computer database, Sunburst joins more than 3,800 other sunflower accessions described on the World Wide Web at Plant breeders use the database to find plants with traits such as drought tolerance and disease resistance.

The new sunflower’s shorter-than-normal height and profuse branching promotes high yield and helps keep the plant from falling over. It was developed by researchers at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the North Dakota State Agricultural Experiment Station at Fargo, N.D.

Besides potentially serving crop breeders’ needs, Sunburst has aesthetic traits to attract breeders of ornamentals for home gardens. Its first small yellow flower appears on its main head about 62 days after planting, and for 10 to 15 more days it continues blooming on its many branches. Sunburst also can be used to produce hybrids that typically grow about 2-1/2 feet wide but less than 6 feet tall.

Plants and seeds come into the NPGS via ARS’ National Germplasm Resources Laboratory at Beltsville, Md., or one of 24 other NPGS sites. In 1997, more than 103,000 items of NPGS plant material were sent to 91 countries.

Scientific contacts: Edward J. Garvey, ARS National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-7511, fax (301) 504-6305,; Jerry F. Miller, ARS Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center, Fargo, N. D., phone (701) 239-1321, fax (701) 239-1346,

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