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New Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center Celebrated

By Marcia Wood
July 16, 2001

A new genebank for ornamental crops will help ensure a bright future for floral and nursery plants that make colorful, fragrant bouquets or beautify backyard gardens and other landscapes.

Located at The Ohio State University, Columbus, the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nationwide network of plant repositories. Each genebank is somewhat like a Ft. Knox for plants, where germplasm-- seeds, bulbs, and other living tissue--is safeguarded, according to David Tay, director of the new center.

Without genebanks, genes that confer valuable traits such as natural resistance to insects or disease can be lost when plants that are popular today are replaced by newer, trendier varieties. That's why genebanks preserve wild relatives of domesticated crops, as well as older, heirloom varieties no longer grown commercially.

Begun under an agreement with The Ohio State University in 1999, the center is the only one in the National Plant Germplasm System to specialize exclusively in herbaceous ornamental plants.

The Agricultural Research Service, USDA's chief research agency, has primary responsibility for maintaining the genebank system. Plant breeders can use germplasm that will be housed at the new genebank to develop attractive new plants. These new varieties may, for example, require less water, fertilizer, or pesticides than plants available at nurseries today, according to Tay. His staff will be responsible not only for maintaining healthy, vigorous plants and seeds but also for continuously building the collection--either through exchanges or plant-collecting expeditions--and for producing new and improved techniques for long-term conservation.

Tay, genebank curator Susan M. Stieve and other scientists and industry colleagues are developing the list of species that the center will house.

Members of America's $12-billion floral and nursery crops industry actively support the new repository and were among those attending its July 14 grand opening. The new genebank includes a 6,000-square-foot office and laboratory building at 670 Tharp St., Columbus, and an adjacent 11,500-square-foot greenhouse.