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Nation's First Flower Genebank Celebrates 2nd Birthday

By Don Comis
July 23, 2003

The first genebank solely for flowers is celebrating its 2nd birthday this month. In just two short years, the new Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center is taking its place among the 25 functional genebanks of the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS).

David Tay is director of the new ornamental plants center, and Susan Stieve is the curator. The center's role is to preserve the entire gene pool of desired species and their wild relatives. Until now, the NPGS had only about 3,000 flowering plant types in its collection--despite the fact that, globally, floriculture is about a $50 billion-a-year business.

The newest germplasm center is the result of a cooperative effort between the Agricultural Research Service, the Ohio State government and the American floriculture industry. It is housed at The Ohio State University in Columbus.

The center already has more than 1,500 accessions of ornamental plants from all over the world safely preserved in the collection's seed cooler. The center is networking with scientists locally and in other countries to explore, collect and conserve more unique germplasm.

Last year the center researchers successfully regrew 40 accessions from the originally collected seed stocks. The center is in the process of building a tissue culture laboratory for clonally propagated plants. This month, Tay and Stieve and their small crew began the center's first shipment of seed, which is another important step in its development. Requested germplasm will be distributed to researchers and breeders around the world.

This year the center hosted the 2003 National Floriculture Forum of the American Society for Horticultural Science. In 2005, it will host an International Society for Horticultural Science symposium on flower germplasm conservation and use.

The preservation of flower germplasm has become even more important today as concentrated breeding narrows the gene pool of many popular flowers by focusing on aesthetics.

The Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center's web site is:

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.