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Assorted quince varieties. Link to photo information
Assorted quince varieties from the germplasm collection at the USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Ore. From top down, Van Deman, Cooke's Jumbo, Ekmek, and Quince A, a rootstock variety used for grafting pears. Click the image for more information about it.

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Pome, Sweet Pome: Expanding the National Quince Collection

By Laura McGinnis
January 5, 2007

Once a staple of American orchards, today the quince tree grows on fewer than 200 commercial acres in the United States. But this bright-yellow, fuzzy cousin of pears and apples is getting a boost from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Corvallis, Ore.

Recent foreign acquisitions have expanded the quince collection at the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository (NCGR) in Corvallis. Now scientists there are examining the characteristics and genetic makeup of these cultivars for desirable agricultural traits, such as resistance to fire blight.

The NCGR collection is extremely diverse. It includes more than 100 clones, including 41 edible varieties, 22 rootstock varieties and two extremely rare quince-pear hybrids. Researchers hope the genetic diversity of the collection will reveal positive traits such as disease resistance and cold-hardiness.

Historically, the quince tree's susceptibility to insect and disease threats has limited its cultivation. Could these new accessions hold the key to greater resistance? It's possible. And the diversity of the NCGR quince collection increases the likelihood that researchers will discover beneficial genes, according to Joseph Postman, plant pathologist and curator of the NCGR pome fruit collection.

In the past, researchers have observed variations in susceptibility to fungal leaf spot diseases within the quince collection. If they discover differences in fire blight susceptibility within these newly acquired cultivars, scientists could selectively breed the trees for greater resistance. This is good news not only for the quince, but for pears as well.

Quince plays an important role in pear production because it is one of the only reliable dwarfing rootstocks available for grafting to pears. Dwarfing reduces maintenance and harvesting difficulties, and encourages earlier fruit production.

Read more about the research in the January 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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