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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Photo of Dr. David Fairchild.

Sections of Plant and Seed Introduction

In 1898, David Fairchild became the first chief of the Sections of Plant and Seed Introduction. Along with a budget of only $2,000, he was given responsibility for sending plant explorers all over the world.

One of his major contributions: setting up a system to keep track of all the different plants brought back or sent in by other people. Still used today, Fairchild's system gives a Plant Introduction (PI) number to each new plant specimen that has something different from what's already been collected. It doesn't matter whether the introduction is a recent specimen collected by an explorer or a plant from breeding program.

The very first introduction was PI#1, a cabbage brought to the U.S. from Moscow, Russia, in 1898. It matured a little earlier than a common variety called the Jersey Wakefield, which was good, but it also formed heads too small for market.

Recently, a shorter-than-average sunflower marked the 600,000th PI. It's now part of an ARS sunflower breeding program.

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Last Modified: 8/12/2016
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