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Title: Phenotypic and genotypic analysis of a U.S. native fine-leaved Festuca population portends its potential use for low-input urban landscapes

item Staub, Jack
item Robbins, Matthew
item MA, YINGMEI - Utah State University
item JOHNSON, PAUL - Utah State University

Submitted to: Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/20/2014
Publication Date: 9/14/2014
Citation: Staub, J.E., Robbins, M.D., Ma, Y., Johnson, P.G. 2014. Phenotypic and genotypic analysis of a U.S. native fine-leaved Festuca population portends its potential use for low-input urban landscapes. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science. 139:706-715.

Interpretive Summary: The popularity of ornamental grasses for use in urban landscapes, parks, median strips, parking lot borders, and for erosion control on slopes has increased in recent years. This increase is partially due to the broad range of flowering times, panicle size, leaf width and color, and plant form of modern cultivars, which allows for their use in horticultural applications ranging from formal gardens to informal native urban landscapes. Such plantings are considered to be an integral part of ecological systems worldwide, where they provide immeasurable esthetic value and considerable economic return to a range of horticultural industries. Over half of the world's population lives in an urban environment, where ornamental plants provide environments that encourage the presence of wildlife and plant diversity and offer a myriad of social and economic benefits. The economic importance of horticultural and turf products have increased steadily since 1970, such that the number of businesses engaging in such activities nearly doubled from 1970 (12,962) to 1998 and sales doubled from 1988 to ($4.8 million) to 1993 alone. This trend has continued, and the value of horticultural specialty crops rose to $11.6 billion in 2012. Ornamental grasses are an important component of this product mix, where native and non-native germplasm provide a novel source of plant materials for direct application and plant improvement for low-input applications that enhance esthetic value and social interaction. In 1982, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Bridger Plant Materials Center (BPMC) collected seed from a native fine-leaved grass (Festuca) population in a semi-arid region near Busby, MT. In 2009, the USDA identified plants of this collection in a Logan, UT. field nursery that were vigorous, relatively tall, and possessed multi-colored culms. The extensive genetic research conducted represents the first report of the potential application of tall-statured, multi-colored, native fine-leaved grass germplasm for such purposes in the western U.S. The public release of this plant material will provide a low cost, low input alternative for low-input (reduced water) urban landscapes.

Technical Abstract: Continued reduction in limited natural resources worldwide increasingly necessitates the incorporation of low maintenance and input plant materials into urban landscapes. Although some fine-leaved Festuca grass species have been utilized in formal gardens and native urban landscapes because of their inherent tolerance to abiotic stresses, native, tall-statured, non-spreading ornamental types possessing multi-colored culms and panicles are not common in western U.S. landscapes. A native fine-leaved Festuca collection made in Montana (designated FEID 9025897) by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) possesses such ornamental characteristics, but has not been evaluated for its horticultural potential. Therefore, a study was designed to assess the phenotypic and genotypic (genetic structure) attributes by cloning 270 FEID 9025897 plants and evaluating them, along with native F. idahoensis and F. ovina plant introductions (Pls; 5) and commercial checks (5), for genetic diversity and plant morphology and culm coloration for two years (2010-2011). Plant genotype was determined using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis, and plant height (PH), width (PW), biomass (PB), relative vigor (V; visual rating of 0 = dead to 5 = green, abundant growth), persistence (P; number of plants alive/plot), and regrowth (R; visual rating of 0 = none to 5 = most) after clipping were estimated by evaluation of plants under replication at Hyde Park, UT. Based on AFLP-based co-ancestry analysis, FEID 9025897 plants possessed considerable genetic affinities with F. idahoensis. Morphological traits as averaged over both years varied in PH (13.9-105.0 cm), PW (9.9-66.2 cm), PB (0-170.4 g), V (0.2-4.7), P (0-3.9) and R (0-4.0). Based on these differences, 19 (7%) FEID 9025897 plants were identified for their ornamental potential that possessed multi-colored (red, orange, and yellow) culms and varied in morphology [two-year means of PH (79.8 cm), PW (45.3 CM), PB (88.6 g), V (3.0), P (1.9) and R (3.7)].