Horticulture Group Newsletter February 2013

1 February 2013

February sees our first meeting, Advances in South West Horticulture, a joint event with the Professional Horticulture Group South West at Bridgwater College, Cannington on 13 February. This is followed by the joint conference with the BioResources Group, Waste Not Want Not: Agri-Food Waste Solutions for a Hungry World on 5 March and our visit to London's Eccleston Square gardens and the Royal College of Physicians medicinal garden, Ceanothus and Medicinal Plants on 15 March. Please register your interest in these events if you wish to attend.


David Miller Travel Bursary Award

We are now launching the appeal for this year's David Miller Travel Bursary Award. Last year's competition bought in an excellent selection of projects and the two winners gave presentations at our annual General Meeting last September; Emma Bennett from Reading University described her visit to a Gordon Conference in the United States to further her studies on plant senescence and Scott Hayes from Bristol University described his visit to the International Congress on Plant Molecular Biology in South Korea, to further his studies on the effect of UVB on shade avoidance.

Applications for this year, when we again hope to make at least two awards, close on 15 April and are open to students in the second or final year of a higher education qualification (BSc, HND, Kew Diploma etc) or studying for an MSc or PhD. Applicants should be students registered for courses in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. The winners receive a travel grant of £250 to put towards their chosen travel plan and three year's Eden Friends Membership. These awards are once again sponsored by VHB Herbs and the Eden Project.

Rowallane Garden, Northern Ireland

Rowallane has always been a garden I've wanted to visit … chiefly because, if you work in the nursery stock industry, it's the source of a number of valuable cultivars, including the ornamental quince, Chaenomeles x superba 'Rowallane Red'.

It was not the time to see an ornamental quince in flower. But Rowallane is also home to a number of 'hero' trees, which provide seed of plants collected by intrepid hunters, many of whom risked life and limb to bring home species that we take for granted.

coprinusUnfortunately our visit was a disappointment. Partly due to the weather; but equally that Rowallane provides a leaflet about the 'hero' trees, but hasn't yet labelled them all. The site map needs an update (we could have landed up in the lake, had we followed the designated route!). The time to visit Rowallane is in spring, when flowering bulbs make it magic. The house interior has been recently refurbished, in colours that reflect the invention of 19th century aniline dyes. Tea room hospitality was faultless, as was a wall display of maidenhair ferns. The most interesting botanical exhibit was a couple of shaggy ink caps (Coprinus comatus), flourishing on the top of the sign at the entrance to the property (see picture right). The best bet was to repair to the Crown Bar, alias the Crown Liquor Saloon, in central Belfast, which had an unexpectedly Italian theme, complete with Florentine window decorations and plasterwork.

A brief footnote: it would be an incomplete visit to Northern Ireland without taking in the Giant's Causeway on the north coast. Geology and botany rather than horticulture are what count here. The hexagonal pillars of basalt are packed together into a massive stone honeycomb and extend into the sea, showing the route to the Isle of Staffa, from where the giant, Finn McCool, brought his bride to Ulster.

You can ramble over the lower rocks, scramble over the higher ones and take a spectacular circular route round the columns and turrets and along the cliff top. Or, as your correspondent did, tumble into a rock pool, for a too-close encounter with marine wildlife.

Margaret Waddy

Plant of the Month

Sarcococca confusa inflorescence by Meneerke Bloem Sarcococca confusa, sweet box, Buxaceae

For a blast of beautiful scent on a winter's day, this evergreen shrub is an excellent choice.

This is one species amongst eleven in the genus that hail originally from Afghanistan to China and the Philippines and is the most commonly found in nurseries in the UK. With small dark green leaves in spirals and separate male and female flowers it melts into the background for much of the year.

But come the winter, the black fruits (technically a drupe) glow amongst the white scented flowers of the current season. The male flowers have nectar whereas the female flowers don't. The botanical name comes from the Greek for flesh and berry (sarcos and kokkos) due to the fleshy fruits the plant bears.

Sarcococca confusa fruits by Meneerke BloemI can find no records in the literature of investigations into the chemical composition of the scent, but as a chemist I'd love to know what makes this plant smell so good. Any ideas, anyone?

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

Medicinal Plant of the Month

Narcissus ‘Carlton’, daffodil, Amaryllidaceae

Daffodil by Juan José Sánchez'Carlton' is the most commonly grown of all. There are 5,300 hectares of this cultivar grown in the UK for cut flowers alone. This cultivar was first registered in 1927 and it is estimated that there are now 350,000 tonnes of it -or 9450 million bulbs! Is this the most massive plant taxon on earth?

Narcissus, in Greek myth, was the name of a beautiful youth who became so entranced with his own reflection that he pined away and the gods turned him into this flower. The word is possibly derived from an ancient Iranian language. But narcissi are not entirely selfish. As a member of the Amaryliidaceae, a family known for containing biologically active alkaloids, it is no surprise to learn that they contain a potent medicinal agent.

Narcissus (and in particular this cultivar) are an excellent source of galanthamine, a drug more commonly associated with snowdrops (Galanthus spp.). Galanthamine is currently recommended for the treatment of moderate Alzheimer's disease by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) but is very effective in earlier stages of the disease too.

GalanthamineToday, part of the commercial supply of this molecule (pictured) comes from chemical synthesis, itself an amazing chemical achievement due to the structural complexity of the molecule, and partly from the natural product isolated from different sources across the globe. In China, Lycoris radiata is grown as a crop, in Bulgaria, Leucojum aestivum is farmed and in the UK the humble daffodil, Narcissus 'Carlton' is the provider. The estimated UK patient population for Alzheimer's is 5.2 million and the predictions are that galanthamine will be used to treat about a tenth of those sufferers. Sales of Reminyl (galanthamine) in 2003 were £7.9m. One hectare would provide between 15 and 20 tonnes of bulbs and several hundred tonnes of bulbs would be required per year to supply all the galanthamine required.

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

News from our Associates

Commercial Horticultural Association
CHACHA's spring programme of export stands at overseas shows kicked off at IPM Essen in Germany on 22 - 25 January. A report on the CHA presence can be found here. This month CHA will be at Fruit Logistica in Berlin (6 - 8 Feb) where they are working alongside the Horticultural Development Company and the Potato Council to promote a co-ordinated UK presence. CHA has secured significant funding for this event through UK trade and investment so eligible exhibitors may be able to reclaim up to £1,400 of their exhibiting costs. In addition exhibitors can take advantage of the Buyer Promotion activities before the show and the rolling on-screen presentation and networking reception at the show. Salon du Vegetal in Anger, France follows swiftly on 19-21 February.

National Horticultural ForumNational Horticultural Forum
The National Horticultural Forum has been active in helping to establish the Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP). This new body may well take over from the NHF if it is seen to adequately cover the same interests. The HIP will be formally launched at a meeting organised by Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, on 7 March.

Society of Biology Society of Biology
The VAT exemption for research is being withdrawn from 1 August. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is conducting a consultation to assess the impact that the withdrawal of the exemption will have and to see whether there are any possible options to mitigate the impact of the withdrawal. The Society of Biology will be responding to this consultation. If you have any comments or case studies to contribute to our response, please contact jackiecaine@societyofbiology.org

Horticulture Industry News

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Wind in the willows boosts biofuel production
Willow trees (Salix sp.) cultivated for green energy can yield up to five times more biofuel if they grow diagonally, compared with those that are allowed to grow naturally up towards the sky. This effect had been observed in the wild and in plantations around the UK, but scientists were previously unable to explain why. Now a genetic trait has been identified that causes this effect and is activated in some trees when they sense they are at an angle, such as where they are blown sideways in windy conditions. The effect creates an excess of strengthening sugar molecules in the willows' stems, which attempt to straighten the plant upwards. These high-energy sugars are fermented into biofuels when the trees are harvested in a process that currently needs to be more efficient before it can rival the production of fossil fuels.

A fourth greenhouse at Thanet
The fourth greenhouse has begun operations at the Thanet Earth site in east Kent. The new greenhouse covers approximately 8 hectares, and will be dedicated to tomato production. The cost of construction (including its combined heat and power infrastructure and its link to the site electrical substation) has been some £17 million. The greenhouse is owned jointly by the project partners in Thanet Earth (Fresca Group, Rainbow UK, A&A Growers and Kaaij UK), and will be managed on a day-to-day basis by Gert van Straalen of tomato specialist Kaaij UK. More

monstera deliciosaWhy Swiss cheese plants are full of holes
A number of explanations have been put forward for familiar hole-riddled leaves of the Swiss cheese plant, (Monstera deliciosa), from reduced wind resistance, better temperature regulation and water run-off to camouflage. Research has now shown that these perforated leaves allow the plants to capture sunlight more regularly helping them to survive in shady rainforests. Monstera deliciosa lives in the dark understorey of tropical rainforests. It relies on capturing unpredictable shafts of sunlight, known as 'sunflecks', in order to photosynthesise for energy. The larger leaves with their holes are more efficient at capturing these sunflecks than smaller leaves of similar overall surface area.

Runts to the Rescue
Logging and violent storms cause massive damage to forests. What is less obvious, however, is the devastating effect that the removal of trees and vegetation can have on streams and lakes. Nitrate concentrations in waterways can soar by as much as 400% when the nitrate tied up in organic matter washes into streams. Algal blooms and fish die-offs almost always follow this sort of nitrogen fertilisation event.

A mountain pine beetle epidemic in the west of North America, which now stretches from Mexico to Canada, has killed millions of dead trees would mean serious trouble for local water quality as well. However researchers have found that despite the ravaged appearance of forests in Colorado, where 80 to 90% of the canopy in many watersheds is gone, streams and lakes are remarkably healthy. This seems to be because the small trees and understorey vegetation, that the pine beetles mostly leave alone, appear to be compensating for the loss of mature trees by drastically increasing their uptake of nitrate.

Fungal endophytes help prevent weed invasions
Endophytic fungi, that live within plant tissues are common but their effects have not been extensively studied. A recent study looked at the impact of one such endophyte, Scherodonus pratensis, in swards of meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis). After four years, weeds covered 25% of plots that were endophyte-free (E-) compared to 2% in endophyte colonised (E+) plots. Similarly, the proportion of weeds in the total biomass was over 45% higher in E- plots compared to E+ plots at the end of the six years study. Weed species richness, coverage and productivity were all higher in E- plots. The results demonstrate that the presence of endophytes prevent weed invasions.

Chicken or egg: Forests or rain
Conventional theory says that the distribution of forests and deserts is dictated by the circulation patterns of the earth's atmosphere. Regions of rising air and low pressure create rain belts such as those that straddle the British Isles and tropical forests. Conversely regions of high pressure and falling air create the desert belts, ie rain equals forests.

Now a new study boosts support for the physics behind a controversial theory that forests play a significant role in determining rainfall, creating atmospheric winds that pump moisture across continents. The new atmospheric model puts forward the idea that it is evaporation from the forests that creates the low pressure drawing in moist air and generating rain, ie forests equals rain. This controversial model could revolutionise the way we understand local climates, and their vulnerability, with many major implications. It suggests, for instance, that by strategically replanting forests we could attract rainfall into desert and arid regions like the African Sahel, where drought has for years ravaged crops and induced famine. Likewise, significant forest loss could transform lush tropical regions into arid landscapes. More

'Scarecrow' Gene has a role in C4 photosynthesis
The highly efficient C4 photosynthesis found in certain grasses requires a leaf structure with many more bundle sheaths than are found the leaves most plants. Scientists have now found that a gene called Scarecrow, that was known to control bundle sheath development in roots, also controls the special leaf structure, known as Kranz anatomy, which leads to more efficient photosynthesis. Although only a first step in understanding the control of Kranz anatomy, this finding gives researchers a valuable peg on which to base future research. More

Improving growers' contracting relationships with processors
The first summit of its kind to help UK horticulture and potato growers improve their negotiation powers and professionalism will take place on 13 February. The event will include a two hour negotiation workshop on skills and techniques for dealing with contract negotiations. A range of speakers will also share experiences from the sugar, dairy, horticulture and potatoes sectors, demonstrate the value of utilising market data and highlight the support available from the NFU.

New Director at Cambridge Botanic Garden
Dr Beverley Glover has been named as the new Director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Dr Glover will take up the post, and the associated Professorship of Plant Systematics and Evolution to which she has been elected, in July . More

Tree loss bad for human health
The loss of 100 million trees in the eastern and midwestern United States gave an unprecedented opportunity to study the impact of a major change in the natural environment on human health. In an analysis of 18 years of data, researchers found that people living in areas infested by the emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis, a beetle that kills ash trees, suffered from an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease when compared to uninfected areas. When emerald ash borer comes into a community, city streets lined with ash trees become treeless. More

Senna could treat diabetes
senna auriculataResearchers at the University of Greenwich aim to isolate and identify certain extracts from the senna plants Senna auriculata and Senna alata, which could have 'active ingredients' for treating diabetes. They discovered that one of the compounds isolated from the plants, kaempferol 3-O-rutinoside, has proved to be more than eight times more potent than the standard anti-diabetic drug, acarbose. The team also found the plants have anti-oxidant properties, which is beneficial when treating diabetes. Many of the active ingredients from Senna auriculata work synergistically to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects suggesting that the crude plant extract has lots of potential to be used clinically for treating diabetes and associated diseases. Note:

The authors refer to these species by the synonyms Cassia auriculata and Cassia alata which are no longer accepted. More

Toothbrush tree yields antibiotic to treat TB
A compound from the South African toothbrush tree, Euclea natalensis, inactivates a drug target for tuberculosis in a previously unseen way. The compound, diospyrin, binds to a novel site on a well-known enzyme, called DNA gyrase, and inactivates the enzyme. DNA gyrase is essential for bacteria and plants but is not present in animals or humans. It is established as an effective and safe drug target for antibiotics.

The way that diospyrin works helps to explain why it is effective against drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. In traditional medicine the antibacterial properties of the tree are used for oral health and to treat medical complaints such bronchitis, pleurisy and venereal disease. Twigs from the tree are traditionally used as toothbrushes. More

Bayer CropScience acquires Prophyta
Bayer CropScience has signed an agreement to acquire Prophyta GmbH, a leading supplier of microbial crop protection products headquartered in Malchow, along with the company's R&D laboratories and its state-of-the-art production and formulation facilities in Wismar, Germany. Prophyta has developed a unique solid-state fermentation technology for production and bioprocess development of filamentous fungi. Using this patented technology, large quantities of fungal biomass as well as fungal spores can be produced under axenic conditions.

Why don't plants get sick more often?
Why are plants immune to most of the diseases surrounding them in the environment? Called non-host resistance (NHR), the mysterious trait gives plants their most robust and durable immunity to the myriad pathogens challenging them. If NHR weren't commonplace in nature, plants would be constantly attacked by fungi, bacteria and other pathogens swarming in air, soil and bodies. But, for the most part, plants are immune to those challenges. Research has now shown that fungal DNase enzymes trigger the NHR response in a variety of plant species. DNases from fungal mitochondria have a small peptide molecule that enables them to move through plant cell membranes and thus induce expression of NHR in the plant. More

Events Calendar

Other Events of Interest

Soft Fruit Winter Meeting
5 Feb, James Hutton Institute
Dundee, UK

BPOA AGM and Conference
6 Feb, British Protected Ornamentals Association
Oxford, UK

Fruit Logistica
6 - 8 Feb, Messe Berlin, see also Commercial Horticultural Association
Berlin, Germany

Catalyst for Change: NFU Grower Representative Summit
13 Feb, National Farmers Union
Stoneleigh, UK

Landscape Industry Show
13 - 14 Feb, California Landscape Contractors Association
Los Angeles, USA

Making Britain the Best Place in the World to do Science
19 Feb, The Royal Society
London, UK

Salon du Vegetal
19 - 21 Feb, Bureau Horticole Régional, see also Commercial Horticultural Association
Angers, France

New Technologies for Sustainable Agricultural Production and Food Security
24 - 26 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Muscat, Oman

Environmental Management and Crop Protection
25 - 26 Feb, Association for Crop Protection in Northern Britain
Dundee, UK

Poland – Chance or Challenge
2 - 9 Mar, Under 40s Fruit Growers Tour

British Plant Fair
7 Mar, The British Plant Fair
Stoneleigh, UK

Slow- and Controlled-Release and Stabilized Fertilizers
12 - 13 Mar, New AG International
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Green Health Conference
11 Mar, James Hutton Institute
Dundee, UK

New AG International
13 - 15 Mar, New AG International
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Evolution of the Plant Soil Interface
19 Mar, James Hutton Institute
Dundee, UK

Pesticide Use and Risk Reduction for Future IPM in Europe
19 - 22 Mar, Fondazione Edmund Mack, Pure, Laimburg
Riva del Garda, Italy

From Farm to Fork – Plant Molecular Breeding and Post-harvest Research in the 21st Century
23 Mar, PlantLink, Food Technology at Lund University and Department of Plant Breeding
Lund, Sweden

Crop Resource Use Efficiency and Field Phenotyping
25 - 26 Mar, Association of Applied Biologists
Grantham, UK

Middle East Horticultural Summit
26 Mar, International Society for Horticultural Science

Temperate Zone Fruits in the Tropics and Subtropics
26 - 28 Mar, International Society for Horticultural Science
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flowers & Hortech, Ukraine
9 - 11 Apr, BTO Exhibitions
Kiev, Ukraine

UK PlantSci
16 - 17 Apr, UK Plant Science Federation
Dundee, UK

IFSTSpring conference 2013: Securing the Future Supply of Food
17 Apr, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Norwich, UK

Grapevine Physiology and Biotechnology
21 - 26 Apr, International Society for Horticultural Science
Santiago, Chile

Discovery and Development of Innovative Strategies for Post-harvest Disease Management
29 Apr - 2 May, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kusadasi, Turkey

If you would like to advertise a forthcoming event please contact. karen.hobbs@soci.org

Horticulture Group Contact Details

For submitting ideas or to volunteer to be part of a committee or a group, please contact:

Chairman - Peter Grimbly
Meetings Secretary - Alison Foster
Minutes Secretary - Margaret Waddy
Newsletter co-ordinator - Sue Grimbly scihortigroup@btinternet.com
Group Contact - Karen Hobbs, E: karen.hobbs@soci.org T: +44(0)20 7598 1586

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