Our first event of 2015 will be the annual Professional Horticulture Group South West conference at Bridgewater College, Cannington on 13 February. The topic will be 'Exotic Plants – benefits & penalties' and speakers will include Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew talking about the 'Amazing plants from the Amazon rainforest' that he found on numerous excursions into that region.
Around the country there are hundreds of horticultural societies and professional horticulturists who are always in demand for talks about their particular expertise. Many of us have experience of this role and none more so than Margaret Waddy who recounts some of her experiences in an article below.
Horticulture is a broad church. It deals with the production of high unit value crops - the ones whose value is estimated in pounds (fruit trees; ornamentals) or pennies (vegetables, pot and bedding plants, bulbs). And the design and execution of gardens, both small and large.
It’s also the point where the professional grower has closest contact with the amateur. There’s never a lack of audiences who’d like to learn about the latest developments in gardening trends. Or to hear a little bit of history, about well-loved plants that enhance present gardens.
Talking to garden groups is usually a pleasure. I gave my first talk with little notice. Hence, no carousel of slides to stun the attendees into stupor. I reckoned there’d be members of the audience who knew as much as I did about growing fruit in a small garden. And so it proved. We enjoyed a conversation. And that’s how I’ve worked ever since - horticultural stand-up, with experiences shared.
Gardeners are eager to exchange experiences; but also to catch up with the information that crops up in the press. Why are neonicotinoids suspect? Why isn’t it worth saving and sowing seed from F1 hybrid tomatoes? No question is stupid - none of us knows all the answers.
I talk about ‘Fragrance in the Garden’ - a year round survey of plants that delight gardeners, and incidentally support pollinators; the ‘History of Garden Roses’. I urge my East Anglian audiences to visit Anglesey Abbey’s Winter Walk near Cambridge in late winter, to smell the blooms that entice bees out of sleep; and Mottisfont, in Hampshire, where a walled garden is stunning in June with the scent of old fashioned roses. ‘Herbs and their Many Uses’ includes medicine and dyeing. And ‘Encouraging Wildlife in the Garden’- a review of the heroes and villains, from wrens to magpies, harvest mice to moles.
Each group I speak to has its own character. Once in a while, I find myself redundant. I remember turning up for a meeting at which I acted as a filler - a half-time break in the group’s heated discussion about the venue for their Christmas outing. The secretary introduced herself, asked for my details, which she confessed that she wouldn’t remember. So I introduced myself, wittered away about - who knows what? - and left them to it.
Talking to garden groups provides an opportunity for professional horticulturists to explain what’s happening in research; plant breeding, pesticides, best cultivars: you name it. Sometimes you make connections with someone who might provide a solution to a problem ... as when I spoke to a group with a member whose company zapped weeds for a living. The treatment was tried at Oxford Botanic Garden, on a pernicious Allium sp in their iris beds. I’m not sure whether it worked, but it was definitely worth a try.
Pictures; Fragrance in the garden
Upper: Winter flowering Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (Christmas box) by Margaret Waddy
Lower: Summer flowering Rosa californica ‘Plena’ by A Barra
Whilst not a plant in the sense that this species is without leaves, roots etc., it could be deemed a plant by virtue of its ability to photosynthesise.
Nostoc is in fact a genus of photosynthetic cyanobacteria which live in a variety of habitats and can be both free-living or found forming symbiotic relationships with plant tissue. In particular nostoc species can be found in coralloid roots of plants such as cycads. These corraloid root systems form near the surface of the soil, where they are not hidden from the light. The cyanobacteria are then able to photosynthesise and harvest the sun’s energy. If you cut open the coralloid roots, you find a distinct green layer just beneath the surface.
Nostoc form a similar symbiotic relationship also with other evolutionarily ancient angiosperms such as Gunnera and non-vascular plants such as the hornworts.
In addition to their photosynthetic abilities, some Nostoc spp. can fix nitrogen using terminally differentiated cells called heterocysts.
The free living Nostoc spp. include Nostoc commune (picture upper right by Yamamaya). This species forms large colonies giving rise to flattish gelatinous masses which can particularly be seen on the surface of the soil after periods of rain. When the conditions are dry, the colonies become pale brown in colour and inconspicuous on the soil surface. The bacteria can survive prolonged periods of desiccation.
It is believed that the name Nostoc was coined by Paracelsus and derives from the ancient Greek word nósos meaning disease or sickness. Some species of Nostoc have been found to produce the toxic amino acid, beta methyl amino alanine (BMAA). Cyanobacteria in marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments have all exhibited this behaviour. BMAA has also been identified in plants that form symbiotic relationships with the cyanobacteria such as Gunnera and the cycads (picture middle right by Esculapio) already mentioned. Where these plants form the basis of a food chain, BMAA is passed on upwards through that food chain. An infamous case of this happening has occurred in the Pacific Island of Guam. The local people (the Chomorro) are known to hunt flying foxes for food. The flying foxes themselves feed off the fruit of the local cycads. The cycad fruits contain BMAA. Thus, this toxic substance is passed through the food chain, providing the humans with substantially high doses of BMAA. These people have suffered from a higher than background rate of amylotrophic lateral sclerosis/parkinsonism - complex (ALS/PDC) and it has been suggested that BMAA is a possible cause.
Lower picture: Light micrograph of a cross section of a coralloid root of a cycad, showing the darker layer that hosts symbiotic cyanobacteria by Curtis Clark.
Oxford Botanic Garden
Commercial Horticultural Association
CHA jas taken the largest ever British Group to two of the world's leading international trade exhibitions for the horticulture and fresh produce industries; IPM Essen and Fruit Logistica.
IPM Essen held at the end of January has established itself as the leading global fair in the green sector attracting international exhibitors showing products from the plants, technology, floriculture and garden features sectors. Fruit Logistica at the beginning of February is the most important business and communication arena of the international fresh produce trade. Here CHA combines with The Horticultural Develpoment Council (HDC soon to be renamed AHDB Horticulture) and the Potato Council.
Supported by UK Trade and Investment, CHA hosted large British pavilions and networking receptions at both events.
Horticulture Innovation Partnership
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Horticulture Innovation Partnership are funding a new fellowship worth over £220,000. This fellowship hopes to encourage innovative solutions to problems like those which are faced by the UK horticulture and potato supply chain, by stimulating an exchange of ideas and knowledge among business, policy makers and academics. The successful candidates, who will jobshare the fellowship, are Dr Lynda Deeks of Cranfield University and Dr Chantelle Jay of East Malling Research. The award has been funded as part of the Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI), which was developed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) together with NERC and the Scottish Government to support innovative projects that will provide solutions to the considerable challenges facing this vital industry.
UK Plant Science Federation
The Federation is organising two major events this year. The first, its now traditional Plant Science conference, UK PlantSci, will be held at Harper Adams University on 14-15 April 2015. The second will be the third Fascination of Plants Day, a nationwide celebration of plants, to be held at many locations on or around 18 May. Fascination of Plants Day is organised under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO). to encourage people around the world to celebrate the importance of plant science.
Plant identification no longer needed?
Plant identification has been removed as a mandatory unit from both City and Guilds Production Horticulture and Parks, Gardens and Greenspaces level two diplomas. City and Guilds says the change was made at the insistence of Lantra, the Sector Skills Council to ensure we were in line with the other organisations. In order to continue including our qualification in the apprenticeship framework, we were required to make this change.
Collaboration to use genomics to combat crop rusts
Seven scientific teams from the co-located institutes The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), John Innes Centre (JIC) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL), have joined forces in the fight against rust fungi which can cut crop yields by up to 80 percent. The Norwich Rust Group aims to develop durable resistance in crops. Exploiting advances in genomics, scientists will investigate how parasitic rust fungi invade and feed off plants. They will also use these new techniques to locate genes in some varieties of crops which are able to resist invasion. There are more than 7,000 species of rust fungi causing billions of pounds of losses every year worldwide. Current counter-measures to control rust diseases rely on fungicides, which are highly regulated, environmentally unfriendly and expensive. In the developing world where growers often cannot afford fungicides, rust fungi have the potential to cause rising food prices, hunger and malnutrition.
Death of the giant redwoods
Up to half of California's big trees have disappeared in the past 90 years, according to a new study, which claims that decreases in water brought about by climate change may be to blame. Researchers compared forest surveys from the 1920s and 30s with recent U.S Forest Service data and found that there had been a huge decrease in the density of large trees in the state. Older, larger trees are declining because of disease, drought, logging and other factors, but what stands out is that this decline is statewide. Forests are becoming dominated by smaller, more densely packed trees, and oaks are becoming more dominant as pines decline. More
A digital herbarium
Kew and the Natural History Museum are working together on large scale digitisation of their plant collections. Together, the herbaria at Kew and the Natural History Museum, London, contain more than 12 million specimens and are consulted by many visitors from around the world. Much of the information that these researchers need is stored away in cupboards, and is therefore not discoverable until a scientist visits the institution and looks inside. By providing images and data from these specimens online, anyone interested in plant diversity, for research or just for interest, can discover what our institutions hold and then access the information they need.
Laser replaces human mouth
A new technique uses a helium-neon gas laser to create speckle patterns, the grainy distributions of light that an object scatters back when it is hit with a beam. These patterns serve as a kind of optical fingerprint, a unique reflection of the object’s surface and, in the case of certain organic matter, its subsurface. With a relatively inexpensive setup—the laser, some polarizing lenses, and a digital camera—the research group peered inside a batch of Golden Delicious apples measuring how their speckle patterns changed in the course of a month. As a reference, they also tracked how much ethylene the apples released. For the first week the apples pumped out more and more ethylene. Meanwhile, the recorded size of each speckle kept shrinking, from thirteen pixels across on the first day to nine across on the eighth. The apple’s speckle pattern, in other words, was becoming less diffuse as its ethylene production increased. From the ninth day onward, as ethylene output decreased, the speckles began to swell back up to their original dimensions, signalling that the apple had passed its so-called climacteric peak. More
Sweet potato leaves a good source of vitamins
Unlike the familiar potato (Solanum tuberosum) where the fruits stems and leaves are toxic many tissues of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) are edible and high in nutritional value. Although studies have confirmed that water-soluble vitamins exist in sweet potato roots and leaves, there has been limited information about how these vitamins are actually distributed in the plants. A new research study shows that mature and young leaves of sweet potato can provide significant amounts of vitamin B6 and other essential vitamins. More
More flexibility on GM crops
The EU has given member states the option to ban cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that have been recommended as safe to grow by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Previously, member states voted on an EU-wide basis meaning that nations in favour of allowing cultivation were out-voted. Under new regulations, nations could opt to ban cultivation of a GMO, or groups of GMOs defined by crop or trait, or all GMOs in all or part of their territory. The commission will develop guidelines for neighbouring member states, who will be required to take measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs around borders to areas where a ban is imposed. The vote in favour of the amendment to current legislation will lead to implementing regulations on environmental risk assessment of GMOs, building upon and strengthening existing EFSA guidelines. More
Bacteria as individual as people?
Bacteria are as individual as people, according to new research. The researchers dug up a square metre of roadside verge in search of a bacterium called Rhizobium leguminosarum. This bacterium extracts nitrogen from the air and makes it available to peas, beans, clover and their wild relatives. In the laboratory, the team extracted the bacteria from the plant roots and established 72 separate strains. They determined the DNA sequence of the genome of each strain and showed that each of the 72 strains is unique - each has different genes and is capable of growing on different food sources. More
AHDB to simplify brands
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB) operating divisions will be rebranded later this year to create a simplified family of brands under the AHDB name. From Summer 2015 the existing sector brands will be replaced with ‘AHDB plus descriptor’. This will mean that HDC becomes AHDB Horticulture. This follows a recommendation from an AHDB sector board member conference in November 2013, and a commitment in last year’s Corporate Plan to ‘look at creating a simplified family of brands’. The AHDB Board has agreed that it is now the time to progress this commitment.
Insect communication can be skin-deep
Most insects are covered with a thin layer of hydrocarbon molecules as a waterproofing barrier. Embedded in this layer are compounds that the insects use as chemical signals for a wide variety of functions such as communicating species and sex. Now a team of entomologists and chemists has devised a straightforward method for purifying these compounds that could result in new "green" methods of controlling pest species, like ants, by disrupting the organization of their colonies.
The researchers devised a technique that combined known fractionation methods with reverse phase high performance liquid chromatography - powerful tools in analysis. Specifically, they used their method to isolate 36 pure hydrocarbon molecules from the complex blends of 20 randomly chosen species in nine insect orders, so that these compounds could be conclusively identified, and the effects of the individual chemicals could be tested. More
Olive oil threatened
A killer pathogen that has established itself in southern Italy is now “very likely” to spread, posing a major risk to European olive trees. Xylella fastidiosa, also known as olive leaf scorch, has taken hold in the Apulia region at the southernmost tip of Italy, where several thousand hectares of olive plantations are now affected. The bacterium kills infected plants by preventing water movement in trees, causing leaves to turn yellow and brown before falling off, their branches following soon after.
Its establishment and spread in the EU is very likely and the consequences are considered to be major because yield losses and other damage would be high and require costly control measures. More
Game changer antibiotics
The researchers turned to the source of nearly all antibiotics – soil - teeming with microbes, but only 1% can be grown in the laboratory. The team created a "subterranean hotel" for bacteria. One bacterium was placed in each 'room' and the whole device was buried in soil. This allowed the unique chemistry of the soil to permeate the 'room', but kept the bacteria in place for study. The scientists involved believe they can grow nearly half of all soil bacteria. Chemicals produced by the microbes, dug up from one researcher's back yard, were then tested for antimicrobial properties. So far 25 new antibiotics have been discovered using this method and teixobactin is the latest and most promising one. Tests on teixobactin showed it was toxic to bacteria, but not mammalian tissues, and could clear a deadly dose of MRSA in tests on mice. Human tests are now needed. The researchers also believe that bacteria are unlikely to develop resistance to teixobactin as it targets fats which are essential for building the bacterial cell wall, and the scientists argue it would be difficult to evolve resistance. More
Genomics of Plant Parasite Interactions Workshop
3 - 6 Feb 2015, The British Council and the Mexican National Council of Science and Technology
4 - 6 Feb 2015, Messe Berlin
Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum
11 - 12 Feb 2015,
Salon du Vegetal
17 - 19 Feb 2015
Leek Growers’ Association Agronomy Day
19 Feb 2015, Leek Growers’ Association
25 Feb 2015, Haymarket
25 Feb 2015
British Frozen Food Conference
3 Mar 2015, British Frozen Food Federation
British Plant Fair
5 Mar 2015
Medicinal Plants and Natural Products
16 - 18 Mar 2015, International Society foe Horticultural Science
Priorities for the UK supply chain: integrity, regulation and industry practice
17 Mar 2015, Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum
17 - 18 Mar 2015, New Ag International
New Delhi, India
New Ag International Conference
18 - 20 Mar 2015, New Ag International
New Delhi, India
International Food & Drink Event
22 - 25 Mar 2015, Fresh Montgomery
Communicating reliably and effectively about plants: using names appropriately
23 Mar 2015, University of York
Global Berry Congress 2015
23 - 25 Mar 2015, Eurofruit
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Improving Soil Health - Developing tools for land managers
31 Mar 2015 - 1 Apr 2015, Association of Applied Biologists
Advances in Plant Virology
31 Mar 2015 - 2 Apr 2015, Association of Applied Biologists & Society for General Microbiology
Tropical Fruit (Guava, Wax Apple, Pineapple and Sugar Apple)
7 - 12 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kaohsiung County, Chinese Taipei
Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens
8 - 9 Apr 2015, University of the West of England
Intellectual Property in Agriculture and Plant Science
14 Apr 2015, University of Leeds
Production and Establishment of Micropropagated Plants
18 - 24 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
San Remo, Italy
Organic Matter Management and Compost Use in Horticulture
20 - 24 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bacterial Diseases of Stone Fruits and Nuts
21 - 25 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Getting value from plants: extracting and purifying high value chemicals
28 - 29 Apr 2015, University of York
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