Monday, July 7, 2008

The Shortia seeds are germinating, including the McDowell County seeds....We will be introducing new germplasm into the world of cultivated Shortia

Look at that! Four seedling in just a fraction of a seed tray. We are getting germination from the first planted seeds. Let's summarize this project to date. Shortia is an attractive, see bottom photo, wildflower native to a few localized sites in the Southeast. It is not easily grown from seed, technically the seed is recalcitrant. It has an interesting story; it was discovered, collected (without a flower!), forgotten, rediscovered, in Europe, as an herbarium specimen, named from the specimen (still with no flower), finally rediscovered in the wild much later, then largely destroyed by the creation of a Lake built to supply hydroelectric power. Wow! All of the plants in cultivation, the trade, and in Public Gardens are descendants of plants from basically one area.

Joan Feely, Curator of Native Plant Collections at the US National Arboretum, spurred into action by losing most of a previously healthy colony of Shortia to disease, decided to go after fresh seed. After doing research, she realized that the source of all cultivated material was just the one area so we determined to go after seeds from more than one location. Earlier this year three of us traveled to South Carolina and North Carolina; the timing was good, we arrived as the seed was maturing, and collected good quantities from multiple locations. We planted seed shortly after our return.

There are a number of upsides to this project; one, we are introducing new germplasm from a new location; two, we are submitting samples to the main Federal Seed Bank in Ft. Collins, Colorado where the seed will be analyzed, studied, and stored at sub-zero temperatures (under all protocols so far known, the seed has essentially no shelf life); and three, we are doing a number of controlled trials to help understand the germination process, making seed propagation a more reasonable technique. If Ft. Collins succeeds in maintaining viable seed over a long period of time that would be an incredible advance for a very vulnerable species. Now we are beginning to see significant germination including those seeds from the McDowell County, disjunct population. It is very exciting!

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