COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State University Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center has come a long way since its grand opening a little more than a year ago.
The center, whose main purpose is to save, assess and promote the use of ornamental plant germplasm for industry and researcher use, is home to over 1,100 accessions from 62 genera, and the list continues to grow.
"Our primary function is to conserve, evaluate and distribute germplasm that would be important to the researcher or to the industry," said David Tay, director of the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center. "It all goes back to conserving a plant species because you don't know where the next cure for cancer will come from. We need to take advantage of plants that have traits like disease resistance, stress tolerance or carry pharmaceutical and neutraceutical compounds." Germplasm is currently being collected from the following priority genera: Aglaonema, Alstroemeria, Anthurium, Aquilegia, Aster, Baptista, Begonia, Campanula, Chrysanthemum, Dianthus, Dieffenbacha, Euphorbia, Geranium, Hemerocallis, Impatiens, Iris, Lilium, Narcissus, Pelargonium, Petunia, Phalaenopsis, Philodendron, Phlox, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Spathiphyllum, Tagetes, Verbena, Veronica and Viola.
Researchers at the center are using insects, mainly honeybees and bumblebees, as pollination tools to aid in their germplasm collection. The insects, said curator Susan Stieve, are quicker and more efficient than hand pollination, and also allow year-round germplasm seed production in the greenhouse.
"Hand pollination takes time and is expensive, but honeybees are cheap at $40 a colony. An average colony holds 20,000 bees and they can work for several weeks pollinating as long as there are flowers available," said Stieve. "They are also perennial, which means they can overwinter and live year to year." One drawback Stieve has found working with honeybees is that the insects tend to dislike restricted areas, like greenhouses.
Bumblebees, on the other hand, are content to working in contained spaces. But they are more expensive ($100 for a colony of 75-100 bees) and they only live for three to four months.
"But they are ideal for pollinating flowers that tend to give honeybees problems," said Stieve. "Bumblebees have the strength to get into snapdragon flowers, for example, whereas honeybees don't have the strength to push their way into the closed petals to get at the nectar." The researchers are using honeybees and bumblebees to pollinate flowers in the greenhouse, as well as under cover in field cages at Ohio State's Waterman Farm in Columbus. Researchers are also evaluating the best ways to induce plants to flower; studying the most effective ways to harvest and store seed; and conducting germination tests to provide the highest seed quality.
The Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center is also home to visiting researchers and graduate students throughout the world seeking to further their research and assist in the center's efforts.
The center is a cooperative effort between Ohio State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. The Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center joins more than 20 other repositories across the country that collect germplasm of agronomic and horticultural food, feed and fiber crops.