This seminar featured four renowned plant breeders, who spoke about their research and work in creating the perfect plant.
How do plant breeders create the perfect plant? How do they start with a purple plant with purple flowers that blooms in the winter, and create a new one with yellow flowers, which will create color contrast with the leaves, that will bloom in the summer when people can enjoy it in their garden?
By singling out traits in individual specimens and breeding them, plant breeders seek to create progeny with more impactful color, greater heat/cold tolerance to a wider range of zones, and other desirable characteristics.
In his presentation, “From Genes to Cool Plants,” Ryan N. Contreras of Oregon State University, said, “What we want is the perfect plant that has all the perfect traits.”
Contreras explained how genes are inherited, which determines what traits he looks for when developing “cool” plants:
– low heritability traits include characteristics such as plant height and yield, which have gradients of expression.
– high heritability traits include fruit and flower color, which are easier to select for breeders.
Using the example of Katsuratree, Contreras explained the previously non-existent red weeper was created, as well as his work with Hibiscus syriacus (see his article in the August issue of Digger magazine).
Thomas Ranney of North Carolina State University was next up with his presentation, “Dreaming Up Plants.”
Ranney finds inspiration in the wild, native plants found in his home state’s Smoky Mountain range, such as Hydrangea arborescens. This plant species has naturally hybridized over millennia, but not with much variety, which makes it a strong genetic specimen to create new, more dynamic progeny.
Stan Hokanson of the University of Minnesota spoke on “Woody Plant Breeding: It’s Not About Cold Hardiness.”
“Everybody and their brother are creating new plants these days,” Hokanson said. “So I thought, ‘What can I do? How am I uniquely positioned to add to the field of plant breeding?’ “
Hokanson chose to tackle some of the tougher traits, cold hardiness of azaleas (an important trait in Minnesota, where minus 30 F is very common), and conservation of endangered native species, specifically Tsuga canadensis.
John Ruter, Allan Armitage professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, talked about his work with creating more cold-hardy Agapanthus and improving the form and color of Hibiscus during his talk, “Breeding Herbaceous Ornamentals: Finding One’s Softer Side.”