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Horticulture Group Newsletter - February 2012

tomato slice

1 Feb 2012

With the worst of the British winter still around, this month's newsletter has a tropical feel to remind us of the warmer places where you would probably rather be.

Sadly we have to announce that our proposed visit to London's Eccleston Square Gardens on 23 March has had to be postponed. However, on 17 February the Professional Horticulture Group South West will be holding a seminar on 'Changing Cultivars and their Impact on the Market for Fruit and Vegetables' at Cannington College, Somerset and on 25 April the BioResources Group is holding a meeting on 'Insect Decline: The Causes and the Role of Agriculture in Mitigation' at Rothamsted in Hertfordshire.

Editor

Bananas unzipped

We are all familiar with the banana, either as the fruit found in our fruit bowls and sandwich boxes or as an ornamental plant whose large leaves give a 'tropical' accent to summer displays. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that, on a global scale, more bananas are eaten than any other fruit and it is the fourth most important staple food in the world. India leads the way in banana production followed by Brazil and China. However, these countries consume most of the crop that they produce so UK bananas are more likely to come from Ecuador, the world's largest exporter, Costa Rica or Guatemala. Some also come from Caribbean islands such as St Lucia where the banana accounts for around half the country's export earnings.

coloured bananas by Thelmadatter and David Monniaux There are two basic types of banana; the familiar sweet type that we consume and the starchy 'plantain' that forms the staple in many tropical diets. However a visit to the banana collection at the Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA) at La Lima in Honduras soon makes you realise that there are a large number of other types of banana that we never see in the UK - different in size, shape, colour and sweetness.

The yellow seedless fruit we are used to is a 'Cavendish' banana, currently the most widely grown group of varieties. Seedless, yes, so how is it grown and how are new varieties produced? Almost all modern edible bananas come from the two wild species - Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana from south east Asia. Cavendish bananas are all triploid forms of M. acuminata, in other words they have three sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two (diploid). This triploid status allows cell division (mitosis) to occur normally enabling the plants to grow and flower.

However, the extra set of chromosomes makes the meiotic division, necessary for the production of pollen and seeds, unstable and it almost always fails, so seeds are only very rarely produced. In most cases the absence of seeds would also cause the fruit to abort but fortunately the banana, like the slicing cucumber, is able to produce normal fruit even in the absence of pollination. Since it is impossible to hybridise triploid bananas, breeders have had to work with seeded diploid bananas and then recreate the seedless triploid forms.

The banana is the largest herbaceous plant in the world and grows from a corm. The plants like deep well-drained soil but plenty of water so are usually grown in regions of high rainfall. Each corm produces a single stem which ultimately produces a single pendant inflorescence. This consists of a number of 'tiers' or 'hands', each hand containing around twenty fruit and growing from the axil of a large purple bract.

Once a corm and its stem have flowered it dies and growth continues from daughter corms budded from the side of the parent. In commercial plantations only one such daughter is allowed to grow per plant to produce the next crop. Each one takes 6-8 months to produce fruit, and so the cycle of new corm, growth, flowering and death continues for 25 years or more in a commercial plantation.

banana plantation by Luc ViatourThis continuous long term vegetative propagation means there is very little genetic diversity in banana cultivars and makes it susceptible to pests and diseases some of which have proved as devastating as phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) was in 19th century French vineyards. In the early part of the 20th century the main variety was 'Gros Michel'. This cultivar eventually succumbed to Panama disease, a root rot caused by a race of Fusarium Oxysporium. Starting in the 1920s, and purportedly inspiring the song Yes we have no Bananas, this disease eventually wiped out all Gros Michel plantations and led to their replacement with Cavendish in the 1960s. Now a new race of F. oxysporium is gradually devastating Cavendish plantations so a replacement is needed.

Another major disease is Black Sigatoka, a leaf spot caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensi. Originally from Fiji this disease has spread around the world. It is being followed by Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) caused by Xanthomonas campestris. The spread of these diseases has created a major problem since the Cavendish banana could potentially be wiped out before breeders were able to create acceptable replacements by traditional means. One solution is genetic modification and lines resistant to Mycosphaerella and Xanthomonas as well as lines with improved nutritional characteristics have already been produced.

Plant of the Month

Ananas comosus, pineapple, Bromeliaceae

pineapple by Mr Toto and fields by Cumulus CloudsIn the depths of the winter when it is cold and dark outside I like to sit and think of bright sunshine, warm seas and tropical plants. Visits to the Palm House at the Botanic Garden serve to transport me partially to such territories.

Amongst the many economically important plants growing in the Palm House is the pineapple. This plant is a member of the bromeliad family - a family of approximately 2400 species consisting of both epiphytic and terrestrial plants.

The pineapple plant itself surprises many people when they first see it growing. It forms a spiky rosette of leaves low to the ground from which arises a stem with a terminal inflorescence, which becomes the fruit familiar to us all. The fruit itself is a fleshy syncarp of 100-200 berry-like fruit. The fruit is topped with a tuft of leaves and this can be used to propagate a new plant.

Cut the top off the pineapple and remove most of the flesh. Leave the base of the tuft of leaves to dry out for a couple of days then pot into some good potting compost and place in a brightly lit, warm place (with some bottom heat if possible). New roots should form from the base of the rosette within a few weeks.

Pineapples first became known to Europeans when Columbus landed in Guadeloupe in 1493. They were then introduced to St Helena in 1505, the Philippines in 1558 and now are considered a weed in some countries.

In the early 1700s it became very fashionable to grow pineapples in the UK and they also became the model for lots of garden statuary - just look around you when visiting country houses. The pineapple pits at Heligan in Cornwall were restored in the 1990's and the growing of pineapples began there again.

The pineapple is still an important crop in many countries and regions today including Hawaii, with varieties such as Smooth Cayenne and Maui Gold. Pineapples are intrinsically linked with the post-contact history of these islands with early missionaries such as Dole becoming leading figures in commerce, then wielding their influence, leading to Hawaii ultimately becoming a US state.

Fibre from the leaves of this plant is strong and soft but difficult to extract. It can be made into beautiful, but expensive cloth. The fruit contains proteolytic papain-like enzymes - have you ever noticed the inside of your mouth feeling a bit funny after eating a lot of pineapple?

Although we call this fruit pineapple, many other languages including French, use the scientific name - Ananas which derives from the South American (Tupi) Indian name for the plant. The specific epithet - comosus - is actually very descriptive and means furnished with a tuft.

A tropical fruit that has influenced the course of history!

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

Medicinal Plant of the Month

Carica papaya, papaya, pawpaw, Caricaceae

carica papaya by H ZellThis tree is cultivated throughout the tropics for its edible fruit and for the enzyme papain. Papain (below) is a cysteine protease - it is an enzyme which breaks down proteins containing the amino acid cysteine. Papain is obtained from the papaya by scarifying unripe fruit. It has a multitude of uses. It can be bought in powdered form to be used as a meat tenderiser but is then also used as a home remedy for jellyfish, bee and wasp stings as well as for mosquito bites. It is suggested that it works by breaking down the protein toxins in the venom. It has also been used to reduce cloudiness in beer, to shrink-proof wool and silk and to control termites.

It also has some even more important medicinal uses. In hospital situations a gel called Accuzyme which contains papain is used to clean up dead tissue in chronic wounds. The technical term for papain is this situation is 'enzymatic debriding agent'. The enzyme breaks down the proteins in the dead tissue, allowing the by-products to be washed away - leaving the healthy flesh intact without any damaging physical cleaning.

papainPapain is also formulated into another product called Papcarie. This is again a gel and is used for chemomechanical dental caries removal.

The name Carica is of Latin origin and very similar to the Greek Karike which is a kind of fig. The name was transferred to papaya on account of its fig-like leaves.

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

News from our Associates

Commercial Horticultural Association
CHAAfter 15 years of running the UK exhibit at IPM in Hall 10, last year saw the CHA group expand to a second stand in the Technology Hall (3). This year IPM Essen saw the largest ever British presence over two large national pavilions in Hall 3 (Technology - stand 3B51) and 10 (Nursery - 10C13, 10C17). In the Technology Hall, the stands showcased a range of products and services from UK horticultural specialists including water soluble and liquid fertilisers, professional grower substrates, retail plant displays, specialist film-clad structures and a range of hydroponic and lighting equipment, growing media and propagation products.

Meanwhile in the nursery Hall British exhibitors included the world's leading breeder and propagator of English Pinks, an internationally recognised English rose breeder, a specialist micropropagation company and one of the largest specialist clematis nurseries in the world. For the first time a world leading soft fruit nursery exhibited, and they were joined on the UK Pavilion by the manufacturer of a specialist root control system.

Society of Biology
Society of BiologyThe Society is advertising for applicants for its Travelling Fellowships. Valued at £500, these are awarded to student and certain Associate members of the Society with the aim of offering the opportunity of overseas travel in connection with biological study, teaching or research to those who would otherwise be unlikely to have it. Applications must be received by 29 February 2012.

Horticulture Industry News

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Using rats which react similarly to humans when it comes to the effects of alcohol, scientists showed that 'drunk' rats recovered faster and showed fewer signs of hangover symptoms such as anxiety and seizures when given DHM at the same time as alcohol. While these results will not lead to a magic pill that will allow you to drink and not face consequences, the results do hold some promise when it comes to the treatment of alcohol addiction. More

liquorice by Franz Eugen Köhler), Dried licorice root fights the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease
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eEvents Calendar

SCI Horticulture Group events are listed here

Other Events of Interest

Fruit Logistica
8 - 10 Feb, Messe Berlin
Berlin, Germany

The Gardens of Singapore
9 Feb, Oxford Botanic Garden
Oxford, UK

Bacterial Diseases of Stone Fruits and Nuts
14 - 17 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Zurich, Switzerland

Early spring flowering perennials
16 Feb, Bristol Botanic Garden
Bristol, UK

International Strawberry Symposium
18 - 22 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Beijing, China

Salon du Vegetal
21 - 23 Feb, Bureau Horticole Régional des Pays de la Loire
Angers, France

Quality Management in Postharvest Systems
21 - 24 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bangkok, Thailand

Quality Management in Supply Chains of Ornamentals
21 - 24 Jan, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bangkok, Thailand

Postharvest Pest and Disease Management in Exporting
21 - 24 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bangkok, Thailand

Postharvest Quality Management of Root and Tuber Crops
21 - 24 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bangkok, Thailand

Gardening is happiness-window boxes to the president of the RHS
23 Feb, Oxford Botanic Garden
Oxford, UK

Grower of the Year Awards
23 Feb, Haymarket Media
London, UK

World Food Technology and Innovation Forum
29 Feb - 1 Mar, World Trade Group
Dublin, Ireland

The Royal Garden Academy in Berlin: The revival of German horticulture
8 Mar, Oxford Botanic Garden
Oxford, UK

Hortec, Kenya
POSTPONED, ECO
Nairobi, Kenya

Flora of the Avon Gorge
15 Mar, Bristol Botanic Garden
Bristol, UK

The Landscape Show
15 - 17 Mar
London, UK

International Congress on Hazelnut
19 - 22 Mar, Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias
Temuco, Chile

Flowers & Hortec Poland
20 - 22 Mar, BTO Exhibitions
Warsaw, Poland

International Flower Trade Expo
21 - 23 Mar, HPP Exhibitions
Nairobi, Kenya

Meadows at the Olympic park: elysium in the east end?
22 Mar, Oxford Botanic Garden
Oxford, UK

Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
22 - 24 Mar, International Society for Horticultural Science
Djerba, Tunisia

Biotechnology of Fruit Species
25 - 29 Mar, International Society for Horticultural Science
Nelson, New Zealand

Hunting for sustainability: ecology, economics and society
26 - 28 Mar, Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos
Ciudad Real, Spain

Crop World North America
27 - 28 Mar,
Charlotte, USA

IPM on the World Stage-Solutions for Global Pest Challenges
27 - 29 Mar,
Memphis, USA

New Ag International Conference & Exhibition
28 - 30 Mar
Bangkok, Thailand

Advances in Plant Virology
28 - 30 Mar, Association of Applied Biologists
Dublin, Ireland

Flower Bulbs and Herbaceous Perennials
28 Mar - 1 Apr, International Society for Horticultural Science
Antalya, Turkey

Mechanical Harvesting & Handling Systems of Fruits and Nuts
2 - 4 Apr, International Society for Horticultural Science
Lake Alfred, USA

Valuing Ecosystems: policy, economic and management interactions
3 Apr - 4 Apr, James Hutton Institute
Edinburgh, UK

Symposium on Artichoke, Cardoon and their wild relatives
10 - 13 Apr, International Society for Horticultural Science
Viterbo, Italy

Effective application: exploring synergy between Agricultural Economics and Applied Biology
16 - 18 Apr, Association of Applied Biologists
Warwick, UK

Registration of Agrochemicals
17 - 18 Apr,
Brussels, Belgium

Valuing Trees & Woodlands - a new understanding of their true worth
23 Apr, Institute of Chartered Foresters
Stoneleigh, UK

Symposium on Guava and Other Myrtaceae
23 - 25 April, International Society for Horticultural Science
Petrolina, Brazil

Protea Research Symposium
23 - 26 Apr, International Protea Association and International Society for Horticultural Science
Santiago, Chile

Insect Decline; The causes and the Role of Agriculture in Mitigation
25 Apr, SCI and Association of Applied Biologists
Harpenden, UK

History Comes to Life: Seventeenth-Century Natural History, Medicine and the 'New Science'
27 Apr, Society of Biology
London, UK

Biotechnology and other Omics in Vegetable Science
29 Apr - 2 May, International Society for Horticultural Science
Antalya, Turkey

If you would like to advertise a forthcoming event please contact. charne.green@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 - Charne Green charne.green@soci.org T: +44 (0)20 7598 1594


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