July saw the Society's Annual General Meeting at which Sue and I were presented with a Distinguished Service Award. While it is always nice to receive personal awards we felt we were accepting this award on behalf of the whole Horticulture Group. We're therefore taking this opportunity to thank all those members of the Group who have helped in its development.
The AGM also saw Professor Jeff Moorby elected to the Membership Advisory Committee. This will help the Group keep abreast of what is being discussed in this Committee, and he will of course be able to take any concerns members have to that forum.
On 8 July a number of us assembled in Oxford to visit the gardens of Worcester College and the Oxford Botanic Garden. Some of the highlights of this visit are recounted below.
Peter Grimbly, Editor
We may curse our English weather, but a cool climate and all-year-round rainfall has allowed us to develop the traditional English lawn. Although the recent trend towards hard landscaping has seen a trend away from grass, the majority of cared-for gardens still retain a lawn, and many strive for the perfect lawn. On a recent visit to Worcester College, Oxford, the Horticulture Group were treated to an example that would either spur the enthusiast on or make them give up the fight.
The main quadrangle of the college boasts a lawn that is covered in uniformly dense and even grass cut into an immaculate chequer pattern. How is this perfection achieved? Head of Gardening for the College, Simon Bagnell, tells American tourists the traditional story; 'you just cut it and roll it and cut it and roll it and after 300 years you will have a lawn like this'. The reality involves much more as he went on to explain. Although the grass has been growing there for many decades, possibly centuries it has been supplemented with dwarf ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and this probably now dominates the sward.
To maintain this perfection the grass is treated to spring, summer and autumn fertilizer dressings, regular spiking and watering as necessary from an irrigation system supplied by water from the college roofs. And to keep it immaculate it is mown three times per week during the summer and scarified during the winter. Plenty of work but the result is wonderful, yet only voted the second-best lawn in the Oxford colleges, pipped by Lincoln.
The tour then led on to the parkland area of the garden, with a well-maintained herbaceous border. The park stretches to an artificial lake one arm of which had become stagnant and unattractive. This had been solved by inserting a weir to raise the water level and then pumping lake water to maintain circulation and aeration. By building an attractive bridge coupled with judicious tree felling the whole area had been turned from a swamp into an attractive viewpoint.
The college has added several new buildings for conference facilities and student accommodation and these provided the backdrop for some imaginative 'urban' planting to soften spaces between the buildings.
Our tour then took as across town to the Oxford Botanic Gardens (1) where Senior Curator, Dr Alison Foster, demonstrated the finished Medicinal Herb garden she had designed and which was 'in preparation' when we last visited. Unlike the rest of the formal part of the garden which is set out in traditional family beds, the plants is this area are grouped into 'hospital wards'; cardiology for plants affecting the heart and blood stream; neurology for those affecting the nervous system; oncology for plants with anti cancer properties etc.
Not all the plants have a direct effect. For example the castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, is included in the oncology section (pictured right) but not for direct effect but because castor oil when polyethoxylated is the only substance that will dissolve the anti-cancer drug Paclitaxel (taxol) derived from the pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia.
To improve the visitor experience without the need for excessive labelling the garden is planning to use QR codes on some of its labels. These will enable visitors to download more information via their smartphones.
Beyond the original 'walled garden' is the lower garden bordered on two side by the river Cherwell. This area currently includes a fine herbaceous border, some excellent demonstration plots of vegetables and an area 'under construction'. This will become a demonstration area of 'low impact' borders based on James Hitchmough's (2) prairie planting schemes.
These use plant species from semi-arid environments around the world to create alternatives to traditional herbaceous borders but with minimal maintenance requirements.
As the Botanic garden celebrates its 390th anniversary it is managing to combine elements of its long history with modern growing techniques and communication technology.
Plant of the Month
Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty', Asteraceae
As we move into late summer, new stars of the herbaceous border emerge. Amongst these stars are heleniums. Just about the best cultivar is Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty' (picture upper right by Ghislain Chenais; lower picture by Willow). The plants form strong clumps with no need to stake to ensure they remain standing through the autumn. With regular dead-heading they will continue to flower through till late autumn and early winter.
There are approximately 40 species of Helenium, all native to America. The majority of modern cultivars have been selected from the species Helenium autumnale. Dating from 1930 'Moerheim Beauty' was raised by Ruys at Dedemsvaart in the Netherlands and has been described as 'the red against which other reds are judged'.
The daisy family is the largest family of vascular plants with over 22000 accepted species from 1620 genera. Within this family are many economically important plants such as sunflowers, lettuce, and artichokes as well as horticultural stalwarts such as the heleniums.
As a member of the daisy family, the flower heads are actually a composite of many flowers (hence the old family name, Compositae). The 'flower head' is known as a capitulum that consists of many sessile (stalkless) flowers sitting on the same receptacle. Each individual sessile flower is known as a floret. The beautiful recurved petals are part of the outer ray florets and the central part of the inflorescence is disc florets.
There are two national collections of Helenium, one in Devon and one in Cheshire.
The name helenium comes from the Greek helenion, for another plant named after Helen of Troy. A common name for heleniums is sneezewort. Other species of helenium include H. amarum, which contains sesquiterpene lactones that are toxic to herbivores and are used an antifeedant against Colorado beetle. H. hoopesii causes spewing sickness in livestock.
Oxford Botanic Garden
Medicinal Plant of the Month
Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood, annual wormwood, Asteraceae
Another member of the daisy family is Artemisia annua, an annual herb as the name might suggest. It is native to temperate Asia but is widely grown around the world. The plant itself will grow to 2m high, is very sturdy and requires no staking normally. It has aromatic ferny leaves and small insignificant flowers late in the summer. When grown in Britain it will flower and set seed and self-sows in a reasonably controlled fashion.
Malaria is a threat to almost half of the world's population. Every year approximately 100 million people suffer from malaria and one million people die from the disease (predominantly African children). The parasite Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for the majority of the cases and it is transmitted when people are bitten by female Anopheles mosquitoes that are infected. The first effective treatment for malaria came from a plant - bark from the cinchona tree (Cinchona officinalis, C. pubescens) is the source of the natural product quinine.
The Quechua people of Peru used the bark of the cinchona tree to halt shivering in cold temperatures, the quinine acting as a muscle relaxant. The bark of the tree was ground up and mixed with sweetened water to mask the bitter taste of the bark and hence tonic water was born. The discovery and use of quinine's anti-malarial properties has been a key influence on the history of the world's civilisations.
Drinking tonic water enabled white settlers to gain a footing in Africa and drinking gin and tonic became a civilised way to stay healthy in colonial India!
The cinchona tree became a sought-after commodity, and Peru and surrounding countries outlawed its export in the early 19th century. The Dutch managed to smuggle seeds out and set up their own plantation in Java, but this was cut off from the Allies in World War II. An estimated 60,000 US troops in Africa and the South Pacific died through lack of quinine. Chloroquine is a simplified synthetic analogue of quinine which has been in widespread use until recently.
In the 1960s the Chinese government initiated a systematic investigation of the Chinese materia medica. They were looking specifically for an anti-malarial medicine and found it. One of the extracts, named Qinghao, was effective at killing the malarial parasite. Qinghao is Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood. The key natural product is called artemisinin and the structure was determined in 1972. Artemisinin and its more soluble derivatives, artemether and artesunate, have become the treatments of choice for malaria.
They are always used in combination with another therapy in order to delay the appearance of resistant parasites. The artemisinin needed for the supply of the medications is grown worldwide. The genome sequence of this plant has recently been mapped by scientists working at York University. It is hoped that the information they now have will enable Artemisia annua to be developed into a more robust and higher yielding crop plant.
Artemisia is a genus comprising up to 400 species including other economically interesting plants such as tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus). The genus name is in honour of Artemis, the Greek god of chastity.
Oxford Botanic Garden
News from our Associates
Society of Biology
SOB has submitted a response to the Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into forest research and the 2010 spending review. More
Horticulture Industry News
Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) inquiry launched
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has invited contributions to its new inquiry into the role and function of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs). Committee Chairman, Lord Krebs, said, 'The Committee is keen to gain a clearer understanding of the ability of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers to provide independent advice to ministers and policy makers within their departments and find out more about their influence across government. We would encourage anyone with any interest in this issue to contact us with their views and experiences on the role that they play.'
Beetles help reduce weeds
Researchers have found that ground beetles (picture right by Kristian Peters) reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil. This research confirms a long-held belief by scientists that ground beetles play a role in weed control. Dr David Bohan, Rothamsted Research, who led the research, said 'seed predation by naturally occurring beetles in farmland does have a beneficial effect, reducing weed numbers in fields and potentially improving agricultural productivity.'
Ground beetles appear to eat a significant proportion of the weed seeds that would otherwise go into the soil. With the right management, ground beetles could be used to replace some herbicide applications and significantly reduce weed populations. 'Beetle banks', which involve leaving an area of a field as a wildlife habitat, are already supported under the Environmental Stewardship schemes available to farmers.
First clinical tests for medicines made from plants
UK regulators have approved Europe's first clinical trial of a monoclonal antibody produced from genetically modified plants. This landmark decision sets the stage for the testing, in humans, of an anti-HIV product made from genetically modified tobacco plants. It will open the door for trials of additional plant-derived medicines treating a range of diseases.
The trial will test the safety of a plant-derived antibody designed to stop the transmission of HIV between sexual partners. If proven safe, the researchers can then go on to test the effectiveness of the product.
Modelling phosphorus and reproductive phenology
Delayed reproduction in soils with low phosphorus (P) availability is common among annuals, in contrast to the accelerated reproduction typical of other low-nutrient environments. A two-resource dynamic allocation model of plant growth and reproduction for Arabidopsis thaliana that incorporates growth, respiration, and carbon and P acquisition of both root and shoot tissue is published in Annals of Botany.
The model suggests that delayed reproduction in low-phosphorus soils can be a beneficial response allowing for increased acquisition and utilization of phosphorus. This has implications both for efforts to breed crops for low-phosphorus soils, and for efforts to understand how climate change may impact plant growth and productivity in low-phosphorus environments. More
The cost of spurning GM crops is too high
The results from 25 years of EU-funded research show that there is 'no scientific evidence associating GM plants with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms'. While this does not prove GM methods are 100% safe, but makes clear there is no evidence to the contrary. More
Seeded bananas offer hope
Bananas are under threat from a variety of diseases, particularly Sigatoka caused by Mycosphaerella sp. and Panama Disease caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense. Unfortunately the main banana varieties grown are sterile triploids creating a serious challenge to plant breeders. Now researchers at the Fundacíon Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola (FHIA) in Honduras have revealed that a few Cavendish plants do produce viable seeds.
They say these non-sterile fruit form the basis of a series of promising hybrids, that can be bred for resistance to the fungi. It will still be at least six years before the new breeds are ready to be brought to market, however, according to a source familiar with the project, or may never appear at all, now that the banana companies are no longer funding the research. More (picture by Steve Hopson)
Botanists will soon be able to name new plant species without ever physically printing a paper as the code governing botanical taxonomy undergoes a major shake-up. At the International Botanical Congress (IBC) in Melbourne, Australia, researchers have agreed to drop the requirement for hard copies of papers describing new species.
Also vanishing from the code is a requirement that species must come with a Latin description. These changes will have to be ratified by the full congress on 30 July, but this is expected to be a formality. The changes will probably come into effect from 1 January next year, when the new International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) is likely to come into force. More
Fungi instead of fertilizer
Dr Chris Thornton and colleagues at the University of Exeter are examining whether adding a safe and harmless fungus to compost boosts the growth and proliferation of crops' roots which can help them grow using less water. Not only that, trials currently underway with a supplier to a major supermarket brand are investigating whether the plants exposed to the fungus can be grown in the absence of fertiliser too.
'So far we've shown the growth promotion effect in lettuce grown in the glasshouse - in the absence of fertiliser you still get an amazing growth increase with a five-fold improvement in root matter,' says Thornton. 'This is the first time we know of that it's been tried on brassica [broccoli and sprouts] plants in the field.' Even better, previous studies have shown that the fungus has properties as a natural biocontrol agent of pathogenic fungi and could reduce the need for synthetic fungicides.
Tomato resistance to Salmonella
Scientists inoculated several dozen tomato varieties with Salmonella to see which varieties were more resistant to postharvest Salmonella contamination. The ongoing investigation involved testing a range of varieties. They found 40 Salmonella genes that regulate themselves differently in tomatoes. These 'gene reporters' are then used to screen tomato varieties and maturity stages that are less at risk for Salmonella.
Preliminary observations show that the way Salmonella genes interact within tomatoes remains dependent on the plant's genotype and their expression differs as varieties ripen. The study showed that a tomato's genotype may be more important in the spread of Salmonella than the Salmonella's serotype or type of microorganism.
Crops for the Future Research Centre planned
The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus is to co- host the first ever Crops for the Future Research Centre (CFFRC) in partnership with the Government of Malaysia. The centre, specifically designed to evaluate underutilised crops from all corners of the world, will be at the heart of an international effort to seek out which crops have the potential to be grown for human sustenance or on a commercial basis for food, pharmaceuticals or biomaterials in the climates of the future.
With 18,000 indigenous species in its region and funding of nearly $40m from the Malaysian Government, CFFRC has been given the mandate to carry out research on a whole range of underutilised crops. More
British wasps protect lettuce and celery from pests
Scientists have found that a native British parasitoid wasp has been found to be very effective at controlling the shore flies (Ephydridae pictured right by James K Lindsey) that infest lettuce and celery greenhouses, damaging crops and annoying farmers. These small black flies thrive in aquatic environments with lots of algae. In the wild, this means ponds and lakes of fresh or brackish water.
Unfortunately for celery and lettuce farmers, glasshouses fit the bill as well. The shore flies don't attack the vegetables, but are very keen on the green algae that grow alongside them where water is used as a growth medium. Where infestation of shore flies is heavy, the number of flies becomes a nuisance to glasshouse workers, and a sanitary pest on the crops, reducing marketability. Buyers often reject crops contaminated with larvae, pupae and adult shore, which leads to additional losses. Killing the shore flies with pesticides is an option, but there is an alternative solution - a solitary parasitoid wasp called Aphaereta debilitata. More
Cities soak up carbon
About 4 per cent of the world's land surface is defined as urbanised, yet cities can be of surprising help in soaking up carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. Vegetation in urban areas soaks up carbon dioxide naturally thanks to photosynthesis, but, unlike forests, urban areas are absent in most calculations of 'sinks' where vegetation soaks up carbon dioxide naturally thanks to photosynthesis.
A new study, carried out on city of Leicester, which has a population of about 300,000 living in an area of 73 square kilometres, shows the contribution can be significant. The carbon-absorbing capacity of its parks, domestic gardens, abandoned industrial land, golf courses, school playing fields, road verges and river banks were measured. It was found that 231,000 tonnes of carbon were locked up, 10 times more than expected. It is roughly equal to the average annual emissions of more than 150,000 saloon cars. More
Quotes of the Month
'A traveller should be a botanist, for in all views plants form the chief embellishment'.
Other Events of Interest
Eastgro Horticultural Trade Show
3 Aug 2011
Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
16 - 19 Aug, International Society for Horticultural Science
Keeping Pesticides out of Water Workshop
17 - 18 Aug, Association of Applied Biologists
Wageningen, The Netherlands
24 - 27 Aug,
Boskoop, The Netherlands
Four Oaks Trade Show
4 - 6 Sep
Lower Withington, UK
Spoga Gafa Trade Fair
4 - 6 Sep, Koelnmesse
6 - 8 Sep, Institute of Groundsmanship
Mycotoxins in Nuts and Dried Fruits
10 - 12 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Fruit Breeding and Genetics
11 - 15 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Genetically Modified Organisms in Horticulture Symposium
11 - 15 Sep, Eucarpia
Mpumalanga, South Africa
European Whitefly Symposium
11 - 16 Sep, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Volcani Center
15 - 17 Sep, PadovaFiere
Naivasha Horticultural Fair
16 - 17 Sep, see also Commercial Horticultural Association
Integrated Control in Protected Crops, Temperate Climate
18 - 22 Sep, Association of Applied Biologists
Sutton Scotney, UK
In Vitro Culture and Horticultural Breeding
18 - 22 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Exocytosis in animals, fungi and plants
19 - 21 Sep, Society of Experimental Biology
Biomass and Energy Crops
21 - 23 Sep, Association of Applied Biologists
26 - 26 Sep, Messe Essen
Technical visit to Warburtons
2 Oct, Institute of Food Science and Technology
South West Growers Show
5 Oct, South West Growers
Balkan Symposium on Vegetables and Potatoes
9 - 12 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
ProMusa International Symposium
10 - 14 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
The Application of Nanotechnology in the Food and Food Packaging Industries
11 Oct, Institute of Food Science and Technology, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
New technologies for early pest and disease detection
12 Oct, Association of Applied Biologists
High Tunnel Horticultural Crop Production
16 - 19 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Acclimatization and Establishment of Micropropagated Plants
16 - 20 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Nebraska City, USA
Growing Media, Composting and Substrate Analysis
17 - 21 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Biofumigation and Biopesticides Symposium
18 - 20 Oct, Ag-West Bio
National Fruit Show
19 - 20 Oct, The Marden Fruit Show Society
31 Oct - 2 Nov, British Crop Protection Council
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Horticulture Group Contact Details
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