Horticulture Group Newsletter February 2014

4 February 2014

Our first event for 2014 will be the Professional Horticulture Group South West Conference to be held at Bridgwater College, Cannington on 12 February entitled 'Managing Green Space in a Time of Austerity'. Three excellent speakers have been assembled for this meeting and we hope to see some of you there.

Last November Emma Bennett, a winner of the David Miller Travel Bursary in 2012 attended the Fruits and Roots conference at East Malling and she summarises her observations on the meeting below.

HIP, HAPI, BBRSC, EPSO etc etc At last month's Committee meeting we were asked to explain who the various organisations were that appear frequently as acronyms in reports and articles. An attempt to explain some of these is included below.


Fruits and Roots: A Celebration and Forward Look

In November 2013 as part of East Malling Research's (EMR) centenary celebrations, the Institute which is renowned for its fruit research played host to an international conference entitled Fruits and Roots: A celebration and Forward Look, which was run in collaboration with the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB). The conference spanned two days and accommodated over 100 delegates from 12 countries.

During this time four main sessions were run and covered the topics of advanced breeding strategies for improved fruit crops; root-shoot communication and rootstock improvement; pests and pathogens of perennial crops; fruit production and fruit quality.

The conference provided a great opportunity to highlight how far research into fruits and more recently roots has come, whilst hinting at the future directions that some of the exciting developments might take to overcome problems associated with fruit production. Many of the talks focused upon the habitual problems of how to increase yield, shelf life and overall fruit quality with the importance of maintaining diversity within fruit crops being stressed by speakers such as Matthew Ordidge (University of Reading) and Maria Anastasiadi (Cranfield University).

One of the conference highlights was the Bewley lecture given by Graham Seymour (University of Nottingham), which covered the breadth of his extensive research career into the genetic basis of fruit ripening and the use of tomato as a model organism to understand this process.

He emphasised the problem of trying to provide the consumer with a ripe, great tasting fruit that remains firm throughout its shelf life when ripening is normally associated with cell wall loosening. However there is hope as many of the genes and pathways responsible for cell wall texture and ripening have been discovered and through careful manipulation shelf life is beginning to be extended.

The conference not only discussed current research but also touched upon the direction that future investigations might take. As highlighted by New Phytologist in the one hundred important questions facing plant science research (Grierson et al, 2011), one of the burning questions being continually asked is 'What new scientific approaches will be central to plant biology in the 21st century?'

To address this several speakers talked about the up and coming areas they considered to be central to future fruit and root research, which focused upon the importance of improving fruit tree breeding as a means of increasing productivity and the need to develop varieties resilient to the threats posed by climate change, such as water scarcity and the spread of pests and disease. The breadth of the conference clearly highlighted that, with so many creative developments being tried and tested in both the field and lab, there is hope that the fruit industry of the future will continue to bloom.

Emma Bennett
University of Reading

Who's Who?

Who are our Associates and the other key organisations in the Horticulture and Plant Science arena?
This question was raised at a recent committee meeting so here is a summary of some of them.

Horticulture Innovation Partnership

Horticulture Innovation Partnership
HIP grew out of the National Horticulture Forum (NHF) which was established in 2002 following a series of recommendations contained in a government review chaired by Sir Colin Spedding.

The NHF was primarily a body where those providing research could meet with those providing the funding. Thus, although the NHF proved a valuable voice for the industry in helping to set policies its limited membership eventually proved inadequate. In particular the NHF lacked representation from the marketing organisations and retailers.

HIP was formed to address these issues and provide a more coherent approach to the coordination of funding for research on horticultural crops and potatoes and its translation into benefits for business and society.

HIP is led by a Steering Group comprising growers, policy makers, research funders and providers, suppliers and retailers. It aims to deliver through its three 'workstreams' and is establishing working groups to allow partners to focus relevant expertise and resources on key areas of interest.

These workstreams are:

  • Funding innovation - Navigating the funding landscape to increase innovative research and development
  • Growing science - Acting as a gateway to global science
  • Improving business - Identifying opportunities to grow UK horticulture

HIP has recently taken on a key role in coordinating the Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), in partnership with the Scottish Government and the Natural Environment Research Council, to improve food security for some of the world's most valuable crops.

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) - one of seven research councils funded by the Government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which funds mainly basic science - more

Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) - a new collaborative funding activity to support excellent quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops. BBSRC, the Scottish Government and Natural Environment Research Council are the three collaborators - more

Technology Strategy Board (TSB) - established by the Government and operating at arm's length as a business-led executive non-departmental public body (NDPB). It is sponsored and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Its role is to stimulate innovation, working with business and other partners, in order to accelerate economic growth

Horticultural Development Council (HDC) - part of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), HDC is one of the primary funders of developmental horticultural research. It is funded by means of an annual levy on all UK horticultural businesses - more

Society of BiologySociety of Biology - more
The Group is an organisational member of the Society of Biology. The Society represents many of the learned societies and other organisations making up the diverse landscape of the biological sciences, as well as thousands of individuals. Through it, the SCI Horticulture Group is represented to UK Government and other policy makers across the wide spectrum of topics that embrace horticulture and the environment.

The Society also gives members of the SCI Horticulture Group a route through which they can obtain accreditation, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and eventually the status of Chartered Biologist. Three years ago the Society helped to create a special interest group to focus on representing Plant Science, the UK Plant Science Federation (UKPSF)

UKPSF (Plant Science)The UK Plant Science Federation - more
In essence the UKPSF is a federation of those institutional members of the Society of Biology with an interest in promoting UK plant Science. With support from the Society of Experimental Biology and the Gatsby Foundation it has been able to establish an office and appoint an Executive Officer. Since then the office has been active in coordinating the flow of information and seeking opinion on issues affecting plant scientists. It held a successful first annual conference in Dundee and is now planning a second in York.

The Federation aims to:

  • Increase the understanding of the significance of plant sciences
  • Formulate a coordinated strategy and vision that will be used to inform policy
  • Improve the general funding environment
  • Create an independent and inclusive forum for debate
  • Provide a focus and contact point for UK plant science
  • Support efforts to inspire, educate and train the next generation

Through the last year it has been busy preparing its first major report on the status of UK Plant Science and this was published at the end of last month. Through the UKPSF we are also linked with:

The European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) - an independent academic organisation that represents more than 226 research institutes, departments and universities from 30 countries in Europe and beyond. EPSO's mission is to improve the impact and visibility of plant science in Europe - more

The Global Plant Council (GPC) - a coalition of plant and crop science societies from across the globe. GPC seeks to bring plant scientists together to work synergistically toward solving the pressing problems we face - more

International Society of Horticulture LogoThe International Society for Horticultural Science - more
The ISHS is a membership society based in Leuven, Belgium. Its aim is to '...to promote and encourage research and education in all branches of horticultural science and to facilitate cooperation and knowledge transfer on a global scale through its symposia and congresses, publications and scientific structure.' With around 7,000 members in 150 countries worldwide the Society organises regular symposia, international conferences and congresses. Every four years it hold a major International Congress.

The Society publishes its proceedings through three titles:

  • Acta Horticulturae
  • Chronica Horticulturae
  • Scripta Horticulturae

CHACommercial Horticultural Association - more
The Commercial Horticultural Association is the trade association for manufacturers and suppliers of plants, products and services to commercial horticulture. Originally formed as a lobby group to represent exhibitors at UK trade shows it has grown into full trade association status and is particularly active in helping both its members and other UK companies enter export markets.

The CHA is an Accredited Trade Organisation (ATO) under the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) run by UK Trade and Investment, a cross-government organisation combining the export activities of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Working in conjunction with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the association organises UK pavilions at selected overseas trade shows, recruits potential exhibitors and, in conjunction with other government support agencies, assists them to plan and execute their export strategy. Many of the products that are supported in this way derive from R&D programmes in universities, colleges and research stations so the Association forms an essential further step in the progress of science into business.

GrowGrow Careers
Grow is a website set up by a group of influential organisations within the horticulture industry to inform people about horticultural careers and the range of fantastic opportunities horticulture has to offer. The web portal is backed by a schools pack which includes series of posters and careers information leaflets. Grow recognises the importance of careers in plant science and technology to the horticulture industry so fully deserves our support. It performs the vital step of ensuring that there is a continuing supply of trainees both to develop new horticultural technology and to turn it into commercial reality.

Medicinal Plant of the Month

araucaria angustifolia.jpg - Adrian Mitchell (top) Stephen Harris, Oxford University Herbaria (middle two) University of Rio Grande do Sul (bottom)Araucaria angustifolia, Parana pine, Brazilian pine, Araucariaceae

A close relative of the more commonly grown monkey puzzle tree, the Parana pine is facing an uncertain future. Native to southern parts of Brazil (including the state of Parana) and adjacent parts of Argentina and Paraguay, it is estimated that the total area of Araucaria forest has declined by 97% since 1900 with only 565,419 ha remaining by 1982. Logging at that time was still continuing at an estimated rate of 80,000 ha per year.

The Parana pine is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. This is only one step away from extinction. It is the most important timber tree in Brazil but also under pressure from land clearance for other faster growing timber species. In addition to the massive exploitation for timber, 3,400 tonnes per annum of fruit and seeds are collected for human consumption. The seeds, or pinhões as they are known in Portuguese, are boiled before consumption and are so popular that there is a yearly festival in the city of Lages, Santa Catarina, Brazil, dedicated to them!

Extracts of this tree have traditionally been used in Brazil to treat sexually transmitted diseases, shingles and wounds. Scientists have found these extracts to have anti-viral activity in laboratory tests, however there is more than one component contributing to the activity. Other substances in this tree have shown potential as anti-epilepsy drug candidates.

The seeds take about four years to form and mature once the ovules have been fertilised after pollination, yet once the seeds disperse and fall to the ground, they only remain viable for a few short weeks and tend to germinate as soon as they fall from the tree. These trees, which are not actually pine trees (although they are conifers), are normally dioecious (Greek: two households) - meaning that they have male and female flowers on separate trees. Pollination is achieved by the wind blowing pollen from male trees to female trees. Young trees first start to set seed as teenagers. The Araucaria angustifolia growing at Harcourt Arboretum is still a youngster and we are yet to establish if it is male or female.

Surprisingly perhaps, for a tree native to the sub-tropics, it has proven to be hardy outside in Oxfordshire, where temperatures can drop below freezing. Although in its native habitat it will experience temperatures below 0°C, the coldest average monthly temperature it generally experiences is 8-12°C.

Pictures: Top - Mature trees by Adrian Michael
Upper Middle - Illustration of fruit by Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria
Lower Middle - Illustration of ripe fruit (Pinhas) also by Stephen Harris
Bottom - Pinhas and pinhões (in crate) from University of Rio Grande do Sul Brazil. More

Further information:

  • Thomas, P. 2013. Araucaria angustifolia. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. More
  • Gantzel, O.L. 1982. Avaliação das florestas de Araucaria angustifolia (Bert.) O. Ktze. do suldo Brasil, através de imagens do satélite LANDSAT-II. Revista Floresta 13: 38-40.
  • Bittencourt, J.V.M. 2007. Araucaria angustifolia - its geography and ecology. University of Reading. More

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

News from our Associates

CHACommercial Horticultural Association
The Commercial Horticultural Association took a group to IPM Essen last month, and will be going to Fruit Logistica (5-7 Feb 2014).

Later in 2014 it will be taking groups of exporters to HortiTech Amsterdam, the Naivasha Horticultural Fair in Kenya and Growtech Eurasia in Turkey. For details of any of these events visit the CHA website.

UKPSF (Plant Science)UK Plant Science Federation
The UKPSF has launched its status report on UK Plant Science entitled, UK Plant Science, Current Status and Future Challenges. The report reveals that the UK's position as a world leader in plant science is under threat from a shortage of funding and a lack of stable investment in essential skills. It lays out urgent actions needed to ensure the UK can respond to significant global challenges such as guaranteeing food security, coping with the threats from climate change, protecting biodiversity, and improving human health.

Horticulture Industry News

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Plants: The solar cells of tomorrow
A team of researchers at the University of Georgia have reportedly figured out how to harness photosynthesis in the creation of electricity. Plants use solar energy to feed themselves by splitting up water molecules and using the electrons in the creation of sugars.

But the research team decided that a better use of those electrons, freed by plants from water molecules, was to power our devices for us. By attaching incredibly fine nanotubules to plant cells and drawing the electrons from them, the team has been able to direct the electrons down a wire as electrical current.

Testing the strength of the current, they found that it was twice as powerful as electricity gathered from traditional solar cells of the same size. While the process of affixing nanotubules leaves a bit to be desired from an ease of use standpoint, the team envisions a world where our electricity needs are met by plant-based electrical grids.

To Grow or to Defend: How Plants Decide
A major dilemma faced by plants is whether to invest their energy in growth or defending against pathogens. A key protein, BZR1, is responsible for rapidly tipping the balance in favour of growth and ignoring pathogen attack when it is a matter of life and death. This is the case when a seed germinates in the soil, for example. Light is essential for plant's survival and the number one priority for a seedling is to reach sunlight.

Investing the limited resources in fighting back a pathogen could have lethal consequences. The protein identified controls the activity of genes related to immunity. It is involved in growth mediated by steroid hormones called brassinosteroids, which are common to all plants. Brassinosteroids are already the focus of studies to breed semi-dwarfed cereal crops. The current study shows that reducing their levels or their activity could have the added benefit of making crops better able to resist disease. More

Sugar runs new battery
A research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar and has an unmatched energy density, a development that could replace conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable.

While other sugar batteries have been developed this new battery has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refuelled. In as soon as three years, this new battery could be running some of the cell phones, tablets, video games, and the myriad other electronic gadgets that require power. Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature so it's only logical to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery. More

Camelina sativa - Fornax Fish oils from seeds
A biofuel crop related to cabbages, camelina, has been genetically modified to produce components of fish oils beneficial for cardiovascular health. The flesh of oily fish and the livers of white fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

The most important ones are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - known to reduce the risk of heart disease - and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - a lack of which has been linked to visual and cognitive problems.

The richest source of these fatty acids is fish. However, they do not produce the acids themselves. In the wild, they get them from eating smaller fish that have eaten algae, the only organisms that can make appreciable amounts of EPA and DHA.

Now UK researchers have created an alternative, sustainable source of EPA and DHA. They took seven genes that algae use to produce these fatty acids and inserted them into the genome of Camelina sativa, a plant chosen because its seeds are already rich in ALA. The seeds of the modified plant yielded oil that, when purified, contained around 12% EPA and 14% DHA - the same proportions as in fish oil. More

Maple Syrup Revolution
North American maples, especially the sugar maple, Acer Saccharum, respond to the cold winters by storing starch in their trunks and roots. As the temperature increases in the spring this starch is converted to a sugar rich sap which rises up the trunks of these trees. Maple syrup is then harvested by cutting slits in the bark allowing the fine clear sap to 'bleed' out.

Researchers wanting to study this process and not wishing to destroy mature maples used small saplings. They lopped off the top of the small trees and found that they produced impressive quantities of sap, even without the benefit of a crown. They realised that their discovery meant sugarmakers could use saplings, densely planted in open fields, to produce ten times the yield of sap from a normal maple forest. In other words, it is possible that maple syrup could now be produced as a row crop like every other commercial crop in North America. More

Researchers identify key pathway for plant cell growth
For plants, the only way to grow is for cells to expand. But just how plants regulate cell growth at the molecular level using the genes, receptors and hormones that govern the process has been something of a black box. Now, a team of scientists reports the discovery of a hormone and receptor that control cell expansion in plants. They describe a signalling pathway that regulates cell expansion in the root cells of Arabidopsis plants - a hormone secreted by the plant and a surface receptor known as a protein kinase.

The hormone uses the receptor to influence a cell's ability to elongate, to accommodate the growth and development of roots, stems, leaves and other plant parts. In the model plant Arabidopsis, Sussman notes, there are about 30,000 genes. Of those, about 450 encode proteins that act as cell surface receptor protein kinases. More

Fungi play a crucial role policing biodiversity in rainforests
A research team has found that fungi regulate diversity in rainforests by making dominant species victims of their own success. Fungi spread quickly between closely-packed plants of the same species, preventing them from dominating and enabling a wider range of species to flourish. Seedlings growing near plants of the same species are more likely to die. It has long been suspected that something in the soil is responsible, and they have now shown that fungi play a crucial role.

Fungi prevent any single species from dominating rainforests as they spread more easily between plants and seedlings of the same species. If lots of plants from one species grow in the same place, fungi quickly cut their population down to size, levelling the playing field to give rarer species a fighting chance. Plots sprayed with fungicide soon become dominated by a few species at the expense of many others, leading to a marked drop in diversity. More

Scientists find broad-leaf trees can host 'matsutake' mushrooms
The Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) was traditionally cultivated in Japan on logs although today it is widely grown around the world on other organic media. Unlike shiitake, the matsutake mushroom (Tricholoma matsutake pictured right), prized for their aromatic odour, cannot break down rotted wood for nutrition. Instead, it grows in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of living conifers, such as the Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora).

Seeking to find other hosts for this fungus scientists have successfully inoculated the fungus into the roots of Cedrela odorata. Although called the Spanish or Mexican cedar it is actually a broad-leaved tree related to mahogany which is native to dry subtropical to tropical areas in Central and South America. This surprising result means that this highly prized mushroom may soon become much easier to grow around the world.

Pathogenic plant virus may cause honeybee decline
The routine screening of bees for frequent and rare viruses resulted in the serendipitous detection of Tobacco Ringspot Virus, or TRSV, and prompted an investigation into whether this plant-infecting virus could also cause systemic infection in the bees. The results provide the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can become infected and that the infection becomes widespread in their bodies.

When the researchers investigated bee colonies classified as 'strong' or 'weak,' TRSV and other viruses were more common in the weak colonies than they were in the strong ones. Bee populations with high levels of multiple viral infections began failing in late autumn and perished before February, these researchers report. In contrast, those in colonies with fewer viral assaults survived the entire cold winter months. More

Memory in plants
Mimosa pudica is often known as the touch-me-not because its leaves fold swiftly inwards when disturbed - a mechanism designed to defend it against predators. Researchers devised an apparatus that suspended potted mimosa on a vertical rail above a foam base, then dropped it 15cm by allowing it to slide down the rail - a significant physical shock, but ultimately not a threat to the plant's well-being. Their goal was to discover if mimosas could adaptively learn to ignore such stimuli, a process known as habituation.

Mimosas subjected to a single drop quickly closed their leaves, and did so again when the experiment was repeated eight hours later - clearly they still considered the experience threatening. A large group of plants was then trained with a series of 60 consecutive drops a few seconds apart, repeated seven times within a single day.

These plants habituated rapidly, keeping their leaves open after the first four to six initial drops and, towards the end of the day's training, not closing their leaves at all. To ensure that all this wasn't simply a case of 'fall-fatigue,' a different kind of shock (on a 'shaker plate') was administered after the training. The mimosas closed their leaves.

What is most remarkable, however, is that the plants remembered their training. Some mimosas that were subjected to a single series of 60 drops six days later didn't close their leaves at all, while those that did react stopped doing so after only two or three drops. More

Events Calendar

Other Events of Interest

Fruit Logistica
5 - 7 Feb, Messe Berlin
Berlin, Germany

International Orchid Symposium
19 - 23 Feb, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bangkok, Thailand

British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) Business Conference & Exhibition
20 Feb, British Frozen Food Federation
Kenilworth, UK

Plant Genomics Congress
24 - 25 Feb, Global Engage
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Environmental Management & Crop Protection
25 - 26 Feb, Association for Crop Protection in Northern Britain
Dundee, UK

UK Grower Awards
4 Mar, Horticulture Week
London, UK

Vegetable Grafting
17 - 19 Mar, International Society for Horticultural Science
Wuhan, China

New Ag International
26 - 28 Mar, New Ag International
Warsaw, Poland

Physiological Principles and Their Application to Fruit Production
26 - 28 Mar
Geneva, USA

UK PlantSci 2014
31 Mar - 1 Apr, UK Plant Science Federation
York, UK

Pollinators in Agriculture
1 - 3 Apr, Association of Applied Biologists
Brussels, Belgium

The Genus Lilium
1 - 3 Apr, International Society for Horticultural Science
Zhangzhou, China

Trees, People and the Built Environment
2 - 3 Apr, Chartered Institute of Foresters
Birmingham, UK

Wild Relatives of Subtropical and Temperate Fruit and Nut Crops
7 - 12 Apr, Wild Relatives of Subtropical and Temperate Fruit and Nut Crops
Baku, Azerbaijan

Natural & Organic Products Europe
13 - 14 Apr, Diversified Communication
London, UK

Sulfur Metabolism in Plants
14 Apr, Institut für Forstwissenschaften
Freiburg, Germany

Advances in Cider Technology
16 Apr, Association of Applied Biologists
Pershore, UK

If you would like to advertise a forthcoming event please contact. ester.monfort@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 - Ester Monfort Martinez, E: ester.monfort@soci.org T: +44(0)20 7598 1584

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