Horticulture Group Newsletter September 2013

2 Sep 2013

August is inevitably a quiet month but September gets off to an early start with the VI International Conference on Managing Quality in Food Chains to be held at Cranfield University on 2 - 5 September. The Group has been helping to promote this event and there are still places available for those wishing to attend.

Another important date in our Annual General Meeting and the presentation of the David Miller Travel Bursary Awards to this year's winners on 20 September. Following the presentations, this year's winners will give talks on the projects they are involved with on bacterial pesticides and iridescent plants. In addition last year's winners will also be giving us an update on their projects. This year the event is being held at the Oxford Botanic Garden as Belgrave Square is undergoing refurbishment and day afternoon will conclude with a tour of the botanic gardens led by Senior Curator, Alison Foster.

Sadly, the planned tour of the Cotswolds, based around Moreton-in-Marsh has had to be cancelled.


Bowood House, Rhododendrons and Gardens

BowoodLocated beside the A4 between Calne and Chippenham, Bowood House seems like just another stately home with little more than its gardens to interest the horticulturist. However, dig beneath the surface and it becomes a key player in the history of science and the foundation of plant science.

The estate was purchased with the fortune left by Sir William Petty (1623-87). An economist, scientist and philosopher he was Physician General to Cromwell's army in Ireland. Following the demise of the Commonwealth he continued under succeeding kings and became a founder member of the Royal Society. However it was his grandson John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne who had the main house (the big house) and its attendant service buildings (the small house) built.

Within this 'small house' was a laboratory, fully equipped to the standard of the time, and it was here on 1 August 1774 that Dr Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen. The laboratory was later used by his friend and fellow scientist Dr Jan Ingenhousz who in 1779 watched the bubbles of gas rising from the undersides of submerged plants when exposed to light and led him to discover the process of photosynthesis.

As so often happens, the fortunes of the estate waxed and waned over the years and it was eventually inherited in 1972 by the present Marquess of Lansdowne. He set about the no mean task of securing the financial future of the estate by opening it to the public and creating a hotel and golf complex within the grounds. Fortunately, the 'big house', potentially a serious financial burden, had fallen into disrepair after the second world war and was demolished in 1955 leaving the more manageable 'little house' that stands today.

One of the main features of the grounds is the Rhododendron collection which has been assembled over the last 160 years. The collection was started in 1854 with 300 plants from the original acquisitions of Joseph Hooker's expeditions. The present Lord Lansdowne has added considerably to the collection with new acquisitions as well as new selections bred in the gardens.

He was eager to show us around this collection, explaining how the local geology had provided an ideal site for the species. Jutting into the south west corner of the estate is a band of lower greensand, a rock whose acidity and porosity seems to provide just the environment Rhododendrons thrive in.

Covering over 60 acres and sheltered under a mature oak woodland the collection consists mainly of evergreen species and cultivars of all sizes and colours. However, where Rhododendrons thrive so usually do Magnolias so there is a secondary collection of this genus interspersed with the Rhododendrons. There are also a number of Cornus species and some Pieris, in particular a local selection Pieris formosa 'Bowood Cascade'.

The main grounds of the house were laid out by Capability Brown in the 1760s which include the usual remodelled landscape with strategic stands of trees around a large artificial lake. The present head gardener, David Glass, described how terraces were added in front of the 'small house' in the 19th century. These are now laid out with box trimmed beds around fastigiate yews. These beds are filled with seasonal bedding and, at the time of our visit, tulips were putting on an excellent display with cultivar 'Queen of the Night' especially prominent.

A long herbaceous border has recently been added under the terrace of the east wing leading to a 4 acre walled garden. Once the main garden supplying fruit, vegetables and flowers to the house it is now largely down to grass and mainly used for the private recreation of the family and to provide cut flowers for the house and hotel. Some fruit trees do however remain and, although the original glasshouses have long disappeared, some smaller modern ones are used for producing ornamentals and the grape vines. Planted inside the glasshouse these are not flourishing due to an excessive infestation of mealy bug and the inevitable shortage of labour.

Elsewhere in the parkland there is also an extensive arboretum which is constantly being added to although sadly we did not have time to visit.

Upper: Lord Lansdowne (left) addresses the group
Centre: One of the many fine rhododendrons
Lower: Head Gardener, David Glass, (left) describes the formal gardens

Peter Grimbly

Plant of the Month

Cyclamen hederifolium, sowbread, Primulaceae (APG III), Myrsinaceae (APG II)

Cyclamen hederifoliumOriginally from across Southern Europe, Cyclamen hederifolium was introduced in the late-1500s and became naturalised in the UK after escaping from gardens.

The plant now known as Cyclamen hederifolium is first recorded in the Oxford Botanic Garden in 1648 as 'Cyclamen folio oblongo' (long-leaved sowbread). Ten years later it was being called 'Cyclamen autumnale folio angusto', and 'Cyclamen autumnale longifolium' had also emerged as another name for the species. All of these names were combined for one dried specimen, labelled as 'Cyclamen autumnale folio longo angusto'. That specimen was later given the much simpler name Cyclamen neapolitanum, which has since been recognised as a synonym for the species Cyclamen hederifolium.

The differences in these names are mainly due to botanists relying too heavily on the plant's leaves to make their identification. While the leaves of long-leaved and ivy-leaved cyclamen specimens do have different shapes, other features of the plants are so similar that it makes most sense to classify them as one species. Cyclamen species have the common name sowbread for the simple reason that their loaf-shaped roots are said to be eaten by pigs.

The species was thought to be useful by various 17th century authors, though they did not always agree on what the plant actually did.

The herbalist John Gerard recommended Cyclamen hederifolium for all manner of complaints. He wrote of powdered roots curing jaundice and 'stoppings of the liver', with that same treatment, when drunk with wine, being 'very profitable against all poison, and the bitings of venomous beasts'. He even went so far as to say that the leaves, stamped in honey and applied to the eyes, cured 'all impediments of the sight'.

Gerard also wrote of the plant's use for less serious complaints, such as clearing 'tough and grosse flegme' and removing 'Sun-burning, and all blemishes of the face'. It does not only appear to have been used facially, either: '[the juice] doth open the Hemorrhoids, and causeth them to flow'.

Cyclamen hederifolium was used for aborting pregnancies threatening the mother's health, according to Gerard and his contemporary John Parkinson. Indeed, Gerard seemed to believe the plant was so powerful that any pregnant woman so much as walking over them 'shall be delivered before their time'. So concerned was he about this that he fenced them off in his garden 'lest any woman should by lamentable experiment finde my words to bee true'. It is safe to say that a later (and better-informed) editor - Thomas Johnson - disagreed: 'I judge our Author something too womanish in this... [his claim is] vaine and frivolous.'

One of Gerard's other suggestions was that small cakes made from the plant were 'a good amorous medicine to make one in love'. Sadly, this idea was put down too - by Parkinson this time - who believed the claim was 'meere fabulous.' Gerard also wrote that 'given in wine... it maketh a man drunke,' although the cyclamen's contribution to this effect is debatable.

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

Medicinal Plant of the Month

Zea mays, sweetcorn, maize, Poaceae

Zea maysIt has been a good summer for growing sweetcorn. Many of us will be enjoying the first harvests from our gardens and allotments but sweetcorn is used for a lot more besides just eating!

When we take medications, in whatever form, how many of us realise that the active component is often only a small proportion of the formulation? The bulk of the medication (suppository, transdermal patch, solution, inhalation powder, tablet etc) that is not the active pharmaceutical ingredient has many different functions. Excipients facilitate the packaging of active ingredients. They can be used to enhance the absorption of the drug into the body, to alter the rate of absorption (i.e. to generate a slow release formulation) and to mask unpleasant tasting drugs.

Coatings are used to protect the contents from atmospheric moisture or to mask the bitter taste of the interior. Most tablets are coated with hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (HPMC), which is sugar free and does not contain potential allergens. Sometimes other coatings are used. One such is zein, a prolamine protein isolated from maize. Prolamine proteins are a group of plant storage proteins that have a high proline and glutamine content.

Maize is also an excellent source of starch - another commonly used excipient in tablets.

Zea formulae

Alison Foster
Oxford Botanic Garden

Horticulture Industry News

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World changing technology enables crops to take nitrogen from the air
Nitrogen fixation is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a very small number of plants, most notably legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil, and for most crops currently being grown across the world, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

Now a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots has been developed. This major breakthrough came when researchers found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane which could intracellularly colonise all major crop plants. This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant's nitrogen needs. More

Broccoli may slow arthritis
broccoliEating lots of broccoli may slow down and even prevent osteoarthritis and human trials are now following on from successful lab studies. Tests on cells and mice showed that a broccoli compound - glucoraphanin - which humans can also get from Brussels sprouts and cabbage blocked a key destructive enzyme that damages cartilage. They are asking 20 patients to eat a daily dose of 'super-charged' broccoli. This has been bred to be extra rich in nutrients - it is a cross between standard broccoli and a wild relative from Sicily. Our body takes this glucoraphanin compound and turns it into another, called sulforaphane, which appears to protect the joints. It might not repair or reverse arthritis... but it might be a way to prevent it. More

A new treatment for heart disease
New research has identified molecules occurring naturally in fruit that may play an important role in the future treatment of heart disease. Molecules called flavanoids, which are found in citrus fruits, particularly grapefruit, have proven effective at reducing the inflammation which can lead to deadly cardiovascular disease. These molecules may hold the key to the development of a new generation of anti-inflammatory drugs which are cheaper, easier to produce and less toxic than current therapies.

Many diseases of the circulatory system are linked to the improper activation of immune cells, which then stick to the so called vascular endothelial cells (VECs) that line the blood vessels. This can begin a process of excessive inflammation through the local production of immune molecules, blocking the blood vessels and causing deadly cardiovascular disease. Derivatives of the flavanoid, naringenin, has been shown to effectively inhibit the inflammatory processes triggered following activation of the receptor for immune molecule IL6 on the surface of VECs. More

Climate change threatens crunchy, tart apples …
Rising temperatures can make apple trees flower earlier. Researchers decided to look at how this shift affects the quality of the fruit. The team analysed four decades' worth of data collected from two varieties of apple. They found that the hardness and acidity of the apples had declined during that time, while their sweetness had increased. The changes may not be apparent to consumers because they took place so gradually. However, if you could eat an average apple harvested 30 years before and an average apple harvested recently at the same time, you would really taste the difference. More

….while weather ruins nutmeg crop….
Indian nutmeg farmers are in severe crisis due to a massive Phytophthora attack drastically ruining their crop. Experts and farmer organisations estimate that there will be at least 35 per cent dip in the total yield this time as compared to the last. Since marginal and small farmers constitute the majority of nutmeg farming community for whom it is the single source of income, the crop loss can generate intense economic and social crisis. The impact of the attack can adversely affect the farmers and economy for the next three to four years. The rise in humidity because of unprecedented rain is the main factor behind the spread of the fungus. It firstly creates water-soaked lesions in the leaves. These then spread to other parts of the tree. More

… and causes Avocados to shrink…..
Avocado fruits usually weigh half a pound or more. In the summer of 2013, though, hundreds of thousands of trees in Southern California are sagging with the tiniest Hass avocados in local memory - some just the size of a golf ball. The main reason for the lemon-sized fruits, sources say, is a very unusual growing year that consisted of low winter rainfall in early 2012 (avocados spend more than a full year developing on the tree), erratic bee activity during the late spring bloom period, and lots of unseasonably cool and cloudy weather in the year since. More

… but was perfect for a bumper apple harvest
This year's weather has created the ideal conditions for a bumper crop of sweet and rosy apples, experts say. Last year's wet autumn followed by the icy spring and a hot summer were perfect for apple growing. Last year's apple orchards experienced a poor harvest after a cool and wet spring and summer. Apples evolved in central Asia to suit a continental climate of hot summers and very cold winters and need to be exposed to a certain amount of cold weather each winter or they won't flower or fruit properly.

The wet autumn in 2012 helped to rule out the chance of drought, which can lead to small, poor-tasting fruit. Chilly conditions right up until April gave the trees enough 'chill time' for the fruit to set properly and held back flowering. By the time they did flower, there were more insects around to pollinate the blossom and less risk of damage by frost. Then very hot weather in summer boosted ripening. More

India begins commercial production of olive oil
Commercial production of olive oil is due to begin in September 2013 in Rajasthan as part of a state government-funded project that has supported the planting of more than 144,000 olive trees on 260 hectares since 2008. With long, dry summers and short, cool winters, conditions in the Indian state are ideal for producing olives. The aim is to press 25 tonnes of olive oil in 2013 and over the next three years plant another 5,000 hectares. In addition to the plan to become a leading international producer, Rajasthan hopes to begin tapping into rising demand for olive oil in India.

Science promises strawberry fields forever
British field-grown strawberry growers have a new hi-tech weapon in their armoury. The biggest growers are using a state-of-the-art forecasting system that allows them to predict the yields in individual fields. The specialist technology compares historical yield curves, the recorded effect weather has on the crop and the planting date of the strawberries in their respective locations. The information is then fed into a computer along with long-term weather forecasts, specific growing data for some of the 600 varieties of strawberry produced in the UK, and growth charts for each field.

The new system is helping the UK's biggest growers, who are responsible for producing around 20,000 tonnes of strawberries - a third of the annual UK crop. It involves field visits up to three times a week, when light levels and plant growth are recorded. The collated information has helped growers accurately determine when to plant their crops to ensure yields mature throughout the season, 'smoothing out' the supply of strawberries to the supermarkets. More

Science spin-out adds colour to forest measurements
New laser technology is being used to measure and map forest carbon in more detail than ever before. Described as an 'MRI scanner for forests' its creators are now taking the technology to market with the launch of a new business called Carbomap. Laser scanners are used to produce detailed three-dimensional maps of forest materials. However, until now, the scanners have operated at a single wavelength, effectively mapping forests in black and white.

Carbomap's sophisticated scanners will measure forests at four different wavelengths, adding colour to the picture, letting analysts distinguish between different forest materials. The unique data can be used to give more accurate estimates of the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and so give a stronger indication of forest health. The lasers can also be attached to aircraft, allowing them to cover large areas in short periods of time, and map remote areas that might be inaccessible on the ground.

Brachypodium is NOT Arabidopsis
Arabidopsis is a model organism, but for what exactly? Many would like us to believe that it is a model for all plants. However, with those organisms newly defined as 'photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms, including algae and possibly cyanobacteria', that is a truly tall order for such a slight specimen! However, and at the other end of that spectrum of opinion, there are those who espouse the view that Arabidopsis is truly only a model for, well, other arabidopses. Adding to the debate it is revealed that interactions between the plant hormones ethylene and auxin in roots of the monocot Brachypodium distachyon ('another' model plant) differ to those in roots of the dicot Arabidopsis.

Whereas lowered levels of auxin in Arabidopsis, which can be caused by increases in another hormone - ethylene - result in shorter roots, in Brachypodium increases in ethylene lead to elevated levels of auxin and longer roots. The latter's 'inverted regulatory relation between the two hormones' points to 'a complex homeostatic crosstalk between auxin and ethylene in Brachypodium roots, which is fundamentally different from Arabidopsis and might be conserved in other monocotyledons'. More

Britain's first protected hops
hop cones by Dr Hagen GraebnerEast Kent Goldings will be the toast of the county after becoming the first variety of hops to have their name legally protected against imitation. The oldest known variety of hop grown in the UK has been awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Commission in recognition of their quality, history, and links to the local area.

Defra is encouraging producers to apply for protected status for their products in order to take advantage of the wider markets in the UK and abroad arising from consumers' increasing awareness of where their food and drink comes from. The Protected Food Names scheme provides farmers and producers with a way in which to add value to their product, while helping consumers to identify foods with a clear regional provenance.

Genetically modified crops pass benefits to weeds
Few studies have tested whether transgenes such as those that confer glyphosate resistance can - once they get into weedy or wild relatives through cross-pollination - make those plants more competitive in survival and reproduction. The traditional expectation is that any sort of transgene will confer disadvantage in the wild in the absence of selection pressure, because the extra machinery would reduce the fitness.

But now a study challenges that view: it shows that a weedy form of the common rice crop, Oryza sativa, gets a significant fitness boost from glyphosate resistance, even when glyphosate is not applied. In this study the researchers found that the transgenic hybrids had higher rates of photosynthesis, grew more shoots and flowers and produced 48-125% more seeds per plant than non-transgenic hybrids - in the absence of glyphosate. More

Plant-based inhibitor could halt HIV infection
A compound derived from soybeans and other plants may have HIV-fighting properties, according to new research. The study found that the plant-based compound genistein stopped HIV infection in resting CD4 T cells - specialised cells in the immune system. Genistein is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that works by blocking the communication from a cell's surface sensors to its interior. HIV gets into the interior of cells and spreads infection by tricking some of the sensors on the surface of cells to trick them into sending the signals to the interior. Instead of acting directly on the virus, genistein blocks this signalling process that allows the virus to infect cells. In this way, genistein makes it more difficult for the virus to become resistant to drugs.

Genome duplication aids plant's survival in saline soils
Having more than two sets of chromosomes can increase a plant's ability to take up nutrients and survive in saline soils. Researchers found that polyploidy, the condition of having more than two genome copies, causes the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana to accumulate a greater amount of potassium in its leaves and demonstrate a higher tolerance to saline environments. Most flowering plants are diploid, having two copies of a genome. More

Weeds warrant urgent conservation
Faced with climate change, plant breeders are increasingly turning to the genomes of the wild, weedy relatives of crops for traits such as drought tolerance and disease resistance. But a global analysis of 455 crop wild relatives has found that 54% are under-represented in gene bank collections - and that many, including ones at risk of extinction, have never been collected. The findings will guide the largest international initiative so far to conserve crop wild relatives. The effort - which is being spearheaded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, based in Bonn, Germany, in partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK - is deemed urgent at a time when one in five plants faces extinction. More

Secret of plant geometry revealed
While the control of branch number and positioning around the main root and shoot are now well understood, scientists have long puzzled over how plants set and maintain the angle of their lateral branches relative to gravity. How, for instance, does a young Lombardy poplar sends its branches up close to the vertical, while an oak sapling's spread is much flatter. The puzzle is complicated by the fact that the angle of root and shoot branches is not usually set relative to the main root or stem but relative to gravity. Scientists did not understand how plants were able to set, relative to gravity, the particular non-vertical angle of growth for their branches - known as their 'gravitropic set-point angle'.

Now researchers have found that another growth component - the 'anti-gravitropic offset' that counteracts the normal gravitropic growth in these lateral branches. This offset mechanism sustains growth on the other side of a branch from the gravity-sensitive growth and prevents the branch from being moved beyond a set angle to the vertical. It turns out that this countervailing growth is also driven by auxin, the same hormone that causes gravity responsive growth on the lower side of the branch. Branches that are growing close to the vertical have a weak anti-gravitropic offset, while in branches that are growing out at shallow angles away from the vertical the anti-gravitropic offset is relatively strong.

Events Calendar

Managing Quality in Chains
2 - 5 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Cranfield, UK

Tropical Horticulture
2 - 6 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Santiago de Querátaro, Mexico

Image Analysis Methods in the Plant Sciences
2 - 3 Sep, Nottingham University
Nottingham, UK

Fungal diseases, diagnostics and drug discovery
2 - 4 Sep, Society for General Microbiology (SGM) and British Society for Medical Mycology
Brighton, UK

Four Oaks Trade Show
3 - 4 Sep
Lower Withington, UK

Plum Pox Virus
3 - 6 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Olomouc, Czech Republic

Agchem Forum
4 - 5 Sep, British Crop Production Council
Barcelona, Spain

International Strawberry Congress
4 - 6 Sep, Hoogstraten
Antwerp, Belgium

Green viruses, from gene to landscape
7 - 11 Sep, EMBO
Hyères-les-Palmiers, France

Managing the Urban Forest
8 - 11 Sep, Arboriculture Association
Exeter, UK

Ornamentals in Africa
9 - 13 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Naivasha, Kenya

Potato Europe
11 - 12 Sep, DLG
Emmeloord, The Netherlands

Regulation of Fertilization and Early Seed Development
11 - 13 Sep, Biochemical Society
Bath, UK

Landscape and Urban Horticulture
12 - 14 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kolkata, India

Open Afternoon at Warwick Crop Centre
18 Sep, Warwick Crop Centre
Warwick, UK

Pomegranate and Minor Mediterranean Fruits
20 - 24 Sep, International Society for Horticultural Science
Taian, China

24 - 25 Sep, Select Biosciences
Norwich, UK

Knowing your enemy - the future of crop protection
5 Sep, HGCA
London, UK

International Advances in Plant Virology
25 - 27 Sep, Association of Applied Biologists
Norwich, UK

Sustainable intensification: The pathway to low carbon farming?
25 - 27 Sep
Edinburgh, UK

BCPC Congress
1 - 2 Oct, British Crop Production Council
Brighton, UK

South West Growers Show
2 Oct
Exeter, UK

New Technologies for Environment Control, Energy-saving and Crop Production in Greenhouse and Plant Factory
6 - 11 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Jeju, Republic of Korea

Crop Breeding over 10,000 years; Lessons for current and future challenges
7 - 8 Oct, Association of Applied Biologists
Cambridge, UK

European Congress on Chestnut
9 - 12 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Debrecen, Hungary

Medicinal Plants and Natural Products
14 - 16 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Lima, Peru

IPM: Pushing Back the Frontiers
15 - 16 Oct, Association of Applied Biologists
Marston, UK

Asparagus Symposium
17 - 19 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Nanchang, China

Organic Matter Management and Compost Use in Horticulture
20 - 25 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Santiago, Chile

Eighth National Congress of Applied Entomology
21 - 25 Oct, University of Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain

Cactus Pear and Cochineal
28 - 30 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Palermo, Italy

Organic Greenhouse Horticulture
28 - 31 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Avignon, France

Crop World Global
29 - 30 Oct, UBM
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Fruit Culture and its Traditional Knowledge along Silk Road Countries
4 - 8 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Tbilisi, Georgia

Fruits and Roots: A Celebration and Forward Look
6 - 7 Nov, Association of Applied Biologists
East Malling, UK

Plant Breeding Congress
10 - 14 Nov
Antalya, Turkey

13 Nov, Roundstone Nurseries
Chichester, UK

BCPC Weed Review
14 Nov, British Crop Production Council
Rothamsted, UK

Pests and Natural Enemies in Fruit Crops
14 Nov, Royal Entomological Society and East Malling Research
East Malling, UK

Bacterial Canker of Kiwifruit
19 - 22 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Mt Maunganui, New Zealand

Onion & Carrot Conference & Exhibition
20 - 21 Nov
Peterborough, UK

Farm Business Innovation
28 - 29 Nov, Prysm Media
London, 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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