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Horticulture Group Newsletter March 2015

tomato slice

2 Mar 2015

Congratulations to SCI Horticulture member, Peter Seabrook MBE VMH, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at this years Grower of the Year Awards. Congratulations also to David Miller Travel Award sponsor, Vitacress, who won the Best Environmental Initiative award at the same event for their peat-free cress.

Our first event of 2015 was the annual Professional Horticulture Group South West (PHGSW) conference at Bridgewater College, Cannington. The topic was Exotic Plants – benefits & penalties. The three speakers gave accounts of tropical plants from the perspective of plant scientist, nuseryman and gardener. A report appears below.

This month the group will be visiting west Somerset for a weekend of talks and visits to nurseries and gardens. Details of this visit based around Dunster between 22 - 24 March can be found here.

On 22 April The Agrisciences group are organising a meeting on Agri Innovation 2015: Emerging Science and Technologies in Crop Research. This will be followed on 28 April by a PHGSW visit to Whitchurch in Hampshire where amongst other things we will be examining the production of Bombay Sapphire Gin.

April 13 also sees the closing date for entries to this year's David Miller Travel Bursary Award. Please get your entry in or encourage a student you know to enter.

Peter Grimbly


Exotic Plants – benefits and penalties
Plant of the Month
Medicinal Plant of the Month
News from our Associates
Horticulture Industry News
Events Calendar
Horticulture Group contact details
Related Links

Exotic Plants – benefits and penalties

The annual Cannington Conference organised by the Professional Horticultural Group South West has become a regular fixture in the Horticulture Group Calendar. Held at the Cannington Campus of Bridgwater College, Somerset this year’s conference was on the subject of Exotic Plants – benefits and penalties. Thanks to Prof. Geoff Dixon, three excellent speakers had been assembled starting with Rob Gudge, the proprietor of Deserts to Jungles, a nursery near Taunton. Rob described the range of plants he grows and in particular stressed how many of them could be grown outdoors in the UK by taking relatively simple actions. Thus some of the hardier succulent species, especially Agave will happily survive several degrees of frost provided they are given very fierce drainage or some protection from winter rain.

amazon lilyProfessor Sir Ghillean Prance, former Director of the Royal Botanic gardens Kew, approached the topic from a different angle having spent many years in Amazonia either living there or on prolonged visits. He described some of the plant – animal interactions that exist in the tropics ranging from the simple, like the Amazon water-lily, to the complexity of the Brazil nut. It is these plant animal interactions that have really fascinated him.

The flower buds of the Amazon water-lily (Victoria amazonica) heat up internally to as much as 12 degrees above the ambient helping to disperse its perfume and attract adults of the scarab beetle, Cylocephata castaneal, which enter the initially white flowers (Picture top right by Bilby) to enjoy the nectar within. As dawn breaks the flowers close trapping the beetles. The flowers then release their pollen onto the beetles so that when the now red flowers (Picture bottom right by Frank Wouters) open the following evening the beetles escape carrying the pollen to another flower. The colour change in the flowers is so pronounced that at one time it was thought there were two species; one red-flowered and one white.

The familiar Brazil nut, Bertholletia excelsa, has such a complex relationship with insects and animals it has proved very difficult to grow in plantations. Firstly the flowers have a very stiff hood which makes it impossible for all but large bodied bumble bees to force their way in to collect nectar and effect pollination. These bumble bees have proved difficult to rear hence it is only forest trees that reliably produce fruit. One reason is that the bees also visit Stanhopia orchids where the males collect the perfume that they then use to attract females for mating. Once ripe the familiar brazil nuts are enclosed like the pieces of a chocolate orange within a hard woody capsule “a bit larger than a cricket ball” which eventually falls to the forest floor where they can be harvested. However, since these capsules can weigh up to 2.5kg this is usually delayed until the majority of fruit has fallen. In the meantime large rodents like the Agouti (Dasyprocta sp.) are able to enlarge a small opening in the top of the capsule to reach the ripe nuts inside. They eat some but bury others to eat later. Needless to say they forget where some of their buried treasure lies and enough grow to develop into new trees.

couroupitaOther related species have similar relationships with different bee and orchid species. The sapucaia nut, Lecythis sp., provides an interesting variant. Here the fruit has a lid which falls off when ripe leaving the rest of the capsule hanging high in the tree containing the seeds which are attached by a fleshy aril. Bats are attracted to eat this aril dropping the seeds to the forest floor as they feast on them.

Yet another related species the amazing cannon-ball tree, Couroupita guianensis (picture right by parithimathi), has fruit that are eaten by wild pigs and peccaries who distribute the seeds in their droppings. This species also has flowers with two groups of anthers, one producing fertile pollen and the second producing sterile pollen simply to provide food for visiting insects. These were just some of the wonderful plants that Professor Prance described from his Amazon travels.

The final speaker was Steve Griffith from Abbotsbury sub-tropical gardens. We visited there in 2010 and a fuller description of the garden can be found in the report. At that time they had recently acquired some woodland that separated the garden from the coast and had cut a vista through to provide a lookout over Lyme bay. Now well-established this has become a major feature of the garden as has the ‘colonial style’ café. This was added in response to the coach operators who told them that a missing element at the gardens from their viewpoint were good places for their clients to pee and tea. When we visited we noted the beautiful golden pheasants that added a mobile splash of colour as we walked around. These apparently were introduced to replace a large population of peacocks which had to be found new homes because of the damage they were doing to the plants.


Plant of the Month

Forsythia suspensa, Oleaceae
Forsythia_suspensaMaybe not the most unusual of plants, the Forsythia can be seen in many a suburban garden, noticeable at this time of year for the vibrant yellow flowers. The plant most commonly grown in gardens is Forsythia x intermedia. When in flower it might be considered brash, when no longer in flower, merely boring. However, they are reliable plants and will flower year after year so long as you haven’t pruned them hard back at the end of the previous year.

The genus Forsythia is named for William Forsyth (1737-1804), superintendent of the Royal Gardens of Kensington Palace. He wrote a number of books including A treatise on the culture and management of fruit trees, a widely read work on the subject. Forsyth created a concoction known as Forsyth’s plaister – a mixture of lime, dung, wood-ash, soapsuds, sand, urine and more besides, which he controversially claimed could 'cure defects in growing trees' and would restore oak trees 'where nothing remained but the bark'. Those not believing such astonishing claims included Thomas A Knight, later President of the Horticultural Society of London and indeed the claims were subsequently completely discredited.

Of the seven species in the genus Forsythia, six come from Asia. Forsythia suspensa (picture right by KENPAI), originates from China and is one of the parents of the hybrid F. x intermedia, the other being F. viridissima.

Forsythia suspensa will grow to approximately 3m by 3m and will tolerate a north or east facing wall. Producing yellow flowers of a more acid yellow colour than the more common F. x intermedia. It has a weeping habit, as indicated by the specific epithet suspensa, meaning hanging.

Alison Foster

Medicinal Plant of the Month

Corylus avellana, hazel, Betulaceae
Noticeable at this time of year for the yellow (or sometimes purple) male catkins decorating the otherwise bare framework of this shrub, the hazel may be a surprising choice for a medicinal plant of the month at first sight. However, it is a species that has been found to produce the same chemicals (taxanes) found in various species of yew tree such as Taxus baccata (January 2015 Medicinal Plant of the Month) and T. brevifolia. An academic group in Italy were investigating the common hazel and other species of hazel and have found reasonable quantities of these taxane molecules in the shells of the hazelnuts, a large volume by-product of the food industry. This is a curious example where unrelated plants are found to make the same chemicals. It is somehow appropriate that it was a group based in Italy undertaking this investigation as the species name, avellana, means coming from Avella Vecchia near Naples in southern Italy.

corylusCorylus is a genus of 15 northern temperate species of monoecious (separate male and female flowers on the same plant pictured right) trees and shrubs. In addition to being found in gardens, it is perhaps most commonly grown in coppice woodland. However, this industry now occupies just a small fraction of the land it once did. It has been estimated that in 1905 there were 500,000 acres of hazel coppice in the UK, but by 1965 this had been reduced to 94,000.

So not only is the hazel a shrub worthy of a place in a spring border, useful in a coppice for the staking wood it provides and also a food source with the edible nuts it produces, it may well be of use in modern cancer medicine. A polymath of the plant world.

Left: Female flower by H Zell
Right: Male catkin by André Karwath

Alison Foster


News from our Associates

CHACommercial Horticultural Association
Following a successful spring taking groups to IPM Essen and Fruit Logistica the CHA is now preparing for a busy Autumn. They will be taking groups to three shows; the Naivasha Horticultural Fair in Naivasha, Kenya between 18-19 Sept 2015; The International Horticultural Trade Fair at Vijfhuizen, Holland between 4-6 Nov 2015; Growtech Eurasia in Antalya, Turkey between 2-5 December 2015. Grants will be available for eligible UK companies wishing to partcipate and anyone interested should contact CHA.

Society of BiologySociety of Biology
The Society has responded to three consultations in the last month, two through its membership of the SCOREeducation partnership:

Department for Education consultation on 'Developing the teaching profession to a world - class standard' Read the full response.

SCORE response to the Ofqual consultation on GCSE practical work. Read the full response.

A Charity Commission call for views on the new updated draft of 'The Essential Trustee'; the Charity Commission’s guide to charity trustees’ responsibilities. Read the full response.

UKPSF (Plant Science)UK Plant Science Federation
The Federation is organising two major events this year. The first, its now traditional Plant Science conference, UK PlantSci, will be held at Harper Adams University on 14-15 April 2015. The second will be the third Fascination of Plants Day, a nationwide celebration of plants, to be held at many locations on or around 18 May. Fascination of Plants Day is organised under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) to encourage people around the world to celebrate the importance of plant science.


Horticulture Industry News

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Isle of Man exports healthy queens
The European Union has declared the Isle of Man officially free of the bee pest varroa. The Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) has worked with local beekeepers to gain the disease-free status. Formal recognition that Manx bees are free of disease is important for exports to the UK and Europe. Work towards gaining the varroa-free status started in 2008 with the passing of legislation that required beekeepers to register and empowered the island’s bee inspector, Harry Owens, to take samples. The island exports varroa-free queen bees to England, Ireland and Germany for EU research purposes and their bees are now in high demand. More

Fera goes private
CAPITA, a leading provider of business process management and integrated professional support service solutions, has secured a 10-year deal to partner the UK government in operating the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which employs nearly 400. The company will acquire a 75% stake in the joint venture for £20m in cash. The tie-up will create 50 new jobs in York and, in partnership with Newcastle University, an institute that will bring together around 40 researchers. The FTSE 100 company said the joint venture was expected to achieve at least £700m revenue over the next 10 years, with growth forecast through existing agreements with the public sector, securing new public sector work and developing services to penetrate the commercial market. More

Dibbled CRFs in container crops
Controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs) are a widely used method of delivering nutrients to nursery container crops. Although the use of CRFs is an accepted practice, growers and researchers are always looking for ways to decrease fertilizer and irrigation expenses and reduce the impact of nutrient leaching into the environment. A new study focused on determining how dissolved nutrients move through a substrate while water is being applied during irrigation. The experiments involved nursery containers treated with topdressed, incorporated, and dibbled CRFs – i.e. placed in the dibble hole prior to planting. The scientists evaluated the nutrient leaching patterns and showed that the concentration of ions in container effluent changed throughout the irrigation event and were affected by the CRF application method. Incorporated and topdressed CRF initially produced the highest effluent nutrient concentrations before steadily diminishing with increasing effluent volume. Dibbled CRF peaked after the first 150-mL of effluent had been collected, and resulted in a variable load of leached nutrients based on CRF placement and leachate volume. The research indicates that incorporated and dibbled CRF placement methods have potential to produce the greatest quantity of leachable nutrients, compared with the topdressed method. More

New competition for technology transfer professionals
RCUK and PraxisUnico are working together to deliver a joint competition to reward and recognize knowledge exchange, technology transfer and commercialisation professionals (KEC) who have excelled in enabling and facilitating the achievement of impact from the outcomes of research. This Impact Award competition for KEC professionals is replacing the PraxisUnico Impact Awards and the BBSRC Activating Impact competition from 2015 by working across all the communities supported by PraxisUnico and the Research Councils:. This joint RCUK/PraxisUnico Impact Award competition closes at midnight on 16 April 2015 and will culminate with an award ceremony in London on 15 September 2015. More

Unique laser instrument promises LIFEtime of biology breakthroughs
A revolutionary new £1m laser instrument in the UK is set to illuminate the innermost workings of DNA, protein, enzyme and other molecules that play a critical role in key natural processes in humans, animals and plants. Using synchronised ultrafast infrared lasers to explore how biomolecules react and interact when struck by light, LIFEtime will provide the basis for developing better medicines, innovative cell-imaging techniques and tiny biomolecular ‘probes’ that can be inserted into cells to gather information. The instrument is due to be fully operational shortly and is based at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Central Laser Facility (CLF) at Harwell. Developed with Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) support, LIFEtime’s uniqueness lies in its ability to measure how a biomolecule responds to a laser flash within the first trillionth of a second and to assess follow-on reactions occurring on timescales of a thousandth of a second or more. This remarkable ‘two in one’ capability saves time and money, and minimises potential damage to the samples being examined. More

The rise of nutritious red cabbage
Figures from Produce World Group, the UK’s largest grower and supplier of fresh organic vegetables, has revealed a substantial growth in sales of red cabbage. Sales grew in volume by a huge 48.9 per cent compared with last year, with its growth being attributed to its nutritional benefits and versatility in meals. Red cabbage is considered to be the most nutritious of the cabbage family, with it having ten times more vitamin A and twice as much iron as traditional green cabbage. These findings were announced as part of National Cabbage Day (17 February), with Produce World keen to highlight the multiple benefits of cabbages and the different varieties that UK consumers can use as part of their weekly meals. More

Include genes in climate change plans, urges FAO
The UN is mooting the inclusion of genetic resources in guidelines for national climate change adaptation plans to support food security in developing countries. Guidelines adopted by the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) set out step-by-step advice for safeguarding a healthy gene pool. This includes ensuring access to a wide variety of plant, animal and microbe species through seed banks, environmental protection programmes and research. The guidelines chime with advice from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which helps countries create national adaptation plans. But according to an FAO statement, it remains to be seen whether the FAO’s guidelines will become an official part of the UNFCCC guidelines on national adaptation plans. The FAO commission is pushing for this to happen. More

Scientists Redesign Plants for Drought Tolerance
When they face drought-like conditions plants produce abscisic acid (ABA) a stress hormone that stops the growth of the plants and reduces their water consumption. Protection of the plants from the drought is possible by spraying ABA on the plants, but this is very expensive. Researchers are working to make synthetic ABA, but this can also be pricey and will consume a lot of time. The agrochemical mandipropamid is already used widely to control the late-season diseases in crops. According to a team of researchers the drought-threatened crops can be programmed to respond to mandipropamid as if it were ABA. This will enhance the survival of the plants during a drought. More

Fungal biocontrol agent against Impatiens
The rust fungus Puccinia komarovii var. glanduliferae was first identified infecting Impatiens glandulifera in its native range (western Himalayas) between 2006 and 2010. Subsequently, it was imported into quarantine in the UK for evaluation as a classical biocontrol agent. To assess the safety of the rust, plant species relevant to Europe were tested for susceptibility. Of the 74 plant species tested, only I. balsamina, an ornamental species, was fully susceptible to urediniospore inoculum. The life cycle of the rust- an autoecious, full-cycled species with five spore stages- was confirmed. Urediniospores were infective between 5 and 25 °C, with an optimum at 15 °C. A minimum of eight hours dew-period was required to achieve consistent infection. Based on a pest risk assessment, the rust poses no threat to native biodiversity within EU Member States; making P. komarovii var. glanduliferae a suitable candidate as the first fungal classical biocontrol agent against an exotic weed in the region. More

Super-resolution microscope puts health and plant science in good STED
A state-of-the-art £0.9m microscope in the UK is penetrating the deepest secrets of biology’s building blocks, providing the foundation for better medical implants, healthcare treatments and disease-resistant crops. Plus, thanks to the UK’s supercomputing capabilities, the huge datasets produced are being made available for detailed analysis by the biological science research teams faster than ever before. Now fully operational the new microscope harnesses a technique called stimulated emission depletion (STED) to study objects just tens of nanometres wide – much smaller than a cell – adding yet another dimension to the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) and its unique OCTOPUS suite of laser microscopes. More

Plant extract fights brain tumour
Silibinin, a constituent of the seeds of milk thistle (Sylibum sp.), has an outstanding safety profile in humans and is currently used for the treatment of liver disease and poisoning. Scientists discovered that silibinin can be applied to treat Cushing Disease, a rare hormone condition caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain. The researchers have filed a patent and now plan clinical trials using silibinin as a non-invasive treatment strategy. Thus, in future, patients might not have to undergo brain surgery anymore. More

Natural plant compounds that work against insects
Insect-specific growth regulators, as their name suggests, are compounds that regulate the growth of insects. They represent attractive pest-control agents because they pose no health risk to humans and are also environmentally safe. One hormone in insects, called juvenile hormone, is a particularly attractive target for insect growth regulators because this hormone exists only in insects. It plays key roles in insect development, reproduction and other physiological functions. An international team of scientists has investigated in detail how juvenile hormone acts and has devised a method to prevent it working. The researchers discovered potent compounds in plants that counteract the action of juvenile hormone. These compounds, called juvenile hormone antagonists (JHANs), make up plants’ innate resistance mechanism against insect herbivores. They then identified five JHANs from two plants that are effective in causing mortality of yellow fever mosquito larvae, specifically by retarding the development of ovaries. They are now testing the effect of these five molecules on other agricultural pests. These newly discovered natural molecules could lead to the development of a new class of safe and effective pesticides to control mosquitoes and, we expect, other agricultural pests. More

Mushroom kills with cookie cutter trick
It turns out that the edible oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, uses a special class of immune system proteins to kill its parasites – and possibly its prey. It produces a protein, Pleurotolysin, that belongs to a group of water-soluble proteins that can form pores in cell membranes. Individual molecules can behave like lego bricks, linking together in a ring of 13 on the surface of a target cell. Once the ring is complete, each molecule unravels downwards, punching through the cell membrane like a nanoscopic cookier cutter, creating an 8-nanometre-wide hole. If the hole doesn't kill the cell directly other lethal molecules slip inside and finish the job. Proteins normally exist in just one form so it's really unusual for them to switch from being water-soluble to sinking through a membrane. More

Enhanced flowability in sowing seeds
Exosect Ltd, a leading provider of enabling technologies, has been granted a patent in the UK and Canada for improved seed flowability and for improved methods of sowing seeds for dust drift reduction, using its proprietary technology platform, Entostat®. Entostat is a dry micro-powder, based on natural and/or synthetic waxes and has electrostatic properties. It is used as a delivery platform for a wide range of active ingredients including synthetic chemicals, biopesticides and biostimulants. It significantly improves the delivery of active ingredients via seed treatment application with the benefit of enhanced flowability and reduced dust drift. This invention brings forward another technology for seed flow lubricants to replace talc and graphite, which detach easily from the seed creating dust containing insecticide, which some studies have attributed to pollinator decline. More


Events Calendar

SCI Horticulture Group events are listed here

Other Events of Interest:

British Frozen Food Conference
3 Mar 2015, British Frozen Food Federation
Kenilworth, UK

British Plant Fair
5 Mar 2015
Stoneleigh, UK

Consumer Trends - How do they affect your business?
11 Mar 2015, HDC
Peterborough, UK

Medicinal Plants and Natural Products
16 - 18 Mar 2015, International Society foe Horticultural Science
Bogota, Colombia

Priorities for the UK supply chain: integrity, regulation and industry practice
17 Mar 2015, Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum
London, UK

Biocontrol Asia
17 - 18 Mar 2015, New Ag International
New Delhi, India

New Ag International Conference
18 - 20 Mar 2015, New Ag International
New Delhi, India

International Food & Drink Event
22 - 25 Mar 2015, Fresh Montgomery
London, UK

Communicating reliably and effectively about plants: using names appropriately
23 Mar 2015, University of York
York, UK

Global Berry Congress 2015
23 - 25 Mar 2015, Eurofruit
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Improving Soil Health - Developing tools for land managers
31 Mar 2015 - 1 Apr 2015, Association of Applied Biologists
Marston, UK

Advances in Plant Virology
31 Mar 2015 - 2 Apr 2015, Association of Applied Biologists & Society for General Microbiology
Birmingham, UK

Tropical Fruit (Guava, Wax Apple, Pineapple and Sugar Apple)
7 - 12 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kaohsiung County, Chinese Taipei

Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens
8 - 9 Apr 2015, University of the West of England
Bristol, UK

Intellectual Property in Agriculture and Plant Science
14 Apr 2015, University of Leeds
Norwich, UK

Production and Establishment of Micropropagated Plants
18 - 24 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
San Remo, Italy

Organic Matter Management and Compost Use in Horticulture
20 - 24 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Murcia, Spain

Bacterial Diseases of Stone Fruits and Nuts
21 - 25 Apr 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Izmir, Turkey

Getting value from plants: extracting and purifying high value chemicals
28 Apr 2015 - 29 Apr 2015, University of York
York, UK

Feeding the Earth: the soil science underlying food production
30 Apr 2015, East Malling Research
East Malling, UK

Quality Management in Supply Chains of Ornamentals
1 May 2015 - 4 May 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kermanshah, Iran

Environmental protection in a multi-stressed world: challenges for science, industry and regulators
3 May 2015 - 10 May 2015, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Barcelona, Spain

New strategies to grow consumption of fresh vegetables in Europe
6 May 2015 - 7 May 2015, Eurofruit & FPJ & Fruchthandel
Brussels, Belgium

Ecologically Sound Fertilization Strategies for Field Vegetable Production
18 May 2015 - 22 May 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Beijing, China

Edible Alliaceae
21 May 2015 - 25 May 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Nigde, Turkey

Valuing long-term sites and experiments for agriculture and ecology
27 May 2015 - 28 May 2015, Association of Applied Biologists
Newcastle, UK

Horticultural Economics and Management
31 May 2015 - 3 Jun 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Alnarp, Sweden

Ephemeroptera and Plecoptera
31 May 2015 - 5 Jun 2015, James Hutton Intitute
Aberdeen, 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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