Fruit Crops

Collecting Botanical Data on Blueberry for Plant Patent and Releases

Each year there is a small window of opportunity to collect certain botanical data on blueberry. Data is collected for potential releases and plant patents. I work on both muscadines and blueberries, but right now, I’m knuckle deep in blueberry analysis for my boss.

Currently, time is of the essence to collect flowers and analyze their parts for numerous parameters including color, size, number, etc. In this photo, pollinated flowers are quickly becoming young blueberries.

How did I know what to collect? Well, I printed off plant patents and release documents for other blueberries. I refreshed myself with terminology I learned in Plant Taxonomy at the University of Arkansas. (I’m the nerd who carries around flash cards from graduate school so I can study and refresh when I have down time such as waiting at the doctor’s office).

I also had to Google search and find other USDA ARS, University Extension, and text book references to analyzing plant parts.

For the past few weeks here is what I have been working on:

Flower length; flower occurrence; flowering period; corolla color, length, diameter, and aperture; stigma length and color; style length, calyx diameter and color; stamen length, stamen color, anther length; the number of flowers per cluster; immature flower color; pollen abundance and color; flower pedicel color and length; flower peduncle color and length, and whether or not flowering occurs before, during or after leaf emergence. Using a RHS colour chart, means that you should be using north light, which I don’t really have. But I will use several attempts to verify each color and maintain consistency.

Image of blueberry pollen in a petri dish with the remaining flower part of style/stigma, calyx, pedicel and somewhere in that image, the stamen:

Image of late afternoon sun shining in on the half dissection view of stamen located inside the calyx :

Image of petri dish filled with male parts (stamen: filament and anther, and in the case of blueberry, each anther has  a pair of anther tubes):

 

Another blueberry image with description:

Another image where I am measuring a single stamen. The stamen measurement does not include the anther tubes. The light green yellow part is the filament. In the middle the darker orange brown is the anther:

Blueberry stamen image with petri dish sitting on one of my botanical description pages:

Blueberry stamen image where I placed the petri dish on my RHS colour chart for contrast:

 

Image of blueberry flowers in various stages:

Late afternoon sun shining on my laboratory blueberry cuttings:

 

Blueberry pollen image. This particular selection had a lot of pollen and the flowers were dry, making it easy to extract the pollen and collect it in the center of the dish with a paint brush:

Blueberry pollen color analysis:

Blueberry flower bracteoles:

Blueberry flower dissection:

Another image of me extracting pollen by gently rubbing and working the corolla (I’m milking it for all it is worth!):

For each I randomly take cuttings from various parts of the plant and of more than one plant when at all possible.  Usually, the cuttings are long enough for me to put in beakers of water so that I can continue to have a fresh supply of tissue to work with; however, I did put some small cuttings in the refrigerator last week, which worked well, except that moisture collected inside the corolla, making it nearly impossible to extract pollen from the anthers. (Tip!)

I hope this gives you an idea of just some of the “end” data collected on potential releases and plant patent applications. It is a bit of micro work. You do need to give your eyes a break. You will get a snoot full of pollen and probably be able to feel the itchy eyes and burning throat after a days work extracting pollen grains. But I do love it! And with some groovy tunes like my Disney, Classic Out West Westerns, Hawaiian, or Jimmy Buffett/Beach playlists, I can rock all day. Tomorrow? I’ll be playing my Mardi Gras playlist all day in the lab! Next week? Its St. Patrick’s Day music and I’ll do some jigs in between samples. You gotta take joy whenever you can get joy.

 

As a Certified Professional Horticulturist, an ISA Certified Arborist, with a B.S.A. in Landscape Design and Urban Horticulture and an M.S. in Horticulture, I really do enjoy this kind of plant science work.

 

The Garden Maiden

All images and text copyright 2019 The Garden Maiden
@thegardenmaiden

 

 

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Categories: Fruit Crops, Research, What's Blooming | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do You Know the Muffin Man? New Mississippi Blueberry

Early last week I was out in the blueberry plots at one of the research stations collecting samples. I was instantly enamored, if not surprised, by the outstanding pink ambiance given off by a few large blueberry bushes.

Muffin Man blueberry

 

I was not out to collect from this selection, but I was drawn to it. This blueberry was without a doubt the most gorgeous in the entire field.

 

PINK! So much pink. Pink flowers, pink buds, pink calyx, warm pink hues on the stems, pink color on the new, emerging leaves. Perfect for Valentine’s Day. As you can well imagine, I meant to do this post last week on Valentine’s Day, but time got away from me.

 

As a horticulturist with a background in ornamentals first, I was impressed with the idea of what a wonderful edible hedge this would make in someone’s yard. Not to mention that at this time of year, when things are just beginning to get going in south Mississippi, it makes a grand ornamental entrance into the landscape.

 

This blueberry was recently released as ‘Muffin Man’ from the Southern Horticultural Research Laboratory in Poplarville, MS. You can read a bit about it on this USDA ARS page. Members of the American Society for Horticultural Science who subscribe to the Hort Science Journal can also read more about this blueberry in Volume 53 issue 10

To promote fruiting, you’ll need a pollinator, rabbiteye blueberry that also flowers early. In ornamental design, I would suggest planting a smaller, early flowering, rabbiteye blueberry behind the hedge, or flanking the ends, so that ‘Muffin Man’ in all its glory is not obstructed.

If you are looking for the perfect Valentine’s gift for next year inquire, then do as this little honey bee did, seek out, and find ‘Muffin Man’ to give to your sweetheart.

 

 

Congratulations to the team for traditional, old fashioned plant breeding!

What does this mean, traditional plant breeding? Select potted blueberry plants are brought into the greenhouse in winter and “crossing” begins by a biological science technician when flowers open. That is to say the pollen (collected from the anthers of the male part) of one desired flower is used to fertilize the stigma (the sticky end of the female reproductive part) of another desired blueberry flower.  This takes quick work to be sure that no insects happen to be pollinating the flowers in the greenhouse and the greenhouse is checked almost daily. Fertilized flowers are protected while the fertilized flowers develop blueberry fruit, and after fruit set and maturity, the fruit are collected, cut open, and the seed harvested and stored in refrigeration. In summer, seed are planted out in trays in the greenhouse. When seedlings reach several inches tall, they are transplanted into individual peat pots. Those little babies are nurtured in the greenhouse and the following spring/early summer, they are planted out into field plots (generally by this time they are 12-24″ tall). The young plants are closely monitored by the breeder over several years for a variety of desirable traits. (Just imagine that when two humans procreate, every baby the same two humans produce is different. Right? The same is true here.) Those that make the cut are transplanted out to long term fields for continued observations over several more years. The plants may be propagated and then planted at several sites to test their desired traits, growth, cultural habits, fruiting, qualities, etc.  Then if all has been successful, after many years since cross pollination in the greenhouse, that selection may be released for public use or plant patented. Technically, traditional plant breeding is genetically modifying plants (organisms). It is however, not genetically engineering plants-GE (basically something which could never occur naturally- a fish will never make love to a tomato). An unfortunate use of the term GMO, that is now commonplace and causes confusion.

Man, I must have had some good coffee this morning!!!! Oh, wait, I did. Three Peckered Billy Goat. I love Raven’s Brew Whole Bean Coffees. USDA Organic. Roasting facilities: Ketchikan, AK and Tumwater, WA.

Yours in Caffeine-Induced Writing & Gardening,

The Garden Maiden

All images and text copyright 2019 The Garden Maiden
@thegardenmaiden

 

 

 

Categories: Fruit Crops, Research, What's Blooming | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mississippi Blueberry Flower Season Has Begun

Mississippi blueberry flower season has begun. Bees are buzzing about the fields, pollinating white-ish bell-shaped flowers that dangle delicately. Even our native Vaccinium elliottii (Elliott’s blueberry) is flowering, making it one easy way to identify this edible native out from the roadsides and wooded areas along the road.

Last week I took these photographs in a couple of locations around south Mississippi. I will be collecting data on a lot of blueberry flowers later this week. The image above shows several stages at once, typical of blueberry.

Michigan State University (GO GREEN!) provides an excellent page with full color photos to assist in identifying the floral and leaf bud stages.

The image above shows all 7 stages of floral bud development: Dormant bud/no swelling, Bud with swelling, Bud with swelling and scales separating, Bud scales separate/individual flowers view-able, closed flower, open flower, and post-corolla drop. Tools such as official bud ratings for floral and leaf parts are things I use when compiling data for my supervisor’s potential plant patents and public releases for fruit crops.

Above images Stage 3 (bud swell with scales separating, tips of flowers just noticeable) and Stage 5 (individual flowers, but flower still closed). (might be more if you look closely) The University of Georgia also has a nice page with blueberry floral bud development images.

Blueberry inflorescence and floral development stages according to Spiers (1978). (A) Stage 1 – Inflorescence enclosed by bud scales (S). (B) Stage 2 – Inflorescence partially enclosed by bud scales, flowers covered by a large bract. (C) Stage 3 – Inflorescence with some bracts removed to show underlying developing flowers. (D) Stage 4 – Individual flowers expanded beyond bracts. (E) Stage 5 – Individual pre-anthetic flowers with elongate pedicels. (F) Stage 6 – Flowers at anthesis. (G) Stage 7 – Corolla dropped and beginning of fruit development. B = Bract; C = Corolla tube; F = Flower bud; K = Calyx tube; p = pedicel. Scale bars = 5 mm.

Here above is a source image with descriptions, as mentioned, from Spiers, 1978 (that’s Dr. James Spiers, who retired as Research Leader at the USDA ARS Horticultural Research Laboratory, Poplarville, MS)

In the photo above, there are several stages that can be viewed: early tight buds (greenish yellow), later pinkish buds (both at stage 5), full opened buds (stage 6) and even one post-corolla fall at stage 7 (the soon to be fruit).

Stage 2 seen above shows floral bud swelling with scales starting to separate.

 

Now that the plants are actively growing, go ahead and fertilize with an acid-loving plant fertilizer. I’ll probably hit mine at home in the next couple of weeks. If you are not a fan of eating blueberries, consider planting an native Elliott’s blueberry for all if its ornamental attributes (simply gorgeous at flowering in winter/spring and in the fall with green stems and red leaves) and let the wildlife enjoy the fruits of your labor.

 

Signing off from Mississippi (the Birthplace of Blues and BLUEBERRIES!…well, sort of…or maybe we just “do em right”)

The Garden Maiden

All images and text copyright 2019 The Garden Maiden
@thegardenmaiden

 

Categories: Fruit Crops, Research | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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