Fruit Crops

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

 

 

 

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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: , , , , , , , ,

My Botanical Data Collection of Potential Blueberry Releases 2018

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Here are some of the images to capture the overview of botanical data I collected for potential blueberry releases for my boss. Now, obviously I cannot give any specific information. That would be unethical. This is just to show some of the stuff I have collected. It is detail-work, but great fun if you are into that sort of thing. I learned a lot too, based on reading many previous plant patent releases from various sources including the University of Georgia breeding program.

Most of these images were previously posted on Twitter the day the work was being done. The images are not high quality as they were snapped with my cheap cell phone but they give you an idea of what I was doing. Placing them all here is a good way to showcase the entire year in one location.

I began this year’s collection in February when the blueberries began to flower. Did you know there was such variation in blueberry flower color?

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Look how tiny these little white flowers were!

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Some of the flowers have a very faint, light perfume.

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The honeybees enjoyed the flowers and we worked around each other all morning.

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My initial measurements were taken in the field because it was an incredibly, beautiful day.

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After working in the field, I collected data from the blueberry plants in the lab.

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Check out the anthers and filaments of the stamens (male) on the blueberry flower.

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I was so excited to be able to collect some pollen grains! My first time.

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I sure am glad I enjoyed taking Plant Taxonomy class at the University of Arkansas with Dr. E Smith. Not only do I still carry around my “flash cards” (can you say PLANT NERD), but I am now able to put all of that to good use.

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After flower analysis came fruit!

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A little coffee, some good tunes on the MP3 player and I’m set for lab work.

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So, my role in the blueberry breeding program goes something like this, although my duties vary from year to year. My boss selects plants to cross. The Lab Tech makes the crosses in the greenhouse. She collects the seeds from the fruit that results. The seed is planted in trays in the greenhouse. When they reach a few inches tall, I pot them into trays of peat pots. At the same time, my boss takes hundreds of cuttings in the field from selections to propagate. When they have rooted (hopefully), I pot them up into one gallon pots. After the seedlings have grown and rooted well in their peat pots, those seedlings are transplanted out into the field.

Here is a photo of part of my blueberry field planting this summer.

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My boss observes them for several years, taking notes and selecting potential crosses for release.  Blueberry plants with the best potential are dug and transplanted into more permanent plantings. The cuttings which were also rooted and potted up into 1 gallon pots are maintained in our nursery and sent out for observation at nurseries or planted in our own blueberry fields for continued observation. But, I really do like my role in collecting finely detailed botanical data of taxonomic characteristics for the selections my boss would like to release. In order to release them, he must first submit a plant patent with this detailed information showing that the plant is new or novel.

As a Certified Professional Horticulturist, I love working in plant research. Especially traditional plant breeding.

All of this blueberry talk is making me hungry for some blueberry cobbler!

Yours in Gardening Goodness,

The Garden Maiden

All images and text copyright The Garden Maiden 2018

 

 

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