Genotypic variation and horticultural potential of Alnus maritima [Marsh.] Nutt. (seaside alder), a large shrub or small tree found naturally in only three small, disjunct populations, have not been studied. We examined effects of population of origin and environment on seed germination and the growth and morphology of seedlings. Our first germination experiment showed that 6 weeks of cold stratification applied to half-siblings from Oklahoma optimized germination at 73.2%. When this treatment was applied to multiple half-sib seed sources from all populations in a second experiment, seeds from Oklahoma had a higher germination percentage (55%) than seeds from both Georgia (31.4%) and the Delmarva Peninsula (14.7%). A third experiment showed that growth of seedlings increased with increasing irradiance intensity up to 258 μmol·m–2·s–1, and survival and growth of seedlings from Oklahoma varied with root media. In a fourth experiment, multiple groups of half-siblings from all three populations were grown in one environment to compare variation in growth and morphology within and among populations. Leaves of Oklahoma seedlings were longer (12.8 cm) and more narrow (2.15 length: width ratio) than leaves of seedlings from Georgia (12.0 cm long, ratio = 1.76) and the Delmarva Peninsula (11.6 cm long, ratio = 1.86). Seedlings from Oklahoma and Georgia had a higher growth rate (180.7 and 160.0 mg/day, respectively) than did seedlings from Delmarva (130.1 mg/day), while Oklahoma and Delmarva seedlings were more densely foliated (0.72 and 0.64 leaves and lateral shoots per cm of primary stem, respectively) than those from Georgia (0.46 per cm). These differences indicate both divergence among the three disjunct populations and potential to exploit genetic variation to select horticulturally superior A. maritima for use in managed landscapes.
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