Potted foliage plants are high-value ornamental commodities used to decorate indoor and patio environments. In the United States, the wholesale value of potted foliage plant production was $498 million in 2010 (USDA, 2011). Popular genera include Aglaonema, Dieffenbachia, Dracaena, Epipremnum, Ficus, Hedera, Philodendron, and Syngonium (Chen et al., 2002). Most foliage plants used in the trade are endemic to the tropics and show tolerance to drought and low light conditions. With their attractive and diverse leaf forms, colors, and textures, potted foliage plant displays are recognized for enhancing human health, well-being, and productivity (Fjeld et al., 1998).
The marketability of foliage plants is frequently limited by premature leaf abscission, epinasty, and/or senescence during transport and retail display (Conover and Poole, 1984). For some species, this loss in quality has been correlated with exposure to the gaseous phytohormone ethylene (Marousky and Harbaugh, 1982; Woltering, 1987). Ethylene arising from anthropogenic (e.g., auto exhaust fumes) and biological (e.g., ripening fruit) sources can occasionally accumulate to physiologically active concentrations (e.g., 0.1 to 10 μL·L−1) inside enclosed areas used to distribute and store foliage plants (Hoyer, 1995; Skog et al., 2001). Although ethylene sensitivity varies significantly among potted flowering genotypes (Muller et al., 1998; Serek and Reid, 2000; Woltering, 1987), the response of foliage plants to ethylene has been less intensively studied. Identifying the relative ethylene sensitivity of different potted foliage plant genotypes could help optimize postproduction operations and handling procedures that reduce ethylene damage.
Treatment with silver thiosulfate (STS) liquid has long been relied on to extend the longevity of ethylene-sensitive ornamentals (Nowak and Rudnicki, 1990). Silver ions bind to ethylene receptors in plant tissues and block ethylene action (Sisler et al., 1986). However, STS has been criticized on social and environmental grounds owing to concerns associated with handling and disposing silver solutions (Nell, 1992). Moreover, STS is presently not legalized for use on potted plants in the United States (J. Janssen, personal communication). In contrast, an alternative non-toxic gaseous inhibitor of ethylene binding, 1-MCP, is gaining commercial acceptance (Reid and Staby, 2008; Serek et al., 1994). Although treatment with 1-MCP has been reported to protect numerous potted flowering plants such as Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (Serek and Reid, 2000), Rosa ×hybrida (Serek et al., 1994), and Schlumbergera truncata (Serek and Sisler, 2001) against ethylene-induced floral organ abscission and senescence, there are limited publicly available data on its efficacy to protect potted foliage plants. To date, treatment of three potted foliage plant genera (Aglaonema ‘White Tip’, Ficus ‘Green Island’, Ixora coccinea) with 100 to 300 nL·L−1 1-MCP for 2 to 8 h at 20 °C has been shown to prevent ethylene-mediated leaf abscission and/or senescence (Fan et al., 2009; Michaeli et al., 1999; Philosoph-Hadas et al., 2005).
1-MCP is registered as EthylBloc™ (Floralife, Inc., Walterboro, SC) for use on ornamental plants (Reid and Staby, 2008). 1-MCP molecules are encapsulated in the α-cyclodextrin matrix of EthylBloc™ and when dissolved in water release into the air. It is approved for use in closed tents, coolers, and truck trailers. EthylBloc™ is also available in a paper sachet that potentially offers a more convenient mode of application (Kostansek, 2002). We previously reported that the release of 1-MCP from two sachets containing EthylBloc™ in a closed shipping box was sufficient to protect cut rose flowers against ethylene during and immediately after shipment (Macnish et al., 2010). The EthylBloc™ sachet system may also have potential to protect sensitive potted foliage plants during shipment.
In the current study, we quantified the ethylene sensitivity of 20 potted foliage plant genotypes traded in the United States. The efficacy of 1-MCP gas and sachet treatments to protect responsive genotypes against ethylene during simulated transport and retail display was also tested.
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