Water quantity and quality are critical global issues. As the urban population increases, the competition for high-quality water among agriculture, industry, and domestic water users is becoming progressively intense. Water consumption in urban landscape irrigation increases with urban population expansion (Kjelgren et al., 2000; Qian et al., 2005). Using alternative water sources such as municipal reclaimed water to irrigate urban landscapes can significantly conserve potable water. Municipal reclaimed water is the only water source that increases with population growth (Qian et al., 2005). Many regions with water shortage problems have started to use municipal reclaimed water (also called recycled water) to irrigate golf courses, school yards, and landscapes (Fox et al., 2005; Gori et al., 2000; Jordan et al., 2001; Wu et al., 2001) and for agricultural and horticultural crop production (Dobrowolski et al., 2008; Safi et al., 2007; Shillo et al., 2002). However, reclaimed water frequently contains high salt levels that may cause damage or even death to sensitive plants if not managed properly. Therefore, screening and identifying salt-tolerant landscape plants is urgently needed to expand the use of alternative and reclaimed water for landscape irrigation and nursery production.
Soil salinity is typically high in arid and semiarid regions where temperatures are high and rainfall is low. Irrigation with poor-quality water exacerbates the soil salinity. Typical plant responses to soil salinity include reduced shoot and root growth rates, decreased leaf or shoot number (Munns, 2002), decreased gas exchange rates, foliar salt damage, and even death as salinity increases (Munns and Tester, 2008; Niu and Cabrera, 2010). The degree of these negative responses depends on species and the level of the salinity. Many researchers worldwide have conducted studies on salt tolerance of landscape plants in the past years (e.g., Fox et al., 2005; Gori et al., 2000; Jordan et al., 2001; Marosz, 2004; Niu and Cabrera, 2010; Niu and Rodriguez, 2006a, 2006b; Tanji et al., 2008; Wu et al., 2001; Zollinger et al., 2007). These studies indicate a wide range of salt tolerance existing among different species and cultivars within the same species.
Wildflowers are popular plants in water-wise, low-maintenance landscapes. Planting wildflowers in landscapes could reduce mowing costs and improve soil erosion and soil stabilization (Bretzel et al., 2009). Planting wildflowers in landscapes also increases aesthetic appearance by increasing diversity in colors and vegetation. Herbaceous wildflowers dominate meadows in arid regions of Australia and the western United States (Beran et al., 1999; Kjelgren et al., 2009; Pérez et al., 2010). However, little information is available on the salt tolerance of these herbaceous wildflowers.
To introduce wildflowers in landscapes where poor-quality water with high salinity may be used for irrigation, this study aimed to examine the growth and physiological [osmotic potential (ψS) and ion uptake] responses of six native wildflowers to a range of salinity levels in both greenhouse and shadehouse environments under semiarid conditions. The selected wildflowers included were Salvia farinacea (mealy cup sage), Berlandiera lyrata (chocolate daisy), Ratibida columnaris (Mexican hat), Oenothera elata (Hooker’s evening primrose), Zinnia grandiflora (plains zinnia), and Monarda citriodora (lemon horsemint). All these species are native to North America and thrive in well-drained soils with full sun conditions in southwestern United States and northern Mexico (Stubbendieck et al., 2003).
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