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Xinjing Qu, Hui Wang, Ming Chen, Jiao Liao, Jun Yuan, and Genhua Niu

Oil tea (Camellia oleifera) is an important edible oil tree. However, its growth and yield are strongly limited by drought. This study investigated the physiological and metabolic responses of two common oil tea cultivars, Huajin and Changlin53, to moderate and severe drought stress. Based on the photosynthetic and physiological indices, ‘Changlin53’ may be more tolerant to drought than ‘Huajin’. A total of 41 key metabolites induced by drought stress, including 12 amino acids, 12 organic acids, 10 carbohydrates, 3 fatty acids, and 4 phenols, have been identified by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Under moderate drought stress, the contents of carbohydrates, amino acids, and some organic acids in ‘Changlin53’ were significantly increased; however, under severe drought stress, the contents of soluble sugars were decreased and the synthesis ability of amino acids and organic acids were enhanced. The glutamic acid–mediated proline biosynthesis pathway and salicylic acid synthesis were continuously upregulated in ‘Changlin53’ under moderate and severe drought stress, which could regulate osmotic pressure and maintain intracellular environmental stability. Under moderate drought stress, the contents of monosaccharides, amino acids, and organic acids increased in ‘Huajin’ leaves. Furthermore, the shikimic acid–mediated secondary metabolite synthesis pathway was weakened. More secondary metabolites were used to increase glycolysis and tricarboxylic acid cycle to accelerate energy production and to enhance the glutamic acid–mediated proline biosynthesis pathway, which are necessary to increase osmotic regulation. Under severe drought stress, the contents of carbohydrates, organic acids, and some amino acids were significantly decreased in ‘Huajin’ leaves, indicating serious damage. These results deepened our understanding of the mechanisms involved in oil tea drought tolerance, which will help improve water management of oil tea seedlings.

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Christine Yung-Ting Yen, Terri W. Starman, Yin-Tung Wang, Andreas Holzenburg, and Genhua Niu

Hybrids of Dendrobium nobile Lindl. have high potential to become a high-value pot plant, but detailed research to support the development of commercial production protocols was lacking. A 3 × 5 factorial experiment was conducted to investigate the effects of nutrient termination date (1 Aug., 1 Sept., or 1 Oct.) and nutrient reapplication time (at the beginning or in the middle of cooling, immediately after or 2 weeks after the completion of cooling, or no nutrient reapplication) on growth and flower development of Dendrobium Sea Mary ‘Snow King,’ a D. nobile hybrid. Interaction between nutrient termination date and reapplication time on growth and flowering was nonsignificant for all variables measured, and reapplication time had only a minor effect on leaves remaining. Regardless of nutrient reapplication time, delaying nutrient termination date resulted in improved growth and flowering. Nutrient termination on 1 Oct. resulted in taller plants with more nodes, leaves remaining, flowering nodes, and total flowers as well as fewer aborted flowers than an earlier termination date. Nutrient supply until 1 Oct. did not lead to differences in time required for anthesis but extended the time needed to reach full flowering by 1.5 d. The results suggest that flower development benefited more from the nutrients that were accumulated in mature pseudobulbs before nutrient termination rather than from those being taken from the reapplied fertilizers. Only lateral buds protruding 2 mm or more from the pseudobulb surface showed differentiated floral structures when examined histologically. The buds, excised 4 weeks after cooling treatments began, showed that nutrient termination on 1 Aug. resulted in larger flower primordia than those ended on 1 Oct., indicating an earlier or faster flower differentiation with earlier nutrient termination. No aerial shoot formation or reversion of reproductive to vegetative buds arose as a result of either late nutrient termination or resumption of nutrient application.

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Ze Li, Kai Shi, Fanhang Zhang, Lin Zhang, Hongxu Long, Yanling Zeng, Zhiming Liu, Genhua Niu, and Xiaofeng Tan

As a result of its high photosynthetic efficiency, the tung tree (Vernicia fordii) is a fast-growing heliophile, yielding fruit within 3 years. In addition, tung oil extracted from the fruit seeds is an environmentally friendly paint used widely in China. However, mutual shading inside a tung tree canopy leads to a low yield of fruit because of weak or dead lower branches. In this project, a pot experiment was conducted to understand the growth, physiological, anatomical structure, and biochemical responses of tung trees under various shading levels. Tung tree seedlings were subjected to different light intensities—100% sunlight (no cover), L100; 75% sunlight (25% shading), L75; 50% sunlight (50% shading), L50; and 20% sunlight (80% shading), L20—from June to August. Results indicate that the L75 treatment reduced significantly the net photosynthetic rate (Pn), stomatal conductance (g S), transpiration rate (E), total aboveground and root dry weight (DW), maximum net photosynthetic rate (A max), and maximum rate of electron transport at saturating irradiance (Jmax) compared with the control, although plant height and leaf area (LA) were not reduced. Lower light intensities (L50 and L20) and longer duration of treatment led to greater reduction in growth, leaf thickness, and photosynthetic potential (A max and Jmax). Chlorophyll a (Chl a), chlorophyll b (Chl b), and total chlorophyll content were increased in the L50 and L20 treatments compared with L100 and L75. There was no significant reduction in the enzyme activities of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase (Rubisco) and phosphoenolpyruvate (PEPC) of the seedlings using the L75 treatment; however, lower light intensities (L50 and L20) and longer duration of shade treatment resulted in a significant reduction in enzyme activity. In summary, the results suggest that tung trees have greater photosynthetic activity under high light intensity. Shading, even at 20%, especially for the longer term, reduced photosynthetic efficiency and growth. To prevent growth reduction, tung trees should be grown under full sun with a daily light integral (DLI) of ≈46 mol·m‒2·d‒1, and mutual shading should be avoided by proper spacing and pruning.

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Susmitha Nambuthiri, Robert L. Geneve, Youping Sun, Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Genhua Niu, Guihong Bi, and Amy Fulcher

The green industry has identified the use of biodegradable containers as an alternative to plastic containers as a way to improve the sustainability of current production systems. Field trials were conducted to evaluate the performance of four types of 1-gal nursery biocontainers [keratin (KR), wood pulp (WP), fabric (FB), and coir fiber (Coir)] in comparison with standard black plastic (Plastic) containers on substrate temperature, water use, and biomass production in aboveground nurseries. Locations in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, and Texas were selected to conduct experiments during May to Oct. 2012 using ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus sempervirens × B. microphylla) and ‘Dark Knight’ bluebeard (Caryopteris ×clandonensis) in 2013. In this article, we were focusing on the impact of alternative container materials on hourly substrate temperature variations and plant growth. Substrate temperature was on an average higher (about 6 °C) in Plastic containers (about 36 °C) compared with that in WP, FB, and Coir containers. However, substrate temperature in KR containers was similar to Plastic. Substrate temperature was also influenced by local weather conditions with the highest substrate temperatures recorded in Texas followed by Kentucky, Mississippi, and Michigan. Laboratory and controlled environment trials using test containers were conducted in Kentucky to evaluate sidewall porosity and evaporation loss to confirm field observations. Substrate temperature was similar under laboratory simulation compared with field studies with the highest substrate temperature observed in Plastic and KR, intermediate in WP and lowest in FB and Coir. Side wall temperature was higher in Plastic, KR, and FB compared with WP and Coir, while side wall water loss was greatest in FB, intermediate in WP and Coir, and lowest in plastic and KR. These observations suggest that the contribution of sidewall water loss to overall container evapotranspiration has a major influence on reducing substrate temperature. The porous nature of some of the alternative containers increased water use, but reduced heat stress and enhanced plant survival under hot summer conditions. The greater drying rate of alterative containers especially in hot and dry locations could demand increased irrigation volume, more frequent irrigation, or both, which could adversely affect the economic and environmental sustainability of alternative containers.

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Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Bert M. Cregg, Rafael Auras, Amy Fulcher, Diana R. Cochran, Genhua Niu, Youping Sun, Guihong Bi, Susmitha Nambuthiri, and Robert L. Geneve

Containers made from natural fiber and recycled plastic are marketed as sustainable substitutes for traditional plastic containers in the nursery industry. However, growers’ acceptance of alternative containers is limited by the lack of information on how alternative containers impact plant growth and water use (WU). We conducted experiments in Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas to test plant growth and WU in five different alternative containers under nursery condition. In 2011, ‘Roemertwo’ wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) were planted in three types of #1 (≈1 gal) containers 1) black plastic (plastic), 2) wood pulp (WP), and 3) recycled paper (KF). In 2012, ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus sempervirens × B. microphylla siebold var. koreana) was evaluated in 1) plastic, 2) WP, 3) fabric (FB), and 4) keratin (KT). In 2013, ‘Dark Knight’ bluebeard (Caryopteris ×clandonensis) was evaluated in 1) plastic, 2) WP, and 3) coir fiber (Coir). Plants grown in alternative containers generally had similar plant growth as plastic containers. ‘Roemertwo’ wintercreeper had high mortality while overwintering in alternative containers with no irrigation. Results from different states generally show plants grown in fiber containers such as WP, FB, and Coir used more water than those in plastic containers. Water use efficiency of plants grown in alternative containers vs. plastic containers depended on plant variety, container type, and climate.

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Tongyin Li, Guihong Bi, Genhua Niu, Susmitha S. Nambuthiri, Robert L. Geneve, Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Youping Sun, and Xiaojie Zhao

The performance of biocontainers as sustainable alternatives to the traditional petroleum-based plastic containers has been researched in recent years due to increasing environmental concern generated by widespread plastic disposal from green industry. However, research has been mainly focused on using biocontainers in short-term greenhouse production of bedding plants, with limited research investigating the use of biocontainers in long-term nursery production of woody crops. This project investigated the feasibility of using biocontainers in a pot-in-pot (PIP) nursery production system. Two paper (also referred as wood pulp) biocontainers were evaluated in comparison with a plastic container in a PIP system for 2 years at four locations (Holt, MI; Lexington, KY; Crystal Springs, MS; El Paso, TX). One-year-old river birch (Betula nigra) liners were used in this study. Results showed that biocontainers stayed intact at the end of the first growing season, but were penetrated to different degrees after the second growing season depending on the vigor of root growth at a given location and pot type. Plants showed different growth rates at different locations. However, at a given location, there were no differences in plant growth index (PGI) or plant biomass among plants grown in different container types. Daily water use (DWU) was not influenced by container type. Results suggest that both biocontainers tested have the potential to be alternatives to plastic containers for short-term (1 year) birch production in the PIP system. However, they may not be suitable for long-term (more than 1 year) PIP production due to root penetration at the end of the second growing season.

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Youping Sun, Genhua Niu, Andrew K. Koeser, Guihong Bi, Victoria Anderson, Krista Jacobsen, Renee Conneway, Sven Verlinden, Ryan Stewart, and Sarah T. Lovell

As the green industry is moving toward sustainability to meet the demands of society, the use of biocontainers as alternatives to petroleum-based plastic containers has drawn significant attention. Field trials of seven plantable biocontainers (coir, manure, peat, rice hull, soil wrap, straw, and wood fiber) were conducted in 2011 and 2012 at five locations in the United States to assess the influence of direct-plant biocontainers on plant growth and establishment and the rate of container decomposition in landscape. In 2011, container type did not affect the growth of any of the three species used in this study with an exception in one location. The three species were ‘Sunpatiens Compact Magenta’ new guinea impatiens (Impatiens ×hybrida), ‘Luscious Citrus’ lantana (Lantana camara), and ‘Senorita Rosalita’ cleome (Cleome ×hybrida). In 2012, the effect of container type on plant growth varied with location and species. Cleome, new guinea impatiens, and lantana plants grown in coir and straw containers were in general smaller than those in peat, plastic, rice hull, and wood fiber containers. After 3 to 4 months in the field, manure containers had on average the highest rate of decomposition at 88% for all five locations and two growing seasons. The levels of decomposition of other containers, straw, wood fiber, soil wrap, peat, coir, and rice hull were 47%, 46%, 42%, 38%, 25%, and 18%, respectively, in descending order. Plantable containers did not hinder plant establishment and posttransplant plant growth. The impact of container type on plant growth was smaller compared with that of location (climate). Similarly, the impact of plant species on pot decomposition was smaller compared with that of pot material.

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Robin G. Brumfield, Alyssa J. DeVincentis, Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Susmitha Nambuthiri, Robert L. Geneve, Andrew K. Koeser, Guihong Bi, Tongyin Li, Youping Sun, Genhua Niu, Diana Cochran, Amy Fulcher, and J. Ryan Stewart

As high-input systems, plant production facilities for liner and container plants use large quantities of water, fertilizers, chemical pesticides, plastics, and labor. The use of renewable and biodegradable inputs for growing aesthetically pleasing and healthy plants could potentially improve the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of current production systems. However, costs for production components to integrate sustainable practices into established systems have not been fully explored to date. Our objectives were to determine the economic costs of commercial production systems using alternative containers in aboveground nursery systems. We determined the cost of production (COP) budgets for two woody plant species grown in several locations across the United States. Plants were grown in plastic pots and various alternative pots made from wood pulp (WP), fabric (FB), keratin (KT), and coconut fiber (coir). Cost of production inputs for aboveground nursery systems included the plant itself (liner), liner shipping costs, pot, pot shipping costs, substrate, substrate shipping costs, municipal water, and labor. Our results show that the main difference in the COP is the price of the pot. Although alternative containers could potentially increase water demands, water is currently an insignificant cost in relation to the entire production process. Use of alternative containers could reduce the carbon, water, and chemical footprints of nurseries and greenhouses; however, the cost of alternative containers must become more competitive with plastic to make them an acceptable routine choice for commercial growers.