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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, Jonathan M. Frantz, James C. Locke, Charles R. Krause and George C. J. Fernandez

Plant performance and appearance in deficient and toxic levels of nutrients are well characterized. However, less is known about the potential subtleties of plant growth, form, development, nutrient uptake, and biotic stress tolerance in the broad tolerable range. Begonia [Beg (Begonia × tuberhybrida Voss)] and new guinea impatiens [NGI (Impatiens hawkeri Bull.)] were grown over a wide range of N (from 1.78 to 57.1 mm NH4:NO3 ratio at a 1:1 ratio supplied as nutrient solution) in a peat:perlite soilless substrate in greenhouse conditions. Plant growth, development, chlorophyll content, leaf angle, nutrient uptake, tissue caloric value, and susceptibility to Botrytis cinerea Pers.:Fr. disease were evaluated in two experiments. Elevated N supply resulted in decreased plant height (16% in Beg and 7% to 16% in NGI), flower count (3% to 48% in Beg and 7% to 49% in NGI), bud numbers (23% to 80% in Beg), canopy area (11% to 33% in NGI), and mass (21% to 33% in Beg and 18% to 58% in NGI). Chlorophyll content saturated at an N supply of 28.6 mm. N uptake efficiency, shoot N use efficiency, and shoot N utilization efficiency decreased with increasing N supply. Elevated levels of N supply from 7.15 to 57.1 mm also increased the susceptibility of Beg to B. cinerea disease by 10% to 80% in stems and 3% to 14% in leaves. The increase in susceptibility also corresponded with increased tissue energy content (kJ·g−1) and altered leaf orientation. This study indicates many plant changes occur between nutrient extremes that can have a significant impact on growth, development, and the ability to withstand disease.

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Jonathan M. Frantz, James C. Locke, Dharmalingam S. Pitchay and Charles R. Krause

An appropriate blend of growing media components increases water holding capacity and reduces irrigation frequency. Synthetic commercial materials, referred to as hydrogels, have remarkable hydrating properties, but can add significantly (about 15%) to the cost of growing media. The literature generally states that the physical characteristics of hydrogels, such as polyacrylamide (PAM), are altered by the presence of divalent cations (Ca2+ and Mg2+). Few studies, however, have simultaneously investigated plant growth and development and media characteristics on a daily basis throughout plant production. Thus, the mechanisms explaining the reported beneficial and/or detrimental effects from PAM incorporation remain hidden. In this study, canopy ground cover of two species [pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana Gams) and new guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri Bull)] was measured daily, from transplanting to marketable size, using digital imaging to determine growth differences of plants grown in media containing different amounts of PAM. Media water content was determined with time-domain reflectance probes every 10 minutes in media treatments. Total number of irrigation events, time between irrigation events, root development after 4 and 8 weeks of growth, flower number, flower longevity, and dry masses of the shoot were also measured. Scanning electron microscopy revealed significant structural differences in hydrated PAM depending on water quality. The pansy canopy coverage was significantly greater with hydrogels, and root growth early in production was enhanced with PAM. No such effect was observed for new guinea impatiens. Total flower numbers and flower longevity of new guinea impatiens decreased with increasing amount of PAM (16.7% or higher) in the media. PAM incorporation reduced the need for irrigation early in production for both species, but by the end of production, those new guinea impatiens plants were smaller (less shoot dry mass) and required irrigation as often as plants grown without PAM. This effect coincided with reduced media volume, air capacity, and total porosity in PAM-containing media. Theoretical analysis of the potential benefits from hydrogels confirms the potential benefit early in production with little to no benefit later in production and in post-production. These data will assist growers in determining if the benefits derived from the use of PAM justify the added cost of medium.

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Wai-Foong Hong, Chang-Qing Bai, Michael Broe, Jinguo Hu, Charles Krause, David Tay* and Guo-Liang Wang

Pelargonium is one of the important flower crops in USA. It is a priority genus for conservation at the USDA Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC). It belongs to Geraniaceae family and comprises of about 280 species. To understand the genetic variation of the Pelargonium collection at OPGC, the PCR-based TRAP (target region amplified polymorphism) marker system which was newly developed in sunflower was used in this study. Twelve sets of primers were used to fingerprint 46 accessions representing 21 commercial P. hortorum, 17 scented geraniums and 8 other unidentified Pelargonium taxa. About 150 DNA bands could be detected in each primer and accession combination. Cluster analysis showed that molecular data was highly correlated with the phenotypes. Cultivars with similar morphological traits were clustered together. These results demonstrated that the TRAP system is a useful technique for the characterization and classification of Pelargonium collections.

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Rose E. Palumbo, Wai-Foong Hong, Jinguo Hu, Charles Krause, James Locke, Richard Craig, David Tay and Guo-Liang Wang

Pelargonium is one of the priority genera collected by the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC). In order to protect future breeders from a loss of genetic diversity, the OPGC collects heirloom cultivars, breeding lines, and wild species. The current Pelargonium collection consists primarily of cultivars originating from P. ×hortorum and P. ×domesticum. Our project was designed to analyze the current collection in order to facilitate the maintenance of a more-diverse core collection. We have expanded our TRAP (Target Region Amplified Polymorphism) analysis from 120 plants with one primer set to include 780 plants with four primer sets. Each primer set consists of a labeled arbitrary primer paired with a gene-specific primer, and two different fluorescent labels were used to allow multiplexed PCR reactions. We scored about 90 markers in each of the first two primer sets and about 60 markers in each of the second two. In comparisons between the phylogeny and the morphology and taxonomy of these plants, we show some matching clusters that may be explained by the breeding history of the plants.

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Rose Palumbo, Wai-Foong Hong, Guo-Liang Wang, Jinguo Hu, Richard Craig, James Locke, Charles Krause and David Tay

Pelargonium was a priority genera collected by the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC) until a recent reorganization. To preserve genetic diversity for future breeders, OPGC collects heirloom cultivars, breeding lines, and wild species. The current Pelargonium collection at OPGC consists primarily of cultivars originating from P. ×hortorum and P. ×domesticum. Target region amplification polymorphism (TRAP) has the advantage of producing a large number of markers through use of sequence information that is already available. Our first goal was to determine the feasibility of TRAP for the analysis of this large collection, so that in the future the most diverse genotypes may be retained. To achieve this goal, we first modified existing DNA extraction techniques to account for the high levels of phenolic compounds present in some Pelargonium species by combining several washes to remove the phenolics with the addition of high levels of antiphenolic compounds. Second, we evaluated the TRAP procedure using the DNA isolated from 46 accessions. For 44 accessions, one or two primer combinations generated enough fragments to discriminate each of the accessions, and similar clades were produced by cluster analysis of the polymorphic fragments amplified by different primer combinations. All the scorable fragments were polymorphic, for one primer combination there were 148 markers from one image and the other produced 160 markers on two images. These results demonstrate that TRAP is an effective method for molecular characterization of ornamental collections.