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  • Author or Editor: Leslie A. Weston x
  • HortTechnology x
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Allelopathy can be defined as an important mechanism of plant interference mediated by the addition of plant-produced secondary products to the soil rhizosphere. Allelochemicals are present in all types of plants and tissues and are released into the soil rhizosphere by a variety of mechanisms, including decomposition of residues, volatilization and root exudation. Allelochemical structures and modes of action are diverse, and may offer potential for development of future herbicides. In the past, allelopathy was described by the Romans as a process resulting in the “sickening” of the soil; in particular, chickpea (Cicer arietinum) was described as problematic when successively cropped with other species. Other early plant scientists, such as De Candolle in the 1800s, first described the ability of plant roots to produce toxic exudates. More recently, research has focused on development of weed management strategies using allelopathic crop residues, mechanism of allelochemical action, and gene regulation of allelochemical production. This paper briefly describes a variety of weed and crop species that establishes some form of potent allelopathic interference, either with other crops or weeds, in agricultural settings, in the managed landscape, or in naturalized settings. Recent research suggests that allelopathic properties can render one species more invasive to native species and thus potentially detrimental to both agricultural and naturalized settings. In contrast, allelopathic crops offer strong potential for the development of cultivars that are more highly weed suppressive in managed settings. A new challenge that exists for plant scientists is to generate additional information on allelochemical mechanisms of release, selectivity and persistence, mode of action, and genetic regulation. Armed with this specific information, we can further protect plant biodiversity and enhance weed management strategies in a variety of ecosystems.

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A series of field studies were conducted from 1999 to 2005 in Ithaca, NY, at the Cornell Turfgrass Research Center as part of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) to evaluate a collection of 78 fine-leaf fescue cultivars (Festuca spp.) for turfgrass quality, seedling vigor, and ability to inhibit the establishment of common annual and perennial weeds. Using these criteria, we evaluated the overall suitability of the cultivars for use in turfgrass settings, as well as their potential weed suppressive or allelopathic ability. The ability of fine-leaf fescue to displace weeds was visually evaluated by density-wise comparison, and several cultivars of the 78 studied consistently established well and provided good to very good suppression (greater than 70%) of common turf weeds when established at the same planting density. Other cultivars provided moderate (between 35% and 70%) to (< 30%) little weed suppression. Greater weed suppressivity is likely associated with the differential ability of fescue cultivars to establish rapidly and to form a dense canopy, as well as potential allelopathic interference. This study was conducted in conjunction with laboratory experiments that revealed that certain fine-leaf fescue cultivars produced phytotoxic root exudates that were released into the rhizosphere over time. Additional field studies conducted in Ithaca showed that cultivars Intrigue, Columbra, and Sandpiper were consistently more weed suppressive than the other fine-leaf fescues evaluated. Although our understanding of the dynamics of production and degradation of fine-leaf fescue root exudates in the rhizosphere is limited, recent field studies also suggest that allelopathic interference as well as the ability to rapidly establish influence subsequent weed infestation in fine-leaf fescue stands. From a more practical standpoint, certain fine-leaf fescue cultivars, including Intrigue, Columbra, Sandpiper, and Reliant II, could be recommended for use in low-maintenance turf settings in the northeastern United States due to their aesthetic appeal and their limited weed infestation in circumstances where herbicides are not applied.

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