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  • Author or Editor: Caleb Knepper x
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After a preliminary screening of over 3500 cultivars, we selected 200 butterhead, cos, crisphead, leaf, and stem lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and wild prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola L.) varieties to test under high water (150% evapotranspiration [ET]) and low water (50% ET) conditions in the field, and tracked commercially relevant traits related to growth and marketability, maturity, and physiology. Plants typically reduced growth and appeared to reallocate developmental resources to achieve maturity quickly, as indicated by traits such as increased core length. This strategy may allow them to complete their life cycle before severe drought stress proves lethal. Although most cultivars experienced a reduction in growth under low water conditions relative to high water conditions, some cultivars had a significantly reduced yield penalty under stress conditions. Among the different types of lettuce, the fresh weight (FW) of cos cultivars was most affected by drought stress, and the FW of leaf lettuce was least affected. Cos cultivars tended to bolt early. Crisphead cultivars Cal-West 80, Heatmaster, and Marion produced large heads and did not bolt under low water treatments, and butterhead cultivars Buttercrunch and Bibb also produced relatively large heads with very little bolting and no signs of tipburn. The four green leaf cultivars Slobolt, Grand Rapids, Western Green, and Australian showed no statistically significant difference in FW among high and low water treatments in multiple trials, and may be good choices for growers who wish to minimize losses under reduced irrigation. The identification of potentially drought-tolerant varieties and the information from this study may be helpful for cultivar selection by growers under drought conditions, but this study also serves as a step forward in the genetic improvement of lettuce to drought stress.

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