Ginseng is an herbaceous perennial that grows in the understorey of deciduous hardwood forests and is also cultivated for its highly valued root. The primary method of propagation of ginseng is by seed which requires the breaking of dormancy by stratification, a process which takes 18–24 months. Investigation of factors controlling the growth and development of ginseng plants is a prerequisite to the development of a more efficient system of ginseng propagation. We have recently modulated the morphogenetic potential of geranium roots and stimulated de novo development of shoots and embryo-like structures which later formed whole plants using thidiazuron (TDZ). Our objective was to investigate the morphological changes in seedling and mature ginseng plants induced by TDZ, particularly in relation to root and shoot morphogenesis and economic yield. Applications of TDZ (0.22 and 2.20 ppm), either as foliar sprays or soil watering to greenhouse-grown seedlings over 18 weeks (2 weeks after sowing to 20 weeks when plants were harvested) induced similar effects. These responses included increased stem length and diameter, and shoot and root weight (economic yield). Single foliar applications of TDZ at 62.5 and 125 ppm to 3-year-old field-grown ginseng plants 3 months before harvest increased root biomass (economic yield) by 19% to 23%. Roots of TDZ-treated seedlings and 3-year-old field-grown plants developed thickened secondary roots on the upper part of the taproot. The root-like structure of these secondary roots was confirmed by histology. In addition, TDZ treatments induced adventitious buds on the shoulder of 3-year-old roots. These buds developed into shoots to give multi-stem plants following a period of dormancy, which was overcome with GA3 (gibberellic acid) treatment before planting.
Ginseng is a very valuable agricultural species grown for its root, which contains pharmacologically active constituents. One limiting factor for expansion of ginseng production is an efficient method for mass propagation. Currently, seeding is the principal method of propagating ginseng, but the embryo of ginseng seeds at harvest is immature. A stratification schedule consisting of a cool-warm-cool temperature treatment over 18-22 months is required for embryo development and seed germination. An alternative for the efficient production of ginseng is mass propagation through the use of in vitro culture techniques. The objective of this work was to develop a highly efficient system for regeneration of ginseng. The efficacy of three auxins, viz. 2,4-D, NAA and dicamba, were compared for the induction of somatic embryogenesis in American ginseng. Somatic embryos formed on ginseng cotyledonary, zygotic embryo, and shoot explants after 8 weeks of induction by the auxins. Significantly more somatic embryos were induced by culture of any of the ginseng explants on media supplemented with 5 μmol·L-1 2,4-D than any other auxin treatment. Histological and SEM studies confirmed that the regenerants were somatic embryos. Somatic embryos germinated and developed into normal plants in 3-6 months. The development of a regeneration system for ginseng using somatic embryogenesis is a necessary first step for mass propagation and the improvement of American ginseng.