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Nisa Leksungnoen, Paul G. Johnson, and Roger K. Kjelgren

Broad concerns over water shortages and drought where irrigated urban landscapes are common in high desert regions have focused attention on drought tolerance of turfgrass species. We investigated the physiological responses of kentucky bluegrass (KBG) and tall fescue (TF) under a prolonged drought under high desert conditions. The experimental design was a split plot with three replicates. Two irrigation treatments as a whole plot—well-watered and no water—were applied to subplots of ‘Midnight’ KBG and ‘Gazelle’ TF. Stomatal conductance (g S), canopy temperature, and predawn leaf water potential were measured over two seasons. KBG g S and leaf water potential decreased faster and to a greater extent than TF in response to soil drying, and KBG was in complete dormancy and brown within 5 weeks after cessation of irrigation. By contrast, TF maintained a green canopy throughout the drought periods. In the no-water plots, TF appeared to consume water from the deepest measured soil profiles (80- to 100-cm depth), whereas KBG used most of the water in the 50- to 60-cm depths. When watered for recovery in late summer, KBG plots were mostly green within 3 weeks after rewatering. The surface temperature of the well-watered plots was 6–13 °C cooler than the no-water plots and TF showed 5–7 °C lower temperature than KBG in no-water plots. TF is suitable for deep soil, exploiting a larger volume of water to avoid drought, whereas KBG's rapid drought avoidance would likely perform better in shallow landscape soils under drought.

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Chalita Sriladda, Heidi A. Kratsch, Steven R. Larson, and Roger K. Kjelgren

The herbaceous perennial species in the genus Sphaeralcea have desirable drought tolerance and aesthetics with potential for low-water use landscapes in the Intermountain West. However, taxonomy of these species is ambiguous, which leads to decreased consumer confidence in the native plant nursery industry. The goal of this study was to test and clarify morphological and genetic differentiation among four putative Sphaeralcea species. Morphological characteristics of the type specimens were used as species references in canonical variate analysis to generate a classification model. This model was then used to assign putative species names to herbarium voucher specimens and to field-collected voucher specimens to clarify genetic variation among species. Field specimens were also classified using Bayesian cluster analyses of amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) genotypes. Sphaeralcea coccinea (Nutt.) Rydb. and S. grossulariifolia (Hook. & Arn.) Rydb. formed a composite group morphologically and genetically distinct from the S. munroana (Douglas) Spach and S. parvifolia A. Nelson composite group. Each composite group displayed genetic isolation by geographic distance. Also, morphological traits of S. munroana and S. parvifolia correlated to geographic distance. Taken together these results suggest that our samples represent two sympatric yet reproductively isolated groups. Distinguishing between these two Sphaeralcea composite groups can create greater consumer confidence in plant material developed for use in Intermountain West low-water landscaping.

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Chalita Sriladda, Heidi A. Kratsch, Steven R. Larson, Thomas A. Monaco, FenAnn Shen, and Roger K. Kjelgren

Shepherdia rotundifolia Parry (roundleaf buffaloberry), a shrub endemic to the U.S. Colorado Plateau high desert, has aesthetic and drought tolerance qualities desirable for low-water urban landscapes. However, slow growth and too often fatal sensitivity to wet or disturbed soil stymies nursery production and urban landscape use. The goal of this study was to create an interspecific hybrid between the evergreen-xeric S. rotundifolia and its widely adapted, fast-growing, deciduous relative Shepherdia argentea (silver buffaloberry) distributed in western North America riparian habitats. Genetics and leaf morphology of the resulting S. argentea × S. rotundifolia hybrid are described and compared with the parents, as well as hybrid gas exchange as a reasonable proxy for growth rate and potential tolerance of poor soil. Hybrid genotypes were heterogenous, but contained an intermediate and equal contribution of alleles from genetically heterogenous parent populations. Leaf morphology traits were also intermediate between both parents. Aesthetic leaf qualities (silver-blue color and revolute margins) sought from S. rotundifolia were conserved in all offspring. However, gas exchange responses varied widely between the two surviving hybrids. Both hybrids showed greater tolerance of wet, fertile substrate—and promise for use in low-water landscapes—than S. rotundifolia. However, one hybrid conserved faster growth, and by inference possibly greater tolerance of wet or disturbed soil, from S. argentea, while the opposite was observed in the second hybrid. Following botanical nomenclature, we named this hybrid Shepherdia ×utahensis.

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Nisa Leksungnoen, Roger K. Kjelgren, Richard C. Beeson Jr., Paul G. Johnson, Grant E. Cardon, and Austin Hawks

We investigated if salt tolerance can be inferred from observable cues based on a woody species’ native habitat and leaf traits. Such inferences could improve species selection for urban landscapes constrained by soils irrigated with reclaimed water. We studied the C3 tree species Acer grandidentatum Nutt. (canyon maple; xeric-non-saline habitat) that was hypothesized to have some degree of salt tolerance based on its semiarid but non-saline native habitat. We compared it with A. macrophyllum Pursh. (bigleaf maple) from mesic/riparian-non-saline habitats with much larger leaves and Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh. (eucalyptus/red gum) from mesic-saline habitats with schlerophyllous evergreen leaves. Five levels of increasing salt concentrations (non-saline control to 12 dS·m−1) were applied over 5 weeks to container-grown seedling trees in two separate studies, one in summer and the other in fall. We monitored leaf damage, gas exchange, and hydric behavior as measures of tree performance for 3 weeks after target salinity levels were reached. Eucalyptus was the most salt-tolerant among the species. At all elevated salinity levels, eucalyptus excluded salt from its root zone, unlike either maple species. Eucalyptus maintained intact, undamaged leaves with no effect on photosynthesis but with minor reductions in stomatal conductance (g S). Conversely, bigleaf maple suffered increasing leaf damage, nearly defoliated at the highest levels, with decreasing gas exchange as salt concentration increased. Canyon maple leaves were not damaged and gas exchange was minimally affected at 3 dS·m−1 but showed increasing damage at higher salt concentration. Salt-tolerant eucalyptus and riparian bigleaf maple framed canyon maple’s moderate salt tolerance up to 3 dS·m−1 that appears related to seasonal soil drying in its semiarid native habitat. These results highlight the potential to infer a degree of salt tolerance from either native habitat or known drought tolerance in selecting plant species for urban landscapes limited by soil salinity or brackish irrigation water. Observable cues such as xeri-morphic leaf traits may also provide visual evidence of salt tolerance.