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William R. Okie and Bryan Blackburn

Timing of budbreak in response to winter chilling is a critical factor in the suitability of peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] cultivars to moderate climates such as that in the southeastern United States. Much of the research on chilling and dormancy has used excised cuttings or potted trees exposed to various treatments and forced under controlled conditions. Light is not generally considered an important factor in such experiments, and the effect of light during forcing has been little studied. The objective of this research was to compare light versus dark conditions during forcing as well as the effects of different colors of light during forcing. Our results showed that after chilling had been minimally satisfied, peach floral and vegetative budbreak occurred faster when forced in the presence of light than when forced in darkness. Light increased budbreak rate as well as the total percentage of budbreak. Red, yellow, and fluorescent light were more promotive in increasing budbreak than blue, green, infrared, or incandescent light, suggesting a role for phytochrome. Promotive effects of light were less when buds had received enough natural chill and heat to break within a week of forcing at 18 °C. In conclusion, light during forcing can have a significant effect of budbreak and needs to be considered when doing research on chilling and dormancy.

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Chunxian Chen and William R. Okie

Several new peach (Prunus persica) flower types were discovered in an F2 segregating population from an open-pollinated, non-showy-flowered F1 seedling of ‘Helen Borchers’, a double-flowered ornamental cultivar. The novel flower types were white and red single-flowered, non-showy blooms, as well as double-flowered, non-showy red, pink, white, and yellow phenotypes. The double, non-showy flowers were very attractive, and resembled pom-pom chrysanthemums. Yellow flower color is unknown in peach. Flower type in the F2 family segregated ≈3:1 for non-showy (Sh_) vs. showy (shsh), for anthocyanin-present vs. anthocyanin-absent, and for pink (R_) vs. red (rr), independently. Flower petal number segregated at about 9:3:4 for classes single:semi-double:double. Although both parents were late flowering, the F1 was not. The F2 seedlings showed a wide range in time of flowering. Higher petal number was correlated with later bloom, although it is unclear whether this is due to linkage or developmental differences in the flowers with extra petals. These novel flower types might be useful as ornamentals, and for use in genetics and breeding studies. Microsatellite analysis of possible pollen donors revealed that ‘Oldmixon Free’, a non-showy-flowered peach cultivar, was likely the pollen parent of the F1.

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Chunxian Chen and William R. Okie

Several available Prunus chloroplast genomes have not been exploited to develop polymorphic chloroplast microsatellites that could be useful in Prunus phylogenetic analysis and maternal lineage group (MLG) categorization. In this study, using available bioinformatics tools, 80, 75, and 78 microsatellites were identified from the chloroplast genome of P. persica (CPpe), P. kansuensis (CPka), and P. mume (CPmu), respectively. The genome features and polymorphism status of these microsatellites were characterized. The genomic locations and motif types of most chloroplast microsatellites were conserved in CPpe, CPka, and CPmu. Of the 67 microsatellites with primer sequences and names, 57 were polymorphic for their in silico motif, amplicon lengths, or both among the three genomes. Based on the genotyping data of eight most polymorphic microsatellites, eight unique MLGs were found among the 736 peach materials in a breeding program. Most peach cultivars (111 of 161 genotyped) belong to MLG-1, the Chinese Cling-derived group reflecting the heavy use of this germplasm in early peach development. Forty-one cultivars belong to MLG-2, the European-derived group of peaches. MLG-3 consists of ornamental accessions. MLG-4 and MLG-5 contain only ‘Flordaking’ and ‘Reliance’, respectively. MLG-6 to MLG-8 consists of selections derived from P. tangutica, P. davidiana, and P. mira, respectively. These amplicons from the representative material for each MLG were sequenced, revealing additional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the amplicons. With the polymorphism status and amplification reliability validated, these new polymorphic chloroplast microsatellite markers may be useful in Prunus phylogenetic analysis.

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William R. Okie and Bryan Blackburn

Response to chilling temperatures is a critical factor in the suitability of peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] cultivars to moderate climates such as in the southeastern United States. Time of bloom depends on the innate chilling requirement of the cultivar as well as the timing and duration of cold and warm temperatures experienced by the buds. Most current chilling models have considered dormancy break a sequential process: after appropriate chilling is received, a fixed amount of heat accumulation will produce bloom. This research shows that as chilling exposure increases, the time and heat accumulation required for peach floral budbreak decreases in an exponential relationship. When chilling is ample, a sequential, two-part dormancy model is adequate to describe budbreak, and increased chilling has little effect on heat requirement. In lower-chilling situations relative to a particular cultivar, the curvilinear relationship between chilling and heat requirement results in more heat being required for budbreak. This relationship, in conjunction with the range of chilling requirement found among the buds on a tree, results in an extended, asymmetrical budbreak.

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Thomas G. Beckman and William R. Okie

Differences in chilling and post-rest heat requirements of various stonefruits were investigated through the use of cuttings collected from field grown trees. Materials studied included P. angustifolia Marsh, P. besseyi Bailey, P. maritima Marsh, P. persica (L.) Batsch (`Agua 6-4', `Flordaking', `Pi Tao', `Redhaven', `Redskin', and `Ta Tao'), P. umbellata Ell. and a Japanese type plum (`Byrongold'). Cuttings were collected after natural leaf fall and shortly after the onset of of chill hour accumulation. Cuttings were stored at 4°C. Groups of cuttings were removed from storage after various amounts of chilling and allowed to develop at 16, 21 or 27°C. Cuttings were observed for both vegetative and flower bud break. Magnitude of differences in chilling and post-rest heat requirements and their implications in the breeding of peaches for low and moderate chill areas will be discussed.

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D. Michael Glenn, Ralph Scorza and William R. Okie

Two unpruned willow leaf and two unpruned standard leaf peach [Prunuspersica(L.) Batsch.] selections were evaluated for physiological components related to water use efficiency (WUE). The purpose of the study was to assess the value of willow leaf phenotypes to improve water use efficiency in peach and separate the environmental from the genetic components. The willow leaf characteristic itself did not confer improved water use efficiency. Light interception was a key determinant of WUE in these genotypes and the relationship of WUE with intercepted photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) by the entire canopy indicated a significant negative correlation. Internal shading of the tree by excessive leaf area reduced WUE and canopies that intercept more than 60% of the PAR have reduced WUE. While WUE is improved by reducing the amount of PAR interception of the canopy, productivity is reduced. Neither of the willow leaf genotypes had a significant correlation of WUE with yield (leaf and fruit weight); however, the standard leaf type cultivars, `Bounty' and `Redhaven', had significantly different regressions that indicate greater productivity in `Bounty' for a given level of WUE. `Redhaven' was the least productive cultivar; `Bounty' was the most productive, and the two willow leaf genotypes were intermediate in the relationship of intercepted PAR with yield. Therefore, genetic differences in peach growth types can be selected for both increased WUE as well as increased productivity. Future work in peach breeding to improve WUE and productivity must take into consideration light interception, productivity, and WUE in an integrated manner to make progress in the efficient use of water and light.

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Chunxian Chen, William R. Okie and Thomas G. Beckman

Peach fruit set is affected by cumulative chill and spring frost. A spring frost occurred on 29 Mar. 2015 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Byron station after 3 weeks of bloom, reducing fruit set and resulting in many buttons (abnormally small fruit with dead embryos). Fruit set was rated in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and button set rated in 2015 using the same scale (0 = no fruit/button to 9 = 1–2 fruit/button at every node). The overall fruit set rating was substantially different in the 3 years, averaging 5.61 in 2014, 2.61 in 2015, and 6.04 in 2016. Buttons and skin-damaged fruit in 2015 varied among peach genotypes. Comparison of fruit and button set ratings showed that there was no difference between cultivars and selections, but some significant differences in fruit set for four ripening months, among the 3 years, and among the nine chilling classes, respectively. Among the cultivars, the most common button set rating was 0–3. For example, ‘Sunprince’, ‘Loring’, and ‘Carored’ trees had a high button set rating, whereas ‘Flameprince’, ‘Julyprince’, and ‘Contender’ trees were low. As for peach selections, BY04P1690n was among those with the highest button set rating. In the population derived from a cross of button-prone BY04P1690n and button-free BY99P3866w, fruit and button counts from 10 long fruiting shoots ranged from 4 to 53 fruit (21.63 on average) and 2 to 27 buttons (10.39 on average). The peach button rate ranged from 5.36% to 87.10% (30.70% on average). The range, distribution, and percentage of the button counts suggested that, if buttoning was genetically controlled, it appeared quantitative. Further assessment is needed.

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Viji Sitther, Dapeng Zhang, Sadanand A. Dhekney, Donna L. Harris, Anand K. Yadav and William R. Okie

Information on genetic relationships and pedigree structure in germplasm collections is vital to breeders in crop improvement programs. In this study, we assessed genetic identity, kinship distance, and parentage–sibship relationships among 37 peach (Prunus persica) accessions and breeding lines using simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers. Pairwise comparisons based on multilocus SSR profiles led to the identification of two synonymous groups including five accessions. Two pairs of parent–offspring and one full sibling relationships were identified using the likelihood method, and Bayesian cluster analysis partitioned the accessions into groups that were partially compatible with the known pedigree, origin, and flesh color. The 37 accessions were grouped into four clusters, which were largely supported by the known pedigree and origin of these accessions. Although the observed mean heterozygosity was 0.219, mean inbreeding coefficient was 0.635, indicating a high degree of inbreeding among the accessions. Eleven of the 15 SSR markers (73.3%) tested were transferable to nine related Prunus species. Results of the study demonstrate that these SSRs could facilitate the assessment of genetic identity and pedigree structure.

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Mark D. Schwartz, Gregory J. Carbone, Gregory L. Reighard and William R. Okie

This paper outlines the development of regional-scale peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] phenology models for the southeastern United States. We constructed regression-based models to predict full bloom and first harvest using phenological data for eight peach cultivars grown in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas and meteorological data from nearby cooperative weather stations. The mean absolute error (MAE, absolute value of predicted date minus observed date) of the all-cultivar full bloom model was 3.48 days. Bloom model errors were roughly 6 to 7 days (or less) 90% of the time, while comparable natural bloom date variability at a single station is about 12 to 13 days. Only two cultivars (`Dixired' and `Elberta') had first harvest models with 90% error thresholds at or less than the natural harvest date variability at a single station (9 to 10 days). Thus, first harvest appears to be less predictable than full bloom, at least in terms of the temperature variables used in this study. The bloom model could serve as a prognostic tool, while the two cultivar harvest models are appropriate only for diagnostic studies, such as evaluating the potential response of a peach cultivar in a new location. The appeal of the models is that they consider numerous cultivars over a wide region and they use readily available meteorological data.

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Chad E. Finn and John R. Clark