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Diploid plants in Vaccinium section Cyanococcus, including plants of V. darrowi Camp, V. atrococcum. Heller (diploid V. corymbosum L.), a V. atrococcum × V. darrowi F1 hybrid, and a V. atrococcum × V. elliottii Chapmn. F1 hybrid, were hand pollinated in a greenhouse with pollen from diploid V. arboreum Marsh. (Section Batodendron). The resulting seeds were germinated and the seedlings were transplanted to a high-density field nursery. Forty of these F1 intersectional hybrids were selected after 2 1/2 years and transplanted to a 1.5 × 4-m spacing. Most of these plants were vigorous and flowered heavily in subsequent years, but only a small percentage of the flowers produced fruit. In 1990, however, >4000 berries were harvested from the 35 surviving plants. Open-pollinated seed from a much smaller number of berries was planted in Dec. 1987; these seeds produced ≈200 seedlings, some of which had moderate to high fruit set in a field nursery in 1989. Six of these seedlings, which were selected for high vigor, high fruit set, and characteristics intermediate between section Cyanococcus and section Batodendron, had fruit set ranging from 19.4% to 92.7% when pollinated with pollen from tetraploid V. corymbosum cultivars. One of the six seedlings was highly self-fruitful, and some intercrosses among the six seedlings produced much viable seed. Large-scale introgression of V. arboreum genes into tetraploid highbush cultivars likely will be possible by the methods used in this study.

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Restriction fragment analyses of chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) were carried out on the principal cytoplasms of northern highbush cultivars and one representative of Vaccinium ashei Reade. Twenty-three restriction enzymes were used to identify variation and clarify mode of organelle inheritance. All species and genotypes displayed identical cpDNA fragment patterns, but high degrees of polymorphism were observed in the mitochondrial genomes. `Bluecrop' and `Jersey' did not appear to have `Rubel' cytoplasm as was previously believed. All hybrids contained maternal-type mtDNA.

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Inbreeding coefficients were calculated for highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) cultivars based on a tetrasomic inheritance model. This model yielded lower inbreeding coefficients than previous calculations based on a disomic tetraploid inheritance model. Recent trends in breeding have resulted in significant use of V. darrowi Camp as a source of low-chilling germplasm for use in the southern United States. There is also a trend toward increased inbreeding in several crosses from which recently released cultivars have been derived. Increased inbreeding coefficients do not represent a detrimental situation in blueberry per se.

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The extent of self-fertility and self-fruitfulness was studied in Vaccinium arboreum Marsh, V. darrowi Camp, and in seedlings, termed MIKs, from open-pollination of V. darrowi (section Cyanococcus) × V. arboreum (section Batodendron) F1 hybrids. The open pollinations that produced the MIKs occurred in a field containing tetraploid southern highbush selections (based largely on V. corymbosum L.), and the pollen parents of the MIKs are believed to be southern highbush selections. The MIKs that were studied had been selected for high fruit set after open pollination in the field. Both V. arboreum and V. darrowi exhibited very low self-fruitfulness and self-fertility when hand-pollinated in a greenhouse; the former produced no seedlings from more than 600 selfed flowers, and the latter produced only 13. By contrast, southern highbush clones averaged 70 seedlings per 100 pollinated flowers when selfed and 230 when crossed. Self-fertility and self-fruitfulness of the MIKs were higher than those of V. arboreum and V. darrowi but lower than those of southern highbush selections. MIK × MIK crosses gave fewer seedlings per 100 pollinated flowers (84) than highbush × highbush crosses (230), probably reflecting their hybrid ancestry. Although introduction of V. arboreum genes into southern highbush blueberry gives plants of excellent vigor and adaptation to north Florida, several generations of breeding will be needed to obtain cultivars with high fertility and berry quality.

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Pollen from six southern highbush blueberry cultivars derived from Vaccinium corymbosum L. and one or more other species (V. darrowi Camp, V. ashei Reade, and V. angustifolium Aiton) was incubated on nutrient agar to determine tetrad viability, pollen tube growth rates, and incidence of multiple pollen tube germinations. `Avonblue' pollen had a significantly lower tetrad germination percentage than `Georgiagem', `Flordablue', `Sharpblue', `Gulfcoast', or `O'Neal', all of which had >90% viable tetrads. The in vitro growth rate of `O'Neal' pollen tubes was significantly higher than the growth rates of `Sharpblue' and `Georgiagem pollen tubes. Of those tetrads that were viable, more than two pollen tubes germinated from 83% and 91% of the `Gulfcoast' and `Sharpblue' tetrads, respectively, while only 11% of the `Flordablue' tetrads produced more than two pollen tubes. The total number of pollen tubes germinated per 100 tetrads ranged from 157 (`Flordablue') to 324 (`Sharpblue'), resulting in actual pollen grain viabilities ranging from 39% to 81%. Genetic differences in pollen vigor, as indicated by pollen viability, pollen tube growth rates, and multiple pollen tube germinations, may influence blueberry growers' success in optimizing the beneficial effects of cross-pollination on fruit development.

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The relationship between moisture stress and mineral soil tolerance was studied by placing 10 blueberry (Vaccinium) clones in a Berryland sand soil high in organic matter (Berryland) and a Galestown sandy clay loam soil (Galestown) and subjecting them to one of two moisture regimes. The Berryland and Galestown soils represent an excellent blueberry soil and a mineral soil, respectively. A moderate degree of water stress influenced biomass partitioning in blueberries in a similar manner as stress induced by culture on mineral soil. Berryland control plants on Berryland partitioned more biomass into leaves and produced more dry matter and leaf area than plants on Galestown or those moisture stressed. Net assimilation rate and relative growth rate were not significantly different between soil or moisture treatments. The primary reason for the reduction in absolute growth rate due to soil type or moisture stress was a significantly lower leaf area duration on Galestown soil and in-moisture stressed plants. Clones differed in instantaneous transpiration, leaf conductance, and apparent photosynthesis and the ability to partition biomass into various plant parts. By selecting for increased leafiness, a high photosynthetic rate, and a more energy efficient root system, improvement in mineral soil tolerance should be possible.

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Deacclimation response is an important part of reproductive success in woody perennials because late winter or early spring thaws followed by hard freezes can cause severe injury to dehardened flower buds. There is a need to develop more spring-frost tolerant cultivars for the blueberry (Vaccinium L.) industry. The identification of later or slower deacclimating genotypes could be useful in breeding for more spring-frost tolerant cultivars. This study was undertaken to investigate cold hardiness and deacclimation kinetics under field conditions for 12 Vaccinium (section Cyanococcus A. Gray) genotypes (the cultivars Bluecrop, Duke, Legacy, Little Giant, Magnolia, Northcountry, Northsky, Ozarkblue, Pearl River, Tifblue, and Weymouth; and a population of V. constablaei Gray) with different germplasm compositions and expected mid-winter bud hardiness levels. Examination of bud cold hardiness (BCH) vs. weeks of deacclimation over a 7-week period in 2 consecutive years (2002 and 2003) revealed clear genotypic differences in cold hardiness and timing and rate of deacclimation. Among cultivars, `Legacy' was the least cold hardy at initial evaluation, even less so than `Tifblue'. Regarding deacclimation kinetics, the weekly intervals with the largest losses (i.e., high rates of deacclimation) also varied among genotypes. For `Duke', the largest losses in BCH were detected at weeks 2 and 3, making it the earliest deacclimator. For `Bluecrop', `Ozarkblue', `Weymouth', `Tifblue', and `Legacy', the greatest losses in BCH were observed at weeks 3 and 4. For `Little Giant', `Magnolia', `Northcountry', `Northsky', and `Pearl River', losses in BCH were greatest at weeks 4 and 5, while for V. constablaei, losses were greatest at weeks 6 and 7, making it the latest deacclimator. Deacclimation kinetics were not correlated with mid-winter hardiness or chilling requirements in any fixed pattern. On the other hand, a strong positive correlation was found between BCH and stage of bud opening (r = 0.84). A comparison of timing of deacclimation with germplasm composition indicated that V. constablaei was particularly late to deacclimate. `Little Giant', a 50:50 hybrid of V. constablaei and V. ashei Reade, was nearly as late to deacclimate as the 100% V. constablaei selections. Thus, V. constablaei may be useful in breeding programs to contribute genes for late deacclimation, which should translate into greater spring frost tolerance, in addition to genes for mid-winter hardiness.

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Interspecific blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) progenies were examined to determine combining abilities and genetic variability for seedling root system size and shoot vigor and to establish whether a large root system is correlated with good growth when plants are grown on a mineral soil and exposed to a moderate soil water deficit. General combining ability (GCA) variance components for root system size and shoot vigor and specific combining ability variance components for shoot vigor were significant. US226, a tetraploid hybrid of V. myrtilloides Michaux × V. atrococcum Heller, had the highest GCA effect for root system size and the lowest GCA effect for shoot vigor. US75 (V. darrowi Camp × V. corymbosum L.) had the highest GCA effect for shoot vigor and was second in GCA effect for root system size. Comparison of the crosses containing G111 (V. corymbosum) with those containing G362 (V. corymbosum) indicates that selecting for the best V. corymbosum clone to start a breeding program seems as important as selecting the mineral soil-adapted parent. Root system ratings were highly correlated with total dry weight of field-grown plants (r = 0.89). The method used in this study to evaluate seedlings for root system size and shoot vigor could be used to eliminate the less vigorous plants from a population before field planting and to evaluate mineral soil adaptability.

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Eighty-seven highbush blueberry and species-introgressed blueberry cultivars were evaluated for fruit firmness in the 1998-2000 growing seasons with a FirmTech 1 automated firmness tester. Significant differences were observed among cultivars. An average firmness of 136.1 g·mm-1 of deflection (g·mm-1 dfl) was observed across all studied cultivars, and a range of 80.4 g·mm-1 dfl (`Herbert') to 189.0 g·mm-1 dfl (`Pearl River'). Species ancestry was not consistently related to firmness; however, cultivars with higher firmness values often possessed a higher percentage of Vaccinium darrowi Camp and V. ashei Reade ancestry. Conversely, cultivars with softer than average fruit often possessed a higher percentage of lowbush (V. angustifolium Ait.) ancestry. This information may help to identify sources of breeding material for increased firmness in highbush blueberry hybrids.

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