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David R. Bryla, Carolyn F. Scagel, Scott B. Lukas, and Dan M. Sullivan

Excess salinity is becoming a prevalent problem for production of highbush blueberry (Vaccinium L. section Cyanococcus Gray), but information on how and when it affects the plants is needed. Two experiments, including one on the northern highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) cultivar, Bluecrop, and another on the southern highbush (V. corymbosum interspecific hybrid) cultivar, Springhigh, were conducted to investigate their response to salinity and assess whether any suppression in growth was ion specific or due primarily to osmotic stress. In both cases, the plants were grown in soilless media (calcined clay) and fertigated using a complete nutrient solution containing four levels of salinity [none (control), low (0.7–1.3 mmol·d−1), medium (1.4–3.4 mmol·d−1), and high (2.8–6.7 mmol·d−1)] from either NaCl or CaCl2. Drainage was minimized in each treatment except for periodic determination of electrical conductivity (EC) using the pour-through method, which, depending on the experiment, reached levels as high as 3.2 to 6.3 dS·m−1 with NaCl and 7.8 to 9.5 dS·m−1 with CaCl2. Total dry weight of the plants was negatively correlated to EC and, depending on source and duration of the salinity treatment, decreased linearly at a rate of 1.6 to 7.4 g·dS−1·m−1 in ‘Bluecrop’ and 0.4 to 12.5 g·dS−1·m−1 in ‘Springhigh’. Reductions in total dry weight were initially similar between the two salinity sources; however, by the end of the study, which occurred at 125 days in ‘Bluecrop’ and at 111 days in ‘Springhigh’, dry weight declined more so with NaCl than with CaCl2 in each part of the plant, including in the leaves, stems, and roots. The percentage of root length colonized by mycorrhizal fungi also declined with increasing levels of salinity in Bluecrop and was lower in both cultivars when the plants were treated with NaCl than with CaCl2. However, leaf damage, which included tip burn and marginal necrosis, was greater with CaCl2 than with NaCl. In general, CaCl2 had no effect on uptake or concentration of Na in the plant tissues, whereas NaCl reduced Ca uptake in both cultivars and reduced the concentration of Ca in the leaves and stems of Bluecrop and in each part of the plant in Springhigh. Salinity from NaCl also resulted in higher concentrations of Cl and lower concentrations of K in the plant tissues than CaCl2 in both cultivars. The concentration of other nutrients in the plants, including N, P, Mg, S, B, Cu, Fe, Mn, and Zn, was also affected by salinity, but in most cases, the response was similar between the two salts. These results point to ion-specific effects of different salts on the plants and indicate that source is an important consideration when managing salinity in highbush blueberry.