This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Re-heating Oil-rich Seeds

A Cuphea species

The challenge of germinating oil-rich seeds after they've been stored in low temperatures is being met by United States Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Fort Collins, Colorado. Initial work has been done with Cuphea, a genus of mainly herbaceous plants that grow in many sub-tropical areas. Many Cuphea species' seeds yield oils with useful properties, but the lauric and myristic fatty acids which make them desirable to commerce can impede their germination following cold storage. As lauric and myristic fatty acids have 12 and 14 carbons, respectively, the lipids containing these acids crystallise when stored at -17ºC (0ºF), the standard temperature for long-term seed preservation. When returned to room temperature, the lipids remain crystallised and the seeds usually will not germinate.

Plant physiologist Christina Walters and her colleagues in the ARS Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit suspect that freezing temperatures disrupt the forces binding the contents within the seeds' cells, so they cannot function properly when the seeds re-hydrate. With support from ARS researchers in Ames, Iowa, the team examined the seeds' lipid composition, identified the species susceptible to damage, and developed a solution: warming the seeds before germination. Cuphea seeds can be harvested, dried and stored like other seeds. However, before germination, they should be heated for ten minutes at 45ºC (113ºF). Seeds which have undergone cold storage and re-heating are capable of germination, although electron micrograph images show significant differences between post and pre-storage seeds. The researchers believe their findings can be used to improve long-term seed storage for other oil-rich tropical species that both commercial growers and home gardeners commonly grow.

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