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Calyx Horticultural Services presents

Into Horticulture

Issue 14   November 2013

Plant & Garden News

Golden-foliaged plants

Gold particles have been found in eucalypt leaves from the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia using x-ray elemental imaging at the Australian Synchrotron. Using this method to detect gold or other metals drawn up by the roots and deposited in the leaves (possibly as a detoxification measure) could be a way to prospect for minerals without drilling. Source: Gilding the gum tree - scientists strike gold in leaves

Megaphone leaves

A tiny Central American bat that uses furled Heliconia and Calathea leaves as a roost also uses them to amplify and transmit the bats' calls. Researchers estimate that the curled leaves act like megaphones and increase the sound by up to 10 decibels. Source: Bats Discover Surround Sound: Nature's Horn in the Midst of Jungle Helps Bats Communicate

New species of Dracaena from Thailand has horticultural potential

A new species of dragon tree has been discovered in Thailand. Occurring naturally on limestone hills and mountains, Dracaena kaweesakii reaches about 12 m in height and is extensively branched with attractive foliage. Its beauty and the association of Dracaena species with good luck has meant that it has been transplanted into local Thai gardens. Potential over-harvesting for horticulture and habitat destruction mean the species could be vulnerable in the future without suitable conservation measures. Source: A stunning new species of dragon tree discovered in Thailand

Research provides guidance for pollinator garden planning

Planting gardens to support bees and other pollinators has become popular in recent years. Recommendations are sometimes made based on anecdote and opinion, but there has been little scientific research to indicate which types of garden flowers are the most suitable. A study in the UK is one of the first. 32 summer-flowering garden plants were assessed, including 13 lavender varieties and 4 dahlias. Results showed a wide range of attractiveness among the plants tested. Open daisy-style dahlias were more successful than the pom-pom or cactus types types. Lavender varieties also varied. Marjoram attracted a wide range of insects including bees, hover flies and butterflies. Pelargonium was the least attractive of those flowers tested. Source: Flower research shows gardens can be a feast for the eyes - and the bees, Quantifying variation among garden plants in attractiveness to bees and other flower-visiting insects

Flowering of the Triassic

Drilling in Switzerland has recovered pollen that sets back the origin of flowering some 100 million years earlier than previously believed (the early Cretaceous), to the early Triassic. Source: New fossils push the origin of flowering plants back by 100 million years to the early Triassic

Hydroseeding goes organic

Mexican researchers are developing an organic hydroseeding technique to stabilise sloping roadsides that is actually better than alternatives employing artificial polymers, adhesives and fertilisers. Components of the new technique include mycorrhizae to encourage soil aggregation and an adhesive made from the nopal cactus. Source: Gardens used to reduce landslides

Nodulation - not just for legumes?

Scientists have tested various non-leguminous plants with a chemical signal from rhizobia bacteria and have observed the same inhibition of immune response that occurs in legumes. Perhaps a mechanism also exists to form nodules. If a way could be found to activate it, perhaps tomatoes or corn might one day be engineered to fix nitrogen like beans and peas. Source: First Step to Reduce Plant Need for Nitrogen Fertilizer Uncovered in Science Study

Are some crops better for urban agriculture than others?

Food production in urban areas is gaining popularity, but is not without issues. These include air quality and climate within the urban environment. A study in Chicago is comparing sites across a 40-mile gradient from downtown outwards with the same soil but varying atmospheric conditions. So far, they are finding that some crops perform better in the city and others better in the country. Identifying crops best suited to urban cultivation (and even developing varieties especially for this) will help make the improvements to productivity necessary if urban farming is going to contribute significantly to food production. Studies like this may also provide insight into the effects of climate change and pollution on crops more generally in the future. Source: Urban agriculture: The potential and challenges of producing food in cities

New family proposed for Liriodendron

Studies of a fossil plant called Archaeanthus suggest that the evolutionary line producing Liriodendron tulipfera (tulip tree) diverged from the magnolias more than 100 million years ago and that they should be placed in their own family, the Liriodendraceae. Source: Researchers identify ancient ancestor of tulip tree line

SEQld rainforest species get DNA identities

Scientists have "barcoded" hundreds of Southeast Queensland rainforest plant species by analysing unique DNA sequences accessible via a database. This will facilitate rapid plant identification which will be useful in a wide range of applications from biodiversity research to forensic investigations. Source: Plant identity now traceable via DNA barcoding

Seeing purple

Purple sweet potatoes and other vegetables selected for high pigment content could be an increasing source of natural food colorings in the future, providing alternatives to synthetic pigments and those extracted from cochineal insects. The antioxidant properties of the vegetable colorants could also have health benefits, while the byproducts such as starch and fibre can be used in many others ways. Source: Purple sweet potatoes among 'new naturals' for food and beverage colors

Cycad seeds may favour colony development

The large fleshy seeds of cycads suggest they are adapted for dispersal by a large animal, but no large birds or mammals today are known to routinely eat them. So how have cycads survived? Based on monitoring of Macrozamia miquelii by University of Queensland researchers, a new theory proposes that cycads' tendency to occur in well separated but dense colonies in the wild is a reflection of limited seed dispersal mechanisms and that this may actually be to the cycad's advantage. Because plants are either male or female, a lone seed dispersed far from other plants would be unlikely to reproduce. Very large but now-extinct animals might have eaten and deposited several seeds at once. The need to form colonies may have prevented cycads from evolving smaller seeds better suited to dispersal by smaller modern fauna. Source: Ancient cycads found to be pre-adapted to grow in groves

Nitrogen revolution on the horizon

The nitrogen-fixing ability of legumes could be extended to other crops with the help of new technology developed in the UK. A strain of N-fixing bacteria found living in sugar cane can be made to colonise other plants. Potentially, every cell in the plant could fix N from the air. This has enormous implications for the future of agriculture and the environment. The technology has been proven in range of crop species and field trials are underway. It could be commercially available within three years. Source: World changing technology enables crops to take nitrogen from the air


With a planned article falling through, this edition is mainly a news catch-up. The newsletter doesn't have a formal schedule, but the aim is to keep an edition coming every 2-3 months, so an issue is well overdue. More articles to come in future.

Many small businesses, including those in the horticultural sphere, have tried newsletters and blogs. These are often abandoned after a couple of years, which is not surprising, considering the amount of effort involved. If the audience or financial returns aren't immediately as great as hoped for, it's difficult to maintain enthusiasm or justify the time involved.

It will be interesting to see how they fare in the burgeoning social media arena, which businesses large and small are being actively encouraged to get involved in at the moment. Although they can - in theory - reach a whole planet of potential customers, as the amount of information increases as well the number of platforms on which to publish it, will the amount of sustained effort required to get attention be worthwhile?

Irrespective, the virtual foundations for any business should be its own website. Unfortunately, many nurseries, trade associations and community groups fail to even keep their websites updated with in a timely manner. Sometimes, after spotting new products, accolades or events in the media (including social media), a visit to the organisation's website fails to reveal more information. The chance of further publicity by journalists, bloggers, Twitterers etc is consequently reduced as well as reflecting poorly on the organisation concerned. Posting the information days or weeks later is of little use because the moment has passed.

Whether you decide to engage in social media or more traditional forms of publicity, don't neglect your main website. You may be missing out on additional free publicity, goodwill and ultimately customers.


Speaking of Twitterers, you can now follow for assorted garden-related news items and events in Queensland, supplementing This is really only for those of you who live in this state, but for others, there's lots of garden-related discussion on Twitter if you'd like to explore. You don't even have to join to view most posters. To get started, look out for the Twitter button indicating an associated account on your favourite websites and blogs.

For Your Virtual Library

Databases, documents or websites that horticultural professionals, students or plant enthusiasts may find useful to download or bookmark for future reference. About Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Vireyas; a virtual arboretum Good information on evergreen azaleas is surprisingly difficult to find. This website is the most comprehensive and authoritative database on that topic I've seen online so far. The rhododendron and vireyas sections look good, too. The website name comes from Rhododendron hirsutum, the first rhododendron to be classified.

Palm Morphology and Anatomy (PDF version at Understanding the structure of a plant and how it grows is fundamental to its care, especially when it comes to tasks like pruning, transplanting and propagation. This recent online publication from the University of Florida's Extension service is a well illustrated factsheet giving an overview of palm structure from roots to fruits.

Angiosperm Phylogeny Website Extensive taxonomic information covering the gamut of seed-bearing plants. Even if this is too technical for most horticulturists, the glossary may nevertheless come in handy for checking botanical terms.

Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants and Australian Rainforest Orchids Online interactive keys from The Australian Tropical Herbarium

More Plant & Garden News

Roots of drought resistance

It has been found that thinner maize roots can grow deeper, enabling them to access water and nutrients at lower levels under conditions of stress. The thin-rooted maize varieties produce fewer cortical cells. Rather than a physical effect, the advantage appears to come from the savings in energy and nutrients, which can be instead diverted into deeper root exploration. These findings could prove useful in breeding new drought-tolerant crops. Source: A route for steeper, cheaper, and deeper roots

Weeds don't play fair

A study of Digitaria sanguinalis, the common weed of lawns and field commonly called "crabgrass", has shown that there's more to its success than simple competition. Chemicals from Digitaria caused changes in nearby soil microbes which reduced growth of test crops. The allelopathic chemicals could also directly affect other plants. Source: Crabgrass' secret: The despised weed makes herbicide to kill neighboring plants

More ways seeds get avian assistance

The processing of seeds by wild birds may have a more diverse and widespread effects in ecology than previously thought. The effects on dispersal and dormancy of certain species is known, but a study of a South American wild chili, Capsicum chacoense, indicates that passing through the gut of a local bird reduced fungal infection and ant predation of its seeds. Source: Airborne gut action primes wild chili pepper seeds

Trees save lives

Analysis of tree populations, air pollution data and human health and population statistics of several American cities has estimated that the beneficial effects of fine particulate matter removal by urban forests saves around one life per city per year. Source: Forest Service Study Finds Urban Trees Removing Fine Particulate Air Pollution, Saving Lives

How do you know if you're old enough (to flower)?

In the case of Alpine Rock Cress, it appears to be a running down of levels of a regulatory RNA molecule. Once it falls below a critical level, the plant can them respond to the cold stimulus required for flowering. Such a mechanism may prevent premature flowering, which would weaken the plant and jeopardize the chances of this perennial surviving to flower again. A similar mechanism appears to be operational in the relative Arabidopsis, but it can be overridden by favorable weather conditions. As an annual, seed set and not longevity is paramount. These findings could help in the research and breeding of other brassicas by reducing the generational times. Source: Flowering at the right age

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