Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > January 2015 > BRAVE NEW WORLD: ADVANCES IN PLANT PROPAGATION

BRAVE NEW WORLD: ADVANCES IN PLANT PROPAGATION

It used to be that you made new plants by dividing clump growers, planting slips from woody shrubs, or collecting and germinating seeds.  Actually, this is the way most indoor plant nurseries still propagate their plants.  But a few of the growers we deal with buy rooted plantlets from tissue culture labs.  Some have even set up their own tissue culture facilities.  When visiting these nurseries, we are whisked by buildings with signs warning “authorized personnel only”—tissue culture requires a sterile environment.

Generally called micropropagation, the technique of producing new plants from small pieces of plant tissue grown in a laboratory setting results in large numbers of rooted plantlets, or microcuttings, which can then be grown on in containers.  This method of cloning means that desirable characteristics can be guaranteed plant after plant.  Tissue culture is an asexual propagation method, in which pollen and eggs from flowers are unnecessary.

What happens is this:  small pieces of plant have tissue removed, and in a sterile environment, these sections of tissue (called explants) are placed on a culture medium in a test tube.  New shoots begin to grow on the explants, and these are then removed, rooted, acclimated and then grown on as new genetically identical plants.

Over the past twenty years or so, we have seen the resultant explosion in new cultivars of Chinese Evergreen, Dieffenbachia, Calathea, Peace Lily, and more.  While hybridizing can be done outside of the lab, it can take many plant generations to build up enough inventory to satisfy the market.  Tissue culture means new selections are available much faster.  Cloning of orchids has been a common propagation method for years, and there are thousands of orchid hybrids available as a result.  Propagation by tissue culture also means that production is not as seasonally dependent as with regular methods.
 
So, while tissue culture is not a new propagation method, it has new and interesting possibilities.  In addition to cloning a plant that has shown some desirable attribute, micropropagation means the potential for selecting specific disease- or stress-resistant cells from within generally non-resistant plants.  In other words, selecting characteristics found only at a cellular level.  Or it could mean crossing species that are not compatible using sexual propagation.  We might eventually enjoy bananas growing on a philodendron…
Posted: 1/28/2015 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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