Chinese grass

first_imgBy Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaTurf scientists at the University of Georgia are breeding newvarieties of centipede grass using germ plasm collected from thegrass’s homeland, China.In 1999, Wayne Hanna, a researcher with the UGA College ofAgricultural and Environmental Sciences, spent 23 days in themost rural areas of China collecting centipede samples.Earl Elsner, former director of the Georgia Seed DevelopmentCommission, accompanied Hanna. Their trip was funded by a $50,000grant from The Turfgrass Group and Patten Seed Company. Buffalos made search challengingEven though centipede is native to China, it was a chore for theresearchers to find samples. The researchers targeted collection sites in shady areas andalong the coastal salt marshes. “These samples can be used tobreed new varieties with shade and drought tolerance,” Hannasaid.Each night Hanna turned his hotel room into a makeshift lab. Hedried the grass samples on the lampshade, threshed the grass andcareful placed the samples in labeled collection bags.These collection bags were later inspected at the airport, takento Washington, D.C., and returned to Hanna at his UGA lab inTifton, Ga.Germ plasm now available to all scientistsThe UGA research team collected centipede samples from 53 sitesin China. They were helped on the trip by Nanjiang BotanicalGardens researcher Jianxiu Liu, with whom they shared thecollected samples.”We now have germ plasm for our research and for the (U.S.Department of Agriculture) national seed bank,” Hanna said. “Andwe have the Chinese people to thank for the success of our trip.They were very warm, cordial and friendly.”Earl (Elsner) taught our hosts to say ‘goober’ in Englishbecause all the meals included fried peanuts,” Hanna said. “Andthey served us the best-tasting fried peanuts I’ve ever had.” Trip planned before doors closed”We had been breeding new centipede varieties, but we needed moregerm plasm to build from,” he said. “When countries began havingrestrictions for plant collection, I knew I’d better hurry up andget over there before it became impossible to do so.”Since the collection trip five years ago, Hanna has used the germplasm to develop two new experimental varieties, a winter-hardycentipede and a shade-tolerant centipede.The shade-tolerant variety, which can withstand 40-percentcontinuous shade, should be available to the public in three tofive years.Centipede grass first came to the United States in 1918, Hannasaid. It’s known for its ability to grow on sandy and poor soils.”It will grow where very little else will grow,” Hanna said.While in China, Hanna relied heavily on advice from the localpeople.”We flew into cities in southern China, and for each collectiontrip we would work our way by car 50 to 100 miles in eachdirection from the city,” he said. “We’d stop and talk to thelocals and follow their directions through the rice patties.” “The buffalo eat the centipede seed heads down. So we had tosearch for samples under small trees, in thorny bushes and oncliffs where they can’t reach,” he said. “We were able to find italong streambanks and trails and in rice patty levees wherebuffalo walk. Centipede grass was scattered all over China by thebuffalos.”last_img

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