A plant for our future?
Plumeria flowers, with their colorful flower clusters, are among the plant species being studied by a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, the U.S. Geological Survey and the United Nations Environment Programme.
In their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe how the species has been adapted to be able to adapt to the changing climate and the challenges associated with managing them.
The researchers say the new species, which is being bred for its flower production and distribution, is an ideal candidate for a greenhouse-resilient crop.
Plumeria is one of about 100 species that make up the genus Acanthaceae, which includes the popular perennial flowering plants.
The research group has been working on the new variety for about a decade.
Their goal is to grow the crop commercially and to test its ability to withstand extreme temperatures and other challenges.
“Plumeria is a very special species, with many genetic variants that make it highly adaptable,” says co-author Dr. J. Anthony Evans, an ecologist at UC Berkeley.
“It has the highest diversity of genes that make the flower unique and adaptable.
This makes it a very valuable species for the next generation of farmers.”
The new crop can be grown outdoors in warm climates, and it also can be planted in cool climate environments.
The team first discovered that the plant was adapted to withstand the extreme temperatures that often affect the plants’ production of seeds, fruit and leaves.
The scientists took several of these varieties and bred them for different qualities to find out if the new cultivars could be used in different types of environments.
“We tested all the varieties for the ability to tolerate high temperatures, high humidity and a variety of other conditions,” says Evans.
“There was a variety with higher tolerance for cold and a higher tolerance of moisture than the others.
The difference was significant.”
When the researchers used those traits to determine which plants were best for the climate and soil, they identified the new plants as suitable for both the tropics and subtropics.
This is the range of conditions where Plumeria will grow in.
The new variety has already been tested outdoors for about four years, Evans says.
“That’s a long time in the field.
We have grown all of these plants, and the crop has survived that long,” he says.
In the past, the plant has been used to grow tomatoes in the tropic.
“The tomato cultivar has been a success.
It has a wide range of cultivars, but it’s the same variety we use in California,” Evans says, pointing to a tomato plant in the Uyghur region of China.
“A good harvest for the cultivar will give us a lot of information on whether it can survive a future drought in the United States.”
The researchers hope to commercialize the crop and begin to grow it on a large scale by the end of next year.
They also plan to test the crop in more extreme conditions to see how well it can adapt.
“In the future, if we can produce enough for one hectare, we could probably produce it in five or six different places in the US,” Evans adds.
“I think it’s a great project.”
The findings have important implications for the world’s food supply.
While the new crop is an adaptation to the warmer and wetter conditions it will experience in the future in the temperate zones of North America and Europe, it will also provide a long-term solution to a growing shortage of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients.
“If we can create the right conditions in the soil to grow Plumeria, we can then supply the world with nitrogen,” Evans said.
“This is not an issue of whether or not this plant can survive the harsh climates we’re living in, but rather that it’s able to grow in the right climate and to thrive in a certain area.”