JARS v39n4 - Report of the Research Committee

Report of the Research Committee
August E. Kehr

This year a total of 35 research proposals has been received. This is the largest number received in any one year, to date. These proposals have come mainly from persons in colleges and universities in this country. However, a few have come from overseas.

Interestingly, some of the proposals this year have come from individual members of the Society, including one from Scotland. It thus appears that the new policy of considering proposals from individual members is a good one. One proposal was submitted through the local chapter research chairman.

When the research program was started it was hoped that new research on rhododendrons and azaleas would be stimulated in colleges and universities where research work on these plants was not previously being done. There appears to be ample evidence that such new work is indeed being stimulated. For example, one letter from a large university read in part: "I am trying to establish a laboratory concerned with the ecology and physiology of Rhododendron species. I feel that this topic has been neglected to date." Likewise another letter, also from a large university, read as follows: "I am interested in initiating a research program on insect pests of rhododendrons in this University."

It likewise appears that our grants are the basis for new techniques and discoveries. For example, a letter from one of the grantees in 1984 reads in part: "Dr. Heslin has isolated (mycorrhizal) fungi from Rhododendron roots and we have re-synthesised mycorrhizal roots using sterile shoots in vitro (in tissue culture)." This breakthrough marks the first time that I know of whereby roots of plantlets in tissue culture can be inoculated with the extremely helpful and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. These workers now plan to study the effects on root initiation of tissue cultured plants with mycorrhizal fungi as compared without the fungi. There is some sketchy evidence that tissue cultured plants fail to develop strong root systems in the first few years of their growth. Perhaps these studies will give insight into this problem.

Dr. Mark Widrlechner of Iowa State University has just recently been appointed by President Janet Binford to the Research Committee. Dr. Widrlechner recently received his doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota. While a student there he received a research grant from our Society. It is very probable that the interest this young man now has in rhododendrons could have been stimulated by the research grant. The Research Committee now has a membership of ten individuals.

One of the speakers at the International Rhododendron Conference at Federal Way, WA. also received a research grant from the Society. In fact, the research he reported at the Conference was exactly the same research sponsored by our Society. It thus appears our grant program is having an effect of encouraging young researchers in further studies on rhododendrons and azaleas.

Following recommendations of the Research Committee, the Trustees of the American Rhododendron Research Foundation have funded the following projects for 1985 (not in priority order):

1.  In Vitro Colchicine Treatment of Rhododendron. Dr. Donald Paden and Dr. Martin W. Meyer, University of Illinois -

The purpose of this research is to adapt colchicine doubling of rhododendrons and azaleas in tissue culture. These plants are difficult to develop polyploids in seed, seedling, and shoot treatments. Tissue cultures are more readily adapted to effective colchicine treatment. Polyploids have a value in developing improved kinds of rhododendrons and azaleas. Dr. Paden is an active member of the Society and is a local chapter research chairman.

2.  Book Condensation and Interpretation for Practical Application. Dr. George Yelenosky, Orlando, Florida —

One of the most comprehensive books on cold hardiness is Analysis and Improvement of Plant Cold Hardiness , by C.R. Olien and M.N. Smith. However, this book uses technical language difficult to understand. This project will outline the book into a kind of Reader's Digest version with sections relevant to rhododendrons and azaleas, and transcribe it into a practical version for back yard gardeners. A manuscript will be sent to the Publications Committee of ARS.

3.  Mechanisms of Water Stress Tolerance in Rhododendrons and Azaleas. Dr. E.T. Nilsen, Virginia Polytechnic Institute -

Rhododendrons and azaleas sometimes suffer from lack of water both by drought and freezing conditions. This research done under phytotron conditions which are completely controlled will initiate work on stress tolerance from lack of water available to the plants. This study will identify species with high tolerance to water stress. It is expected that a practical system of measuring water stress tolerance will emerge from these studies.

4.  Development, Evaluation, and Maintenance of Virus-free Rhododendrons. Dr. Thomas C. Allen, Oregon State University —

Viruses are known to exist in rhododendrons, and perhaps in azaleas. These are pioneering studies to develop information on viruses in these plants. Little or no information is presently available on virus damage. This work has received some prior funding, but because of the great potential of viruses to cause damage and losses, it is urgent that ARS develop some knowledge about these disease-causing agents.

5.  Collection of Superior and Unusual Clones of R. macrophyllum . Robert Ross and Dallas Boge, Tualatin Chapter ARS -

This works involves the search of a 200 acre tract on the west side of the Cascade Mountain Range east of Salem, Oregon where a wide range of variants have been found, including a red clone, white clone, pink clone with red stamens, thickly branched lightly indumented clone, etc. Selected plants will be tagged, layered, and photographed. Layered plants will be rooted and sent to the Rhododendron Species Foundation. Seed will be placed in the Seed Exchange. This is one of the first projects sponsored by a chapter research chairman.

6.  Breeding Cold Hardy Azaleas and Rhododendrons - Dr. Harold Pellett and Susan Moe, University of Minnesota Arboretum —

Cold hardy azaleas have already been released from the University of Minnesota Arboretum and more are on the way. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a wide range of azaleas and rhododendrons with extremely high levels of cold tolerance and hardiness. This project was previously given moderate funding, but because of its great importance additional funding was given. Seed from this project will be sent to the ARS Seed Exchange.

7.  Biological Control of Phytophthora Root Rot of Rhododendrons. Dr. Jack Paxton, University of Illinois -

Root rot of rhododendrons occurs widely in the U.S. Chemical controls have proven costly and not highly effective. Dr. Paxton has discovered bacteria which control Phytophthora on crop plants, and he wishes now to test these bacteria on rhododendrons and azaleas. These bacteria are root inhabitants of healthy plants, and have protected soybeans from root rot. This project will be the first to try the bacteria on rhododendrons and azaleas.

8.  A Survey of the Principal Scottish Rhododendron Gardens. Mervyn S. Kessel, Glengilp Farm, Ardrishaig, Argyll, Scotland -

Scotland possesses many of the oldest, and finest, of the world rhododendron gardens, yet little information is available to rhododendron enthusiasts. A preliminary search uncovered the only cultivated plant of R. lanatoides . This project will include development of a slide film for the ARS film library, as well as a list of gardens, location, state of upkeep, etc. for publication.

9.  Establishment of a Research Facility at Clemson University for the Study of Insect Pests of Rhododendrons. Dr. Joseph D. Culin and Clyde S. Gorsuch, Clemson University -

This project will initiate a new project on rhododendrons at Clemson University to study insects and insect damage, including plant stress factors that encourage insect pest attack. Life cycles of insect pests will be studied in order to develop suitable biological and chemical controls. It is expected that a paper on the establishment of this project will be published in the Journal at an early date.

10. Screening Rhododendron Seedlings for Tolerance to Phytophthora . Dr Robert L. Ticknor, Oregon State University -

This project is underway and has received some prior funding. Results of these trials will be submitted to the Journal for publication. The purpose of this project is to discover clones of rhododendrons with a genetic control of root rot resistance. We are getting all these fine results without any cost whatsoever to our membership other than their original generous contributions to the trust fund. What is even more important is that research will continue to be supported into the long distant future with this program that is already funded and in place.

Charles A. Dewey, Jr. ,Russell Gilkey, Sandra McDonald, Robert Lambe, Gus Mehlquist, Frank Mossman, George Ring III, Robert Ticknor, Mark Widrlechner, August E. Kehr, Chairman, Research Committee