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From Breeding To Point of Sale: How A Plant Gets to the Consumer - IPM Essen 2015

The World's premier horticultural fair shows the entire value chain of plant production

IPM ESSEN is the most important meeting place of the international green sector - the premier platform for the presentation of new products and innovative horticulture technology. Dozens of plant varieties are presented here to a trade public from all over the world for the first time, long before they can be bought in the garden centre. But hardly anybody knows that before a new plant can be launched on to the market, it must pass through a series of stations and undertake a long journey. For example, the petunia (a popular bedding and balcony plant) needs six to ten years for this process. These are its most important stations:

Breeding: hybridization and selection: four to five years

There are many petunia breeders in the world – surprisingly, many of them here in Germany. These individuals cross and produce thousands and thousands of seedlings, which are all cultivated and brought to the flowering stage. The best seedlings are then selected rigorously – well over 99 percent of them are discarded and land on the compost pile. Only a handful of the very best varieties remain at the end of the selection process, and are pursued for further evaluation.

Creating clean starter material: one year

Once the very best seedlings have been selected, material is taken from them and immediately transferred to the laboratory. There, tiny clumps of cells are taken from the shoot apex under the microscope and coaxed into growth in test tubes under sterile conditions. This results in a miniature plantlet which can be conserved and propagated in the laboratory. Petunias are a member of the nightshade family, and are hence susceptible to many viral, bacterial and fungal diseases. Serological virus tests are performed in order to ensure that the material in the laboratory is absolutely clean. In the case of petunias, each variety is tested for up to 27 different viral diseases. The tested material then serves as the starting point for the further

trialling of the varieties and subsequently for the establishment of mother stock at the time of the product launch.

Multiplication and variety trialling: one to three years

Every potential new variety is cultivated under standard horticultural conditions in the greenhouse, together with reference market varieties as benchmarks. This is followed by outdoor trials under consumer conditions in order to test the performance and durability at the consumer level. Since the market for bedding and balcony plants has become very interlinked on a global scale, parallel grower and consumer trials are often conducted simultaneously on various continents. As a rule, the trialling process takes between one and three years. The results from the various trials are compared, and the best varieties are chosen for market launch.

Formal registration

After the variety tests have been concluded, the breeder also has the possibility of having the new variety officially tested, registered and protected by Plant Breeder's Rights (PBR) – either on the federal level by Bundessortenamt ("Federal Plant Variety Office") or on the European level by the Community Plant Variety Office in Angers, France.

Market launch and mother stock buildup: eight months

Once the decision has been taken to launch a new petunia variety, clean material of the variety is sent from the laboratory in Germany to the mother stock facilities. As a rule, these are located in southern latitudes overseas (e.g. Israel, Kenya, Costa Rica, Guatemala or Mexico), since the light levels and climatic conditions during the winter months (the peak season for cutting production) are much more favourable than here in central Europe. At these facilities, the "elite" is cultivated, propagated and grown as mother stock. Every week, cuttings are harvested from these mother plants and discarded, in order to ensure the highest possible number of cuttings during the peak weeks of the season (January to March). The mother stock is maintained under the most stringent hygienic conditions in order to avoid any infection of the plants with potentially dangerous viral or bacterial diseases.

In the peak season, cuttings are then harvested on a weekly basis, and hundreds of them are packed in small plastic bags, which are then boxed. These are then dispatched to specialised young plant companies (e.g. in Germany) as quickly as possible via air freight.

Rooting and cultivation of the finished product: three months

The unrooted cuttings from overseas arrive at the specialised young plant facilities and are immediately stuck in small units filled with special soil media. Under precisely controlled temperatures and humidity, the cuttings then form roots. Once

the cuttings are well-rooted, the small plantlets are ready for dispatch and can be sent to the grower for final cultivation.

At the growing facility, these young plants are individually potted into a professional soil mix and are grown under precisely defined cultivation conditions until they reach their final stage. Once the first blossoms open, they are ready for retail.

Auctioning and supply to garden centres: one day

The pots are then loaded on to dispatch trolleys, transported to the wholesale market and auctioned off. From there, they are distributed to garden centres, specialised florist shops, DIY stores and supermarkets.

Selling: one day

The petunia now sets off on its very last journey: home to the consumer's balcony or terrace. Gardeners around the world have access to beautiful, high-performance, healthy and high-quality plant material – thanks to the large number of preceding services which have been rendered – and are guaranteed to enjoy these wonderful plants throughout the entire summer season.

The history of the petunia

The first petunia species were discovered in South America around 1750. This was followed by intense breeding work in both Germany and England, whereupon and seed-raised petunia strains became quite popular as bedding plants all over the world. The disadvantage: seed-raised petunias did not hold up and perform all summer long, they were sticky and susceptible to aphids, had poor weather tolerance and were regarded as a "cheap" product in the trade.

As luck would have it, a breakthrough "super-petunia" that could only be propagated from cuttings was developed only 30 years ago. A huge Japanese beverage corporation started a viticulture project in Southern Brazil. The project failed miserably, but the responsible viticultural engineer discovered a weed growing in the vineyards: a creeping, tough wild petunia species with tiny magenta-coloured blossoms. He eventually had to return to his native Japan, but took some seeds of the wild petunia back with him. In Japan, the seeds germinated and grew into beautiful plants, which he as a hobby breeder crossed with "normal" seed petunias. This cross resulted in a few petunia seedlings with incredible vigour and flower power. They were marketed internationally and, as a coveted premium product worldwide, became one of the most successful new introductions in the international bedding plant business – in particular due to the excellent consumer performance of this new product line. This innovation was followed by countless other varieties from various breeders. Even today, the petunia breeding is marching onwards at an astonishing pace.

Source: IPM Essen