New research at UC Davis is revealing new ways to extend both plant and fruit life.
Research results have indicated that plant life spans were extended up to 50 percent in some cases; meanwhile fruit life span has been bolstered enough to help international trade.
The research has affected both the plants and fruits currently being purchased, and indications suggest the trend will continue. The results will mean better quality plants and fruits available for purchase by the consumer.
Michael S. Reid, professor of plant sciences at UC Davis, is one of the primary researchers in the extension of plant life. For over eight years, Reid has been researching the effect of Thidiazuron (TDZ) on plants, a type of cytokinin, or plant hormone, that is naturally present in flowers. His research has shown that the spraying of low concentrations of TDZ on plants has led to their extended life spans. Leaves on plants take longer to yellow, thus resulting in better longevity as a consequence of more flowers and sugars.
“You can treat them at a nursery and the effect continues for a long time,” Reid said.
This treatment is so effective that potted plants have seen their life spans increase by five to 10 percent; meanwhile some other plants have seen increases of up to 50 percent.
“It could be very beneficial to the flower market,” he said.
Reid said that the chemical has been in commercial use with cotton and with cut flowers for a while now. When asked if the chemical might be dangerous to humans in any way, he said that none of the research done so far has shown that to be case.
“It is one of the safer ones for sure,” Reid said.
Cai-Zhong Jiang, United States Department of Agriculture research plant physiologist, agrees that the chemical is safe.
Jiang believes that TDZ has great potential. He said that the chemical improves the quality of the flowers, thus making it very beneficial to both the plants and the growers.
“It keeps plants alive longer, and has the potential to be good for growers,” Jiang said.
He said that the research is very promising, and hopes it will lead them to their goal of one day not having to use chemicals, but just being able to manipulate plant genes.
The research is already drawing international attention. Both Reid and Jiang said that the attention has been worldwide – with primary focus from Europe – and that growers and horticulturalists in general have shown much interest.
Interest has also been prevalent in Beth Mitcham’s research.
Mitcham, a postharvest pomologist at UC Davis, is studying the effects of 1 Methyl Cycle Propane (1-MCP), or Smartfresh, on fruits. Her research has shown that the life span of fruits increases with the use of 1-MCP.
“It slows down the ripening of the fruit, and in some cases even stops it,” Mitcham said.
1-MCP is primarily being used on apples, pears and bananas currently, but researchers are attempting to expand on the number of fruits affected by this research.
“It’s pretty revolutionary in what it does,” she said.
Mitcham said research has revealed that the gas, 1-MCP, protects fruits from ethylene by keeping them fresh through stimulation. Ethylene causes fruits to yellow quicker, and thus shortens the life span of fruits.
“It is especially important for export markets,” she said, adding that she believes 1-MCP can significantly help international trade.
In addition to the TDZ study, Mitcham believes that the research being conducted with life spans of plants and fruits has made UC Davis one of the leaders in plant sciences.
“In terms of post-harvest research, UC Davis is the place,” Mitcham said.
Nevertheless, even with all this research, these experts have some good tips for people to keep their plants and fruits alive longer.
Both Reid and Jiang recommend placing cut flowers in non-diet citrus soda with a little Clorox, as it helps the flowers stay fresh longer. In terms of potted plants, they said to water carefully, by neither over-watering nor under-watering them. They suggest that both types of flowers, whether cut or potted, be chosen carefully and placed in a well-lit area.
In terms of fruits, Mitcham suggests keeping tomatoes at room temperature, and not putting them in the fridge. She also suggests keeping fruits and vegetables – especially green vegetables – apart due to fruits being susceptible to gases released by vegetables.
ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at email@example.com.