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Mr. Smarty Plants - Altering the flowering time of Phacelia tanacetifolia

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Monday - September 08, 2008

From: Wasco, CA
Region: California
Topic: Propagation
Title: Altering the flowering time of Phacelia tanacetifolia
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I have been using Phacelia tanacetifolia as a forage plant in a 1 acre and 6 acre enclosure to mass rear the Blue Orchard Bee,(BOB), Osmia lignaria for use as a managed pollinator of almonds in California. I would like advice on how to advance flowering of the Phacelia so that it is in bloom roughly at the same time as almonds - mid February to mid March. There are two reasons for wanting to do this: 1) BOB's do better at the cooler temperatures prevailing when the almonds are in flower and 2)it means that populations reared on Phacelia are roughly in developmental synchrony with almond bees and thus can be processed at the same time. I hope you can help. Best wishes, Chris O'Toole

ANSWER:

Your question is reasonable, but it's largely outside the scope of our work.  

The flowering time of plants is often a complex function of the effects of weather, moisture, and night-length.  Depending on the species, some or all of these factors may play a role in flower bud initiation and development.  Greenhouse growers have for years taken advantage of these trigger mechanisms to artificially produce the conditions necessary to induce flowering at a desired time.  Christmas poinsettias, Christmas cactuses, Easter lilies and Valentine's Day bulbs are all plants that are induced to flower at a particular time by controlling temperature, soil moisture or night-length in a way to achieve the desired results.

Controlling environmental conditions in the field is another matter altogether.  In fact, the complexity and cost associated with such an endeavor seems too great to attempt.

However, it might be possible to approach the problem from another direction.  The flowering response of any plant species is at least partially hardwired in that species genetic code.  If you wish to induce Phacelia tanacetifolia to flower earlier, it might be possible to identify the earliest-flowering plants in a wild population, cross and re-cross those early-bloomers through several generation and thus develop a stable population of early-flowering plants.  Then again, that may not work.

The problem sounds like one that would make an excellent and potentially very beneficial scientific project for a graduate student.  You might talk to your county's Extension Service agent about who might be interested in organizing and conducting such an experiment there in California.

 

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