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SMART Christmas Trees [Agriculture
Posted on December 12, 2017 @ 09:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This morning I read an article about Dr. Raj Lada's research on SMART Christmas trees. A primary goal of his research was to slow down how long it takes for Balsam Fir trees to lose their needles. This is a problem for consumers that don't want Christmas tree needles all over their living room, and for the producer who wants to ship their product further afield without worrying about needle drop.

Many factors control post-harvest needle drop from how well hydrated the tree is, what type of hydration is used (don't use clorinated water), where it is positioned (away from a heat source), how it is transported (covered with burlap if travelling a longer distance) and so on. Genetically, however, there are also factors that can prevent needle drop such as how much of the plant stress hormone Ethelene the tree produces. Ethelene ripens fruit and also has an effect on how quickly needles drop. Dr Lada has developed a variety of Christmas tree that produces less Ethelene and is able to retain its needle 2 to 3 times longer (potentially up to 3 months). This is a big deal in the world of Christmas tree retail and production.

The term SMART is an acronym for Senescence Modulated Abscission Regulating Technology. The first SMART seedlings were planted this year so we'll know better in a few years whether such trees will command the premium price developers and growers are hoping for.

Better color, aroma and pest resistance are other attributes that SMART Christmas Tree developers are looking to add to the Balsam Fir gene pool.

This research illustrates a few points:

  1. Don't take anything as a given. Many of us endure fallen needles without thinking this attribute might be improved.
  2. What makes things SMART is not just electronics based. In this age of global warming, we may need alot of our plants to become SMARTER in order to adapt. See Kernza for an example of a SMARTER grain seed.
  3. Industry, Government and Academia can work together well when there is a clear problem to be solved (e.g., needle drop problem) but industry alone lacks the expertise and capital necessary to properly address it.

Ironically, the Christmas Tree Research Centre is slated to shut down after Christmas of this year due to lack of ongoing funding. Dr Lada believes that there is alot more work he could be doing to improve Christmas tree traits. My conjecture is that after hitting his home run on addressing needle drop, other attributes are not considered as important to solve. You apparently cannot rest on your laurels for very long these days.

Part of the Christmas Tree research project involved touring around to find the best Balsam Fir tree specimens to select from. Needles were donated by the owners of this Christmas tree to the research project.


Source The Chronicle Herald

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