Research Matters - Ethylene and foliage pot plants

The shelf-life of some foliage pot plants is often limited by premature leaf fall, which suggests that they may be sensitive to ethylene in the atmosphere.

In the experiments described here, 20 different foliage pot plants were grown in peat-based compost in shaded greenhouses on commercial nurseries in Florida.

On reaching a marketable stage they were exposed for four days to air containing 0, 0.1, 1.0, or 10 microlitres of ethylene per litre. This was done in the dark to simulate transport by lorry, after which they were moved to a room that was lit for 12 hours per day at 21 degsC.

Exposure to ethylene reduced the display life of 17 of the pot plants tested due either to leaf abscission, leaf senescence or senescence of the spathe as with Anthurium scherzerianum.

However, there was considerable variation between different pot plants, for whereas leaf abscission was induced by the lowest concentration of ethylene in seven species, including Aphelandra squarrosa 'Dania', others, including Dracaena marginata 'Bicolor', were affected only at the highest concentration and Asplenium nidus and three other pot plants were unaffected at any concentration.

In other experiments, some ethylene-sensitive foliage pot plants were pretreated either with 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) or with EthylBloc(TM) (which releases 1-MCP) before they were exposed to ethylene. Both approaches gave considerable protection against ethylene damage.

Dr Ken Cockshull, Associate Fellow, Warwick Crop Centre, University of Warwick.

Sensitivity of Potted Foliage Plant Genotypes to Ethylene and 1-Methylcyclopropene by Macnish, Leonard and Nell (2011).

HortScience 46 (8): 1127-1131. ISHS members can view HortScience from the website www.ishs.org.


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