Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 08, 2006

New Plant Breeding Program Will Focus on Native Species

More Canadian-grown flowers may soon be sprouting in local greenhouses, thanks to a new breeding program for native species being developed at the University of Guelph.

Prof. Al Sullivan, Department of Plant Agriculture, is developing a breeding program specifically for flowers indigenous to Canada. He says once established, it will help the nation’s horticulture markets gain a unique competitive advantage by raising native plants.

“Most of the flower cultivars being grown in Canada are produced somewhere else in the world,” said Sullivan. “If we had our own breeding program, we could breed and license our own plants in Canada and obtain the benefits of having developed the products locally.”

Sullivan says because other countries produce the plants, they are able to grow the latest varieties and ship the remainder to outside buyers including Canada. This scheme means Canadians don’t get first crack at the newest plants, and a complicated (often expensive) system for tracking royalties ensues as they get involved in sub-licensing and co-ownership strategies with other buying countries.

While some Canadian nurseries already market native species, these plants are typically harvested right from nature and sold without further genetic improvements. A home-grown breeding program would be an important step towards gaining a more economical hold on local and export sales, said Sullivan, who is gathering more information on the native plants and breeding to ensure their continuous supply with enhanced characteristics such as improved flower size and colour, shelf life.

Sullivan and his team have been assessing different native species to learn more about their potential commercial value. In the past three years, they have studied 40 different plants for qualities such as management and growing characteristics, propagation potential, physical characteristics and disease and pest resistance. He is also using his information to breed better native plants.

Down the road, Sullivan is focused on improving propagation techniques for these species, and even looking to micro-propagation, which can shorten generation time and help produce millions of plants faster.

“With this program, growers can refine the species to develop optimized growing schemes that best suit their specific market and needs,” said Sullivan. “Then we can offer Canadians a more competitive product, grown specifically for Canadian consumers.”

This research is sponsored by Flowers Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall 519 824-4120, Ext. 56039.

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