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Posts tagged: Plant Health

A Green Menace Threatens a Mohawk Community

APHIS plant health specialists investigate for Emerald Ash Borer. Examples of traditional basketry created by the Mohawk community from ash trees.

APHIS plant health specialists investigate for Emerald Ash Borer.

For centuries, the Mohawk community of the Akwesasne (pronounced AHG – weh – SAUCE – knee) have created traditional basketry from the abundance of ash trees found along the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands area in New York.

But for the last three years, the trees and the matchless creativity of the Akwesasne have been threatened by a particularly harmful insect called the Emerald Ash Borer. Read more »

APHIS Celebrates 40 Years on the Front Lines for U.S. Agriculture

This is a special year for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  Not only are we celebrating USDA’s 150th anniversary, but we are also commemorating our own 40th anniversary.  Through the years, it’s likely you’ve heard about or witnessed firsthand some of APHIS’ activities, or seen the hard-won results of our work—perhaps without even knowing it.

Our basic charge is protecting the nation’s food, agricultural, and natural resources, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, which began long before USDA merged two separate regulatory bureaus and created APHIS in 1972.

Did you know that APHIS’ predecessor, the Bureau of Plant Industry, played a critical role in the planting of the Japanese cherry trees skirting the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.?  The first shipment of trees in 1910 arrived in the United States heavily infested.  Japanese scientists worked with the Bureau to ensure that the second shipment would be pest-free and safe to plant.  This time of year, the beautiful show of cherry blossoms reminds us of the importance of our vigilance. Read more »

Pests and Their Natural Enemies: Learn to Protect Your Garden!

Written by Kayla Harless, People’s Garden Intern

The People’s Garden workshops have yet to be anything less than an informative and fun time! Today, Don Weber, a research entomologist with USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, taught us about pests and their natural enemies.

Our instructor pointed out that most bugs are not harmful. In fact, even some viruses and fungi can be beneficial. Whether or not something is a pest is simply a matter of whether you want that item where it is.

Gardens in urban environments are subject to a lot of chance pest problems. A random outbreak or colonization of a pest can happen, and sometimes, because it happened in an urban location, there are no resources there to have this pest’s natural enemy. However, spotting these problems early on can significantly help. Build a healthy garden environment, by having flowering plants around your vegetables, rotate your crops, and use cover crops. It also was recommended to keep a close observation of your garden. You can even go out at night with a red light to observe bugs at work, the red light is out of a bug’s vision range and you will see lots of surprising action! This allows you to get to know bug life cycles, and spot early on any unwanted bugs. Hand picking out the first ones to arrive will discourage others from coming to your garden.

The instructor brought several examples of natural enemies that eat aphids, Colorado potato beetles, and other pesky garden annoyances. The common pink lady beetle eats many aphids, and spined soldier bugs are general predators as well. Stinkbugs are also good predators.

Most everyone has heard of Chia pets, but not all of us know that Chia is actually a great cover crop and attracts many pollinators. It makes a great weed suppressant, and is even high in omega-3 fatty acids. Don Weber, our instructor, is doing research on Chia, how it grows, and what it does. If you are interested in learning about or participating in growing your own Chia, follow this link.

Be sure to come out next week and join us for “Why Not Keep Honeybees?” taught by Dr. Jeff Pettis, right here in the People’s Garden!

Don Weber passed around some common pink lady beetles, while explaining to us their role in eating pesky aphids
Don Weber passed around some common pink lady beetles
while explaining to us their role in eating pesky aphids.

Feeling Stressed? So are Poplars

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.  

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Technological University

People aren’t the only living things that suffer from stress. Trees must deal with stress too. It can come from a lack of water or too much water, from scarcity of a needed nutrient, from pollution or a changing climate. Helping trees and crops adapt to stress quickly and efficiently is a pressing goal of plant biologists worldwide.

A team led by Michigan Technological University  scientists and supported by USDA and DOE grants has identified the molecular mechanism that Populus—the scientific name for common poplars, cottonwoods and aspens—uses to adapt to changing soil conditions, as well as some of the genes that turn the process off or on. They hope to apply what they’ve learned to find ways to use biotechnology or selective breeding to modify the trees to make them more stress-tolerant.  And better sources of pulp and fiber.

“Our hope is that by understanding how this works, we can manipulate the system so the plants can adapt faster and better to stressful conditions,” explained Michigan Technological University’s Victor Busov, senior author on a paper about this work published in the journal The Plant Cell.  

Busov and colleagues at Michigan Tech, the University of Georgia, Oregon State University and the Beijing Forestry University in China analyzed thousands of genes in the Populus genome, the only tree genome that has been completely sequenced. They were searching for the mechanism that regulates the plant’s decision to grow tall or to spread its roots out in an extensive underground exploration system that can sample the soil near and far until it finds what the rest of the plant needs.

The key players turned out to be a family of hormones called gibberellins, referred to by the scientists as GAs.   “GAs’ role in root development is poorly understood,” said Busov, “and the role of GAs in lateral root formation is almost completely unknown.”  Lateral roots are the tangle of tiny roots that branch out from the primary root of a plant. ”They are the sponges,” Busov explained, “the ones that go looking for nutrients, for water—the ones that do most of the work.” 

The researchers hope to understand how to turn off production of GAs, which would stimulate more roots and fewer leaves and twigs — and thus help poplars cope with drought conditions, a valuable trait in a world where water scarcity is increasingly a problem. 

Poplar fruiting as part of the USDA poplar breeding program

Poplar fruiting as part of the USDA poplar breeding program.

 

Poplars. Photo credit Michigan Technological University  

Poplars. Photo credit Michigan Technological University. 

A Model for Managing a Weed’s Mischief

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

– Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff

Along streams and irrigation canals in 16 states, a wily weed called giant reed, or Arundo donax, can grow a remarkable three to six inches a day. This intruder develops dense stands that can crowd out native plants like cottonwoods and willows, and can block water flow to farms and cities.

In research designed to stop arundo’s advance, Agricultural Research Service ecologist David F. Spencer and co-investigators have developed a computerized, science-based animation that shows precisely how a real-world arundo plant grows. The animation—apparently a first for an invasive weed—is intended for researchers, streamkeepers, students and others.

Click here to view the animation.

During this brief clip, a reality based “virtual arundo” goes through its first year of growth, emerging from a single, thick, underground stem, or rhizome, to reach its maximum height of about 30 feet.

The animation is derived from studies led by Spencer. In some of those studies, thousands of digitized measurements were taken by magnetic sensors of dozens of giant reed plants. Using commercially available software, the measurements were analyzed to create a computer-based model of the giant reed’s growth, with optional 3-D animation.

Researchers can use the animations to gauge—and see on-screen—the predicted effects of tactics to control arundo. For example, the model could help scientists determine the best times in the weed’s growth to unleash helpful insects that attack arundo’s leaves, stems or rhizomes.

In northern California, technician Greg Ksander (left) and ecologist David Spencer collect a leaf sample from giant reed (Arundo donax).
In northern California, technician Greg Ksander (left) and ecologist David Spencer collect a leaf sample from giant reed (Arundo donax).

Aerial view of Arundo near Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Aerial view of Arundo near Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Health and Physical Activity: Priorities for Every Season

I have had an eventful couple of weeks since my last post.

I spent a day two weeks ago in Riverdale, Maryland at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services building learning more about some of their programs.  I particularly enjoyed meeting with two economists, as many of my college classes related to economics.

At a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, right next to the White House, I took part in an interagency discussion about increasing participation in youth sports across the country.  I played soccer, basketball and baseball as much as I could when I was younger and believe it is important for children to have these opportunities.  I probably never would have made it to the Major Leagues without them.

USDA has a program called HealthierUS Schools Challenge to recognize schools that excel in fostering healthy eating and physical activity among students.  As a professional athlete, I am very concerned with nutrition and exercise in my own life, and I believe it is important to promote their importance to our nation’s youth.

Last week, I was honored to accompany First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack to Hollin Meadows Elementary School, a recipient of a HealthierUS Schools Challenge Silver Star.  We met teachers, students, parents and administrators in learning about the programs that have made the school such a success.

Ross Ohlendorf is joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack at Hollin Meadows Elementary School

Ross Ohlendorf is joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack at Hollin Meadows Elementary School

I have several interesting tours lined up over the next couple of weeks, while I also work on putting the finishing touches on my projects here at USDA. I hope all of the readers out there have a great Thanksgiving!

Ross Ohlendorf, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is spending part of his off-season at the United States Department of Agriculture. A graduate of Princeton University, he is spending eight weeks as an intern with USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.