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Posts tagged: plants

Discovery Could Rekindle Interest in a USDA Trailblazer

Fruits and vegetables in a basket

David Fairchild was instrumental in establishing gardens nationwide to screen plants from overseas with potential for improving U.S. diets, gardens, and landscapes. ARS photo by Keith Weller.

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Bountiful harvests don’t magically appear on store shelves and supermarkets. USDA scientists strive to make sure that the variety of meats, fruits, vegetables and grains we enjoy are hardy enough to withstand insects, diseases, droughts and other natural threats familiar to anyone with a garden or farm.

David Fairchild, a USDA scientist, was a key part of that effort. Fairchild collected plants from all over the world so they could be studied and bred. He organized the USDA’s Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction and served as its chairman for more than 20 years. He is credited with introducing about 30,000 plant species and variations into the United States, and he was instrumental in establishing gardens throughout the United States to screen plants with potential for improving our diets, gardens and landscapes. Read more »

Surf’s High for a Desert Plant

Guayule, a desert shrub

Guayule is a desert shrub. USDA-ARS photo.

When you hear “surf’s up,” the last thing you might think of is a desert shrub called “guayule” (pronounced “why-oo-lee”). But technology that began with a partnership between USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and a small Arizona-based company, Yulex Corporation, recently put wetsuits made with this daisy relative on the market that are more elastic and more comfortable than those made with conventional, petroleum-based neoprene.

The wetsuits were created with Yulex’s guayule natural rubber by Patagonia, a high-end outdoor clothing company, which currently produces and sells the wetsuits.  They are also available from other retailers. The wetsuit—with its 60/40 guayule and petroleum-based neoprene blend—is proving to be popular. Surfer Magazine said: “It’s the cashmere of wetsuit material.” Read more »

USDA Seeks Variety to Help American Agriculture Flourish

Gardeners, farmers and dreamers are finding it’s a good time to think about the variety of seeds and plants for spring. AMS Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO) grants certificates of intellectual property protection to encourage the development of new varieties of plants. Photo courtesy of Stacey Shintani.

Gardeners, farmers and dreamers are finding it’s a good time to think about the variety of seeds and plants for spring. AMS Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO) grants certificates of intellectual property protection to encourage the development of new varieties of plants. Photo courtesy of Stacey Shintani.

While most of the country is braving cold and blustery winter conditions, farmers and gardeners are busy looking ahead to the spring. They are contemplating the variety of seeds or the plants that they will use. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) increases the options for our farmers, gardeners, and plant breeders by making sure there is an abundance of varieties available.

We do this through our Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO), which grants certificates of intellectual property protection to developers of new plant varieties. These certificates enable breeders to market their variety exclusively for 20 years. The protection is an incentive for the development of new and improved varieties. Read more »

Providing the Gift of Water for Poinsettias and Other Ornamental Crops

How much do you know about this iconic plant that brightens lots of homes this time of year?

How much do you know about this iconic plant that brightens lots of homes this time of year?

Happy Poinsettia Day!

Of the countless iconic holiday season images in American homes, perhaps the most popular and colorful of them started off as a humble bush from our neighbors to the south.

The poinsettia was introduced to this country in the late 1820s by Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, but only started on the path to holiday season superstardom in the early 1900s.  By 2013, poinsettias accounted for 23 percent of sales for flowering potted plants – to the tune of $146 million. Read more »

USDA Plant Experts Help Cemetery Tame Slope with Native Grasses

NRCS Soil Conservationist Allen Casey, Biological Technician Nick Adams and Plant Materials Center Manager Ron Cordsiemon select a blend of warm season grass seed for both drill and broadcast into the field at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. NRCS photo.

NRCS Soil Conservationist Allen Casey, Biological Technician Nick Adams and Plant Materials Center Manager Ron Cordsiemon select a blend of warm season grass seed for both drill and broadcast into the field at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. NRCS photo.

Pristine landscaping covers the 355 acres of Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.  On a day where caretakers dutifully trim the grass and care for the about 200,000 headstones marking the final resting place of veterans and their families, three plant specialists with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) begin work in the southeast portion of the cemetery.

They are returning a hilly slope overlooking the Mississippi River to its native landscape with native warm-season grasses. In stark contrast to the recently laid turf just inches from the edge of the slope, the native grasses will provide functionality while also restoring a small plot of land to its native species. Read more »

Evening Primrose by any Other Name is a Moth Plant

Evening primrose flower (Onagraceae). (US Forest Service)

Evening primrose flower (Onagraceae). (US Forest Service)

Plants provide us with many things that we use on a daily basis – from the buildings in which we live and work, to our clothing and food. For flowering plants to thrive and reproduce, they often rely on pollinators to transport pollen between flowers.

Pollination ultimately results in fruits and seeds, ranging from the strawberries and almonds in your breakfast to the tomatoes in your pasta sauce. While scientists know a lot about honeybees, very little is known about many other pollinators – bats, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, etc. – that are essential to pollinating wildflowers and native plants. Read more »