[NAFEX] UW-River Falls Professor Develops Hardy Plum   

Lon J. Rombough lonrom at hevanet.com
Thu Jan 22 19:43:28 EST 2004

Brian is the NAFEX strawberry consultant, so I wrote to him and mentioned
that the story didn't give the name of the plum.  If he sends it, I'll post
-Lon Rombough
Grapes, writing, consulting, my book, The Grape Grower, at
Winner of the Garden Writers Association "Best Talent in Writing" award for

From: "Brungardt, Sam" <Sam.Brungardt at state.mn.us>
Reply-To: North American Fruit Explorers <nafex at lists.ibiblio.org>
Date: Thu, 22 Jan 2004 18:00:55 -0600
To: "NAFEX discussion list (E-mail)" <nafex at lists.ibiblio.org>
Cc: "Luby James J. (E-mail)" <lubyx001 at tc.umn.edu>
Subject: [NAFEX] UW-River Falls Professor Develops Hardy Plum   

Here's a recent press release that may interest some of you.  Unfortunately,
it doesn't mention the cultivar's name. -- Sam

UW-River Falls Professor Develops Hardy Midwestern Plum   (Jan 16, 2004)

Commercial plums from California now have a hardy Midwestern cousin.
University of Wisconsin-River Falls plant breeder Dr. Brian R. Smith has
developed a plum cultivar that stands up to Wisconsin's winters and produces
fruit to rival its sun-kissed kin.

Smith, a professor of horticulture at UW-River Falls and a state commercial
fruit specialist with UW-Extension, created the new cultivar by crossing a
plum variety adapted to Wisconsin's frigid winters with a Japanese dessert
plum. The new hybrid yields fruit as large and tasty as any California-grown
plum from the grocery store, he says, but also withstands subzero
temperatures and sports a more easily managed semi-dwarf growth habit.

He hopes one day to see plums join apples, cherries, and strawberries as a
commercial Wisconsin fruit crop.

"Commercial plum production is almost non-existent in the state right now
primarily because most of your higher quality plums aren't winter hardy,
bloom too early in the spring, and require long growing seasons," says
Smith. "The goal of my breeding program has been to develop commercial plum
cultivars for growing in this climate."

To protect the plum cultivar and facilitate its commercialization, a patent
application has been filed by WiSys.

Besides boasting the most extensive fruit breeding program in the UW System,
UW-River Falls also hosts the only plum breeding project in a 24-state
surrounding area. Yet when Smith launched the endeavor in 1991, no one had
bred plums in the Midwest for over 55 years. To find a source of
winter-hardy genetic stock to blend with conventional California-grown
varieties, Smith therefore looked to cultivars developed 100 years ago by
pioneering plum breeders and planted by homesteaders on family farms. Other
sources of germplasm came from wild plum varieties.

One type of plum he selected for his breeding experiments was the cherry
plum, a hybrid whose lineage includes wild plum species adapted to northern
climes. The cultivar Smith is patenting through WiSys is a cross between a
cherry plum and a conventional California dessert plum.

To develop new cultivars, Smith has at his disposal a collection of 350
potted plum trees he maintains at UW-River Falls. After selecting the trees
he wants to interbreed, he collects and stores pollen from each male parent
tree, transferring it eventually by hand to the flowers of each female
parent to achieve the desired hybridizations. If a plant bears fruit as a
result of his efforts, he collects its seeds and stores them under
conditions that simulate winter, a process called stratification.

After stratification, the seeds begin to germinate. Smith plants the
seedlings in pots and begins growing them in a greenhouse, transferring them
the following summer to the field. He then waits patiently - anywhere from
two to 12 years - for the plants to mature and produce fruit. Many seedlings
never do, succumbing instead to the ravages of Wisconsin's climate.

Once the survivors reach maturity, Smith evaluates them for fruit size and
quality, winter hardiness, resistance to disease, and yield, among other
traits. If a tree performs well, he propagates it by budding or some other
asexual cloning method. If these cloned plants continue to do well, he
finally considers the tree as a candidate for cultivar status and possible
commercial production.

The plum cultivar being patented by WiSys has been under development for
about 10 years; in addition, another 10 potential cultivars are "looking
pretty good," says Smith, although he's not ready to release them. The next
step for his first plum cultivar will be a round of testing by commercial
growers under their own field conditions. Smith is also testing various
methods for asexually propagating the cultivar in collaboration with
UW-Madison horticulture professor Brent McCown.

Eventually plum trees could be grown commercially in several areas of the
state, Smith says, especially in more temperate places such as the Door
County peninsula where cherries are now grown, or on high bluffs, less prone
to frost, where farmers currently plant apple trees. "Although, as we
develop more frost resistance into these varieties, site selection will
become less of an issue," he adds.

Only time will tell if Smith's breeding experiments bear fruit for the
Midwest's farm economy, but that is the ultimate goal. "My research is a
long-term investment in the health of Wisconsin's and the Midwest's ag
sectors," he says. "My hope is that plums will someday be a crop that helps
farmers diversify their operations, improve their profitability and stay

"Consumers deserve high quality dessert plums," he adds, "rather than the
typical low-grade plums shipped here from the Southwest - less fresh by 1500

Copyright © 2004 WiSys Technology Foundation, Inc.
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