International Flowerbulb Symposium
Cape Town, South Africa: 28 - 31 August, 2000
This quadrennial gathering brings together researchers from all over the world with diverse interests in bulbs. The choice of Cape Town's Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens as the venue was well made since this attraction has recently been voted one of the world's seven best botanical gardens and in August is crammed full of spring-flowering indigenous perennials, annuals and of course bulbs.
For avid "plant hunters", myself not included, there were tours taking
in firstly, much of the Cape Floral Region and then, post-event, travelling
north-east to Pretoria to visit the Kruger National Park, home of big game
as well as small plants!
The 90+ delegates attended a welcoming event on the first evening in the waterfront area, the tourist hot spot in Cape Town. On a rather grey morning with the top of Table Mountain obscured by clouds, the symposium was officially opened by Dr van Zyl, director of the Agricultural Research Council's Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute at Roodeplaat, Pretoria. He outlined bulb R & D plans that should enable South Africa to increase their market share of the world bulb market from the current tiny 0.5% to a target of 3% within the next 10 years. This has to be attempted despite cuts in government funding and increasing reliance on commercial income - sounds very familiar! This financial theme was continued by Dr Coetzee, also of ARC, who explained how South Africa hoped to enter benefit sharing agreements with international organisations in order to protect and profit from the wealth of indigenous genetic diversity in its bulbous and other plant species.
Professor Alan Meerow of the USDA opened the first of five main sessions with a keynote address. The session topic was 'Ecology, Conservation and Taxonomy' and several speakers compared morphological and molecular taxonomies, described a selection of ecological niches and bemoaned endangered species. After lunch a guided tour of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens took place under still grey and rainy skies - the Brits felt quite at home! The proteas still looked magnificent even under these conditions.
In the next session on 'Introduction of New Crops', four speakers described new bulb varieties developed in South Africa, Chile and New Zealand. The day concluded with three papers in a session on 'Growth, Development and Flowering'. All the delegates and accompanying persons were then transported to the Two Oceans Aquarium at the Waterfront. Here, in a small amphitheatre in front of a huge Plexiglas aquarium containing sharks, rays and other predatory fishes indigenous to South African waters, we were treated to various dishes of local cuisine and of course South African wines.
Day two began with four papers that concluded the bulb physiology topic. These covered environmental influences, plant growth regulators and mineral deficiency. The rest of the day was taken up with the penultimate topic of 'Production and Forcing'. The keynote lecture on the effects of precooling on forcing of Lillium longiflorum was given by Professor August "Gus" de Hertogh, from North Carolina State University. Gus is one of the 'founding fathers' of flowerbulb research and in an emotional conclusion to his paper announced his retirement, effective as of the end of the symposium.
The second speaker, Professor Marcel le Nard of INRA, explained interactions between planting date and soil temperature and their influences on tulip growth, before he too announced his retirement later in the year. Would there be enough bulb researchers left for the next symposium I began to wonder! Papers on topics such as physiological markets for bulb maturity, controlled atmosphere storage and optimising land use followed. The day concluded with a 'sundowner' (regrettably with little sign of the sun!) in the newly completed conservatory in the Botanical Gardens. In this building a range of environments has been created in order to display many indigenous plants in their natural and very varied South African habitats.
The whole of the final day was taken up with a session entitled 'Breeding Genetics and Plant Protection'; at last some pathology! Professor Jaap van Tuyl from PRI, Wageningen gave an elegant paper describing the introgression of desirable characters into interspecific hybrids of lily. Embryo rescue and chromosome doubling techniques were discussed and some impressively colourful 'chromosome paintings' were displayed, the results of genomic in situ hybridisation (GISH) techniques. Recombinant chromosomes were easily visualised using GISH. Another five, predominantly breeding, papers followed including a clear exposition of somatic embryogenesis in Narcissus from my HRI colleague, Darren Sage.
Finally we had mention of a pathogen, Fusarium oxysporum, f. sp. narcissi. Unfortunately I could not listen to this paper as I was presenting it! However this was the start of the final flurry of papers, all of which mentioned at least one pathogen, or pest (just one paper about bulb mites; not too much at this symposium for entomologists!)
Ronald Snijder, one of van Tuyl's students, described how he hoped to transfer resistance to Erwinia carotovora from Zantedeschia aethiopica, an arum lily for you non-botanists, to the related but much more colourful and desirable Z. aestivae. Ernst van den Ende, from the Bulb Research Organisation at Lisse, then described the principle and application of BoWas, a Botrytis blight warning system for bulb growers. He remarked how difficult it was to convince Dutch growers to break away from routine calendar spray programmes and adopt the BoWas, spray when advised, schedule. This was despite data that showed a consistent reduction of fungicide input with no loss of control and savings up to 60% of the cost of chemicals used in calendar spraying.
Gary Chastagner, a fellow Narcissus basal rot pathologist explained how daffodil growers in the Washington State area were being encouraged, though not yet forced, to find alternative chemicals to replace the formaldehyde currently used in bulb hot water treatment tanks (to kill Fusarium spores). He showed how chlorine dioxide, widely used in the medical field and by many food processors, gave good control of basal rot but was far less hazardous and environmentally harmful than formaldehyde; British bulb growers take note!
The final paper was also presented, quite appropriately, by Ernst van den Ende (translates to 'Ernest from the end') and he elucidated factors that affected the formation, sporulation and survival of Botrytis sclerotia. A director of one of South Africa's largest bulb companies gave the closing address. He presented the industry's view of bulb research, and discussed opportunities for expansion and export. This included a vast list of statistics of every kind and a humorous story (well he thought so!) about a deliveryman who thought his company sold 'electric light' bulbs; more local advertising needed here!
After all the work of the symposium came the play, with the symposium dinner held at a 17th Century castle not far from the city centre. It was my first taste of the locally farmed ostrich meat and also gave all of us an opportunity to try to spot some genuine South African exhibits amongst the many Dutch and English colonial artefacts on display in the castle.
The Japanese will be hosts for the 9th Symposium in 2004; I have never eaten sushi either! I thank the BSPP for providing part of the funds needed to enable me to attend this symposium. My knowledge of many aspects of bulb growing is now much broader and I made some useful, and I hope productive, international contacts.