You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps

Recently I spent a week in Oregon working on a Christmas tree genetics project along with my colleagues Chal Landgren( Oregon State University), Gary Chastagner ( Washington State University), and John Frampton (North Carolina State University).  The objective of the project is to identify superior seed sources of Turkish fir and Trojan fir for use as Christmas trees around the United States.   We refer to the project as the Cooperative Fir Genetic Evaluation or CoFirGE – remember, the most critical step in any experiment is coming up with a catchy acronym.    CoFirGE began with a trip by my colleagues to Turkey where they collected seed from 100 fir trees across a range of sites in Turkey

Turkish fir growing in western Oregon

Why are we interested in these species? Both Turkish and Trojan fir are closely related Nordmann fir, which is widely used as a Christmas tree in Europe.  These species make wonderful Christmas trees due to their symmetry and needle color.  In addition they may be resistant to diseases, particularly Phytophthora root rot, that plague Christmas tree growers from Washington State to North Carolina.

So, what was going on in Oregon?  After the seed were collected in Turkey they were sent to Kintigh’s nursery near Eugene, Oregon, where the seed were sown to produce seedling plugs.  The next step of the project will be to send the seedlings out to cooperators in five locations (Pacific Northwest, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut).  This is tree improvement on a grand scale.  In each region there will be two test plantings and each planting will include 30 reps of 100 seed sources or 3,000 trees.  Multiplied by 5 regions and 2 plantations that’s 30,000 trees total that we will collect data on for the next 8-9 years.

30,000 seedlings ready to be sorted and shipped

Each seedling is individually labeled with a bar code for identification

Sorting into to boxes to send to cooperators around the country

But step one is getting the seedlings from the nursery to the out-planting sites.  That means lots of tagging, sorting, and bagging.  With help from technicians and students from WSU, OSU and NCSU and staff from Kintigh’s we were able to get all the seedlings sorted and bagged by mid-day on Thursday and start them on their journey to their new homes.  Next  step: Planting…

11 thoughts on “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps”

  1. The title of the post is wrong. It should say how lucky you are to be part of such a fascinating project!
    Just curious, how many years will the trees have to be observed? Are these two species already used for Christmas tree production in other countries?

  2. Hi Johannes: You’re right, tree improvement is always fascinating work. But it can also be a little mind-numbing when you deal with these kinds of numbers; hence the title of the post. We do have some growers in the US that are already growing Turkish fir,
    mostly in Oregon. Kintigh’s had some beautiful specimens. We’ve had mixed results in Michigan, mainly because deer think they are candy. Once the plantations are established our goal is to monitor the trees for a full Christmas tree rotation, which will likely be 8-10 years.

  3. Linda, you had mentioned that Phytophthora root rot was an issue with Christmas trees. Is Phytophthora root rot a aerobic or anaerobic disease?

  4. Bert, I was just teasing a bit re the title of your post 😉
    I don’t know that much about tree production so I also wonder about the procedure for obtaining seeds once you have found the “best tree”. Do you have to go back to Turkey to the site of the original seeds to harvest a crop of cones?

  5. See, I’m just crazy enough to WANT to do that! [Means I’m in the wrong profession….]
    It looks like a lot of fun too… plus it’s research for the greater good! 😀

  6. Bobby, Phytophthora is ubiquitous in soils, but is only a problem in poorly drained conditions. It’s probably because it tolerates low oxygen levels, but many of the beneficial microbes that normally colonize and protect roots are aerobes and don’t like soggy conditions. This leaves the roots open to infection by Phytophthora and other opportunistic pathogens.

  7. Johannes:
    There are a couple of possibilities, if we find a ‘winner’. One, as you noted, is to identify superior seed collection zones in Turkey. Using ‘source-identified’ seed is widely done for many conifers for ornamentals and Christmas trees. Or we could use the newly established plantations to form the basis of a breeding population for more intensive tree improvement work – though the first option is probably more likely.

  8. Bobby:
    One of the reasons phytophthora root rots are a problem in wet areas – and why they often spreads so fast – is they can spread through zoospores which have flagella and can ‘swim’ to new hosts.

  9. Thank you for satisfiying my curiosity, Bert. I had thought that ‘source-identified’ seed would be the better option as I guess one has to wait quite a number of years (20?) to get a good crop of cones from a newly established plantation. Seems for such a project one not only has to be crazy but patient as well…

Leave a Reply