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What is the Role of Grafting Plants?

What Role Does Grafting of Plants Play to Improve Yield and Quality?

 

The grafting of plants is a well-tested and proven technique for creating fruit trees and vegetable crops, offering specific characteristics that can include:

  • Better frost tolerance
  • Improved tolerance of soil-borne pathogens
  • Higher yields
  • Improved fruit quality
  • Better stand and uniformity
  • Better tolerance for abiotic stresses

Research and development on this front continue to widen the scope of which plants can be grafted for commercial farming practices. In the quest for finding the best method for grafting, a team of scientists recently discovered a new method that allows for offspring from the grafted plants that are more resilient with superior vigour.

It has been heralded as a major breakthrough in the scientific community. The scientists affiliated with the University of Florida, together with a small firm from Nebraska, published their findings in Nature Communications. Their findings show that grafting to MSH1 plant rootstock is what gives the plant the vigour, which is also present in its offspring.

Grafting Plants - Grafted ES Watermelon

The scientists, in effect, worked with the MSH1 gene expression. They performed various manipulations of the gene expression, allowing for the development of a so-called memory for the plant’s response to stress. This was done on the basis that a plant can adjust fast to its environment in response to, for instance, drought or heat stress if the plant has been exposed to that type of stress for a long time. The memory in the plant causes the epigenetic response. This means it builds a memory. The breakthrough is that the offspring of such plants can have the same response when confronted with a prolonged drought period.

They found with the grafting of the stressed plants onto the above-ground shoot of the target plant that the offspring from the grafted plants showed more vigour and higher production than the parent plants. With this method, there is not the use of new genetic material. This also implies that the method does not involve genetic modification.

The research was done on tomatoes, but it holds a significant potential for epigenetic propagation for several other plant types. The plants basically built memory on how to react to drought or water-stress situations.

With the fact that weather changes have been reported throughout the world, and the very real threat of drought conditions always on the minds of South African farmers, this research certainly holds tremendous potential for farming in a country known for its limited water sources.

The practice of grafting plants is recognised by scientific communities as an effective technique to produce plant stock that can withstand water-stress and other environmental factors. Dr. Federica Caradonia (Guest Editor) recently noted in her introduction of the special issue Horticulturae, as available at MDPI, that grafting together with rootstock genotype may very well be the answer to many of the challenges that farmers face. She explained that it makes it possible to combine the most desired characteristics present in the various plant species into a single plant of which the offspring will have the desired capabilities of the scion and rootstock.

Characteristics that can be improved, according to the researchers, include improved fruit yield, better quality, growth, and plant development. Accordingly, choosing the right rootstock can help to improve tolerance to abiotic stress conditions and selected pathogens. With the improved tolerance to these factors, farmers can benefit from a reduction in plant loss and the reduced need for using chemicals. Although not yet practised, there is the potential of being able to combine plant species to get fruits from both species from the same plant. It may still sound like science fiction, but it may very well be possible in future to harvest two types of vegetables from a single plant.

Dr. Joe Masabni, AgriLife Extension from Overton, has also done extensive research on plant grafting and has confirmed that it makes it possible for farmers to plant crops with improved tolerance to certain soil-borne diseases as reported in an article by Adam Russell from the Texas A&M University. He discusses the process of grafting in the AgriLife Today – Texas Agricultural News video that can be watched here.

Where to Get More Information

Hishtil SA is a commercial nursery that does extensive research into the grafting of plants. South African farmers interested in growing tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cucumber, and papaya from grafted seedlings can order the plugs directly from Hishtil SA.