New Releases: ARS announces 4 new plants to consider for the 2004 planting season

March 31, 2004: The USDA's Agriculture Research Service has highlighted four new high-value plants for growers to consider when they are planning this year’s crop line-up. New varieties of peppers plants add ornamentation and variety to a farmers market display while, a new grape variety has the potential to thrive outside California grape region and a new apricot tree plants and ripens early giving growers access to a market that traditionally opens much later in the season.

Pretty New Pepper Plants Developed by ARS

Pepper plants not only produce tasty garden vegetables, but also can be just plain pretty. Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service have bred a new duo of ornamental peppers for the home and garden.

Tangerine Dream, the first of the new pair of peppers from ARS, is already available commercially. The plant produces small, orange, banana-shaped edible fruit on a prostrate plant and makes an attractive ground cover for the garden.

A second variety, to be released this summer, also features novel fruit and foliage that should appeal to the same market as the popular black-leaved sweet potato vine.

ARS plant geneticists John Stommel and Robert Griesbach were drawn to the idea of developing these new colorful ornamentals for the garden and the house because considerable diversity exists in the Capsicum (pepper) genus for fruit and leaf shape, size and color. Stommel is with the agency's Vegetable Laboratory, and Griesbach is with the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, both part of ARS's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md.

The new varieties were developed jointly with the Pan American Seed Co. of Elburn, IL. Additional research and development of more new varieties continues with McCorkle Nurseries Inc., of Dearing, Ga.

Ornamental peppers have become a profitable crop for house plant growers as well as an alternative for home gardeners. The ornamental plant market in the United States is worth nearly $5 billion annually.

Sweet Scarlet Grape: New Variety Available for Growers

A sweet, colorful red seedless grape called "Sweet Scarlet" has a surprise inside: The crisp flesh of this new grape has a light, pleasant, muscat flavor, an unusual treat that gives this grape a different taste than most red seedless varieties. Developed by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the new grape also has another distinctive feature: its attractive, raspberry-red skin is a brighter color than that of other midseason, fresh red grapes.

Ready to harvest in late August, Sweet Scarlet resulted from more than a decade of grape breeding and testing by ARS horticulturist David W. Ramming and technician Ronald E. Tarailo. The grape joins a series of top-quality red, white and black seedless grapes developed by this expert team.

Ramming and Tarailo are with the Postharvest Quality and Genetics Research Unit, located in central California at the ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. Sweet Scarlet grapes could start showing up in supermarkets within three to four years, according to Ramming.

Sweet Scarlet is the offspring of two ARS-developed parent seedless grapes. Though developed and tested in California, where most of the nation's fresh grapes are grown, Sweet Scarlet may also be suitable for planting in other locations where Vitis vinifera grapes can be grown
Most grapes produced commercially in the United States are varieties of V. vinifera.

The California Table Grape Commission in Fresno, Calif., is the exclusive licensee for Sweet Scarlet, handling its distribution to nurseries.

The average American eats about seven to eight pounds of fresh grapes in a year. Fresh grapes are a good source of phytonutrients, healthful compounds that may protect against cancer and heart disease. Also, fresh grapes provide potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and thiamin.

Apache Apricot Trees Take Root at Fruit Ranches

In the rich, fertile soil of California's central valley, some 8,000 young, newly planted Apache apricot trees are taking root, making the change from treefruit nursery to commercial apricot orchard. The number of Apache trees in California fruit ranches is impressive because Apache is a new variety that Agricultural Research Service scientists have only made available to nurseries, researchers and apricot breeders within the past two years.

Growers are bringing Apache into their orchards because it ripens early, about the first week of May. That means it may command the premium, early-season prices that apricot aficionados are willing to pay for the first of the long-awaited fruit.

By summer 2006, the new trees should be heavy with sweet, delicious fruit, ready to harvest and ship to supermarkets. It should arrive in good shape, because Apache ships and stores well.

Apache is the result of more than a decade of fruit breeding and testing by ARS geneticist Craig A. Ledbetter and technician Louis Vuittonet of the agency's Postharvest Quality and Genetics Research Unit. The unit is part of the San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center at Parlier, Calif.

Apache apricots are about average in size, with a delicate flavor and pleasing aroma. The fruit has an attractive, pinkish-orange skin, with smooth, finely textured orange flesh that's easy to separate from the small stone, or pit.

The pollen that Apache needs in order to form its delectable fruit can be carried by bees or breezes to its blossoms from nearby "pollinator" apricot trees such as the well-known Castlebrite or Katy varieties. But Ledbetter and Vuittonet are in the final stages of testing a promising new pollinator variety that not only is a good biological match for Apache, but also yields excellent fruit of its own about two weeks after the Apache harvest ends. The new apricot variety might be ready to release to breeders and nurseries in a year or two, according to Ledbetter.


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