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Botanists Promote Pink Wildflower Power

The ‘Pink Profusion’ Porteranthus is an obscure American perennial: a native flower that had not been successfully cultivated since 1987, when a single seedling was discovered in the wild. Researchers at the Mt. Cuba Center Inc. of Delaware have tried to grow more plants since then, but the rare pink wildflower has been slow to multiply, and its seedlings commonly develop flowers only in white—not in the coveted and rare hues of pink.

Now Smith College researchers have succeeded in tricking the plant into bountiful pink reproduction. So notable is the achievement that the local daily newspaper The Republican carried a February 14 editorial giving a “thumbs up” to Smith College botanists for their work with the wildflower. “Let’s hear it for flower power,” it declared.

Working with the Mt. Cuba Center, the Smith team obtained some cuttings of the ‘Pink Profusion’ cultivated from the original seedling. “In the plant world, ‘cloning’ is essentially done every time a gardener takes a cutting off a plant to start another plant,” says Michael Marcotrigiano, director of Smith’s botanic garden and professor of biological sciences, who conducted the research with graduate student Arianna Bruno ’05. “When that method didn’t work for the ‘Pink Profusion’, we essentially did the same thing in the controlled environment of the lab.”

Using a method called “tissue culture,” the Smith team successfully propagated ‘Pink Profusion’ shoots. Their work resulted in a paper in the journal Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture, which describes a three-step process to multiply the ‘Pink Profusion’ in a way that will make it available commercially.

As part of their agreement with Mt. Cuba Center, which supported the research, the Smith team shared that method with a company that now plans to use it to multiply and supply hardy versions of the desirable ‘Pink Profusion’ commercially to garden centers. When the ‘Pink Profusion’ arrives on the market in a year or so, it will be full-grown and showing its vibrant colors, according to Marcotrigiano.

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