Botanists Promote Pink
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.