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Scientists forage for foreign nuts.

Scientists Forage for Foreign Nuts

What were these three strange-looking foreigners doing here in the village? And why were they accompanied by important-looking officials from the Ministry of Forestry? One of the strangers, someone said, had climbed a tree and taken some nuts.

The puzzled villagers of Son La in northwestern Vietnam were forming their first impressions of Agricultural Research Service scientists who were searching out Asian hickories. These three seeming nut fiends were touring Vietnam on the first leg of a journey that would also take them to the People's Republic of China.

"We were looking for germplasm that would benefit the U.S. pecan industry," says Jerry A. Payne, acting director of the ARS Southern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory in Byron, Georgia, and noted scaler of trees.

The other strangers were horticulturists L.J. Grauke, from the ARS pecan research facility at Somerville, Texas, and Bruce W. Wood a colleague of Payne's at Byron.

"We need to find a way to put new life into the pecan industry and protect trees from pests and disease," Payne says. Aphids, shuckworms, pecan weevils, stink bugs, root borers, casebearers, and mites can render a pecan crop practically worthless. Insect control alone costs an estimated $75 million annually. In addition to these insect problems, growers face the threat of pecan scab, root rot, crown gall, kernel diseases, and the plague of alternate-year bearing.

Pecan is the most important of the Carya (hickory) species, says Grauke. He is the curator of the National Clonal. Germplasm Repository for Carya at Somerville where the 14 North American pecans are maintained.

The team brought back two species of hickories from Vietnam and two from China.

"For the first time we will have all six Asian hickories in the United States," Grauke says. USDA's Frank Meyer began collecting Asian hickory germplasm in 1915. French botanists studied Vietnamese hickories back in the 1930's. Now Vietnamese, Chinese, and U.S. scientists are striving to protect dwindling forest reserves.

Very few American scientists have seen the Asian hickory species, especially in their natural habitat. Nor has much been written about them - and most of that is in Chinese, laments Grauke.

This is one of the reasons for gathering germplasm, says Payne. "We want to see if there are genetic traits in these species that may benefit the North American species."

Grauke is hopeful. He already has tiny green shoots peeping through the soil from greenhouse plantings. These are from seed of Carya tonkinensis, picked from trees in the Northwestern Forest Reserve at Son La.

Seedlings can be used to test for disease and insect resistance and to study the evolutionary relationships of the genus.

The team gathered seed and herbarium samples of Carya sinensis from the Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam. This seed, which appears viable, has also been planted.

"The Vietnamese hadn't heard of C. poilanei, the third species we were looking for," Grauke says. "We gave them literature noting historic accounts of the species. They promised to look and send us samples if they found it."

Bruce Wood reports the same response from Chinese officials.

"One species that we went after but didn't find was C. kweichowensis, which grows at high elevations in a very remote area of China. However, the Chinese promised to gather germplasm and send it to us," Wood says.

The two species gathered in China are C. cathayensis (Chinese hickory) and C. hunanensis (Hunan hickory).

The team shipped the Vietnamese material directly from Bangkok to the ARS repository at Brownwood since there is no United States embassy in Vietnam.

Hickory samples from China, on the other hand, will be routed through the Chinese embassy in Beijing.

Vietnamese and Chinese alike grow hickories as food crops and value their medicinal properties. They use oil from the nuts for lighting and cooking. Vietnamese women drink a bitter tea brewed from hickory tree bark to contract the uterus after childbirth. The Chinese steam the nuts with raw ginger, sugar, and orange peels as a cough remedy and analgesic.

To thank their hosts for help in collecting germplasm, Payne, Grauke, and Wood presented their Asian colleagues with germplasm from native U.S. pecans and also with technical literature.

PHOTO : Seeds of the Hunan hickory (Carya hunanensis), collected by USDA-ARS scientists in China, may offer a bounty of genetic traits to strengthen North American species.

PHOTO : Research horticulturists L.J. Grauke (left) and Bruce Woods collect soil samples at the Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam.
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Title Annotation:search for nut germplasm in China and Vietnam
Author:Doris, Stanley
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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