Optimization of flower and seed crop production in temperate eucalyptus orchards in South Africa through site selection and environmental manipulation.
Temperate eucalypts are an important part of the commercial forestry landscape in South Africa, comprising approximately 50% of the total Eucalyptus planted area. The majority of the commercial temperate eucalypts grown in South Africa are reticent, shy flowerers, and subsequently erratic seed producers. Disadvantages associated with sub-optimum (inconsistent and sparse) flowering in Eucalyptus orchards include decreased levels of out-crossing and compromised quantity and (genetic) quality of the seed produced. Genotype, physiological age and a range of environmental factors are known to influence flower bud production in temperate eucalypts. To date, winter cold and paclobutrazol (PBZ), a plant growth regulator, remain the most effective treatments for encouraging early and prolific flowering in temperate eucalypts. Disadvantages associated with the use of PBZ in the outdoor environment include the toxicity and recalcitrant nature and persistence of the chemical in soils, the high cost of PBZ and its orchard application, and the need to re-apply the chemical approximately every five years. The main aim of this study was to provide a practical solution to the problem of shy flowering and seed crop production in important temperate Eucalyptus species in South Africa. The study focused on investigating key environmental factors associated with optimum flower bud production in temperate eucalypts. The resultant data were used to achieve optimization of flower bud production in temperate eucalypts in the summer rainfall forestry areas of South Africa, via informed site selection and/or manipulation of the environmental conditions. A subsidiary aim of the project was to lessen the dependency on PBZ for achieving satisfactory flowering levels in temperate eucalypts via improved site-orchard matching and environmental manipulation. The key objectives in the study included definition of summer rainfall area site conditions for maximal floral bud production in two important species, viz. E. nitens and E. smithii, investigation of the effects of optimum flowering environmental conditions on post-initiation floral development and seed maturation in temperate eucalypts, and development of a method for supplementing winter cold and increasing flower bud production in orchards located at marginal winter chilling sites.