Flower abscission in potted Plectranthus.
Transport and post-harvest handling of flowers both cut and potted is one of the greatest challenges in the horticulture industry (REDMAN et al., 2002). Ethylene-induced flower abscission is responsible for the loss of crops (KIM et al., 2007). Flower abscission is greater when plants are transported (ABEBIE et al., 2005). This limits the sale of flowers and potted plants to areas close to the site of production and prevents export opportunities. South Africa is home to many spectacular species with great horticultural potential (RICE et al., 2011). Unfortunately however, development of a number of these species for export is difficult due to transport-induced flower abscission. Transport-induced flower abscission is a problem experienced by Dr Gert Brits, a breeder of Plectranthus in Stellenbosch in South Africa. In this study a number of Dr Brits’s Plectranthus varieties were used as model plants to understand the process of transport-induced flower abscission and develop a protocol for the prevention of such abscission. Flow cytometry was used to determine the ploidy levels of each of the varieties. It was important to be aware of this during the experiments as varieties with different ploidy levels have been reported to behave differently under stressful environmental conditions. Of the eight varieties examined, three were diploid (2n), one was triploid (3n), three were tetraploid (4n) and one was a mixopliod (2n/4n) variety. To determine the effects of packaging plants during transport and the effects of darkness on flower abscission, plants were packaged into perspex chambers and kept either in a 16 h photoperiod or in darkness for 96 h. Every 24 h the number of open and unopened flowers that had abscised was recorded. Both packaging and darkness increased flower abscission of open and unopened flowers in all eight varieties. Four varieties preferentially abscised open flowers; while the remaining four preferentially abscised unopened flowers. All eight varieties were exposed to different concentrations of ethylene (0, 0.1, 0.25 0.5, 1 and 2 μll-1) to determine their level of ethylene sensitivity. All of the Plectranthus varieties were determined to be extremely sensitive to ethylene. With 100% flower abscission occurring within 24 h at 1 and 2 μll-1 in all varieties. In order to determine what internal changes were causing this increase in flower abscission under these conditions, the changes in the expression of key ethylene biosynthetic enzymes, cytokinin content and carbohydrates in the flowers were examined. ACS and ACO are the two key enzymes in the ethylene biosynthetic pathway (JOHNSON & ECKER, 1998). Changes in the levels of mRNAs coding for these two enzymes were examined when plants were packaged and put into the dark. In general there was an upregulation of the ethylene biosynthetic pathway and in turn this may have increased ethylene production by the plants under simulated transport conditions. However, the changes were not large enough to be solely responsible for the increased flower abscission observed under simulated transport conditions. The concentrations of 43 cytokinins were measured in pedicle tissue from plants which had been kept in the dark for 0, 24, 48, 72 and 96 h. Of the 43 cytokinins measured 21 were below the level of detection. Concentrations for the remaining 22 cytokinins at each of the time points were examined and it was found that in general cytokinin concentrations increase when plants are packaged and put into the dark. DHZ-type cytokinins remained stable during the 96 h continuous dark monitoring period, with most of the changes observed in the tZ and iP types. Peaks in cytokinin concentrations are often followed by an increase in flower abscission, indicating that an increase in cytokinin concentrations may be one of the factors causing the increase in transport-induced flower abscission. Only glucose and fructose were detected in peduncle tissue. Changes in glucose and fructose over 24 h in the greenhouse and over 0, 24, 48, 72 and 96 h in simulated transport conditions were measured. During the day, glucose and fructose levels increased towards the afternoon and evening and decreased in the early morning. This is consistent with studies conducted on other species (ALONI et al., 1996). When plants were put into the dark, glucose and fructose levels increased slightly at 24 h and then decreased to levels similar to those measured in control plants. Although there were changes in glucose and fructose level in simulated transport conditions, they were very slight and it is unlikely that these changes are not responsible for the transport-induced flower abscission. These results suggest that the observed transport-induced flower abscission is the result of increased cytokinin concentrations and expression of ACO and ACS genes when plants are packaged and put into the dark. These changes in turn cause an increase in ethylene production by the plants, and the build-up of ethylene in the transport container causes flowers to abscise. Ethylene perception by the plant is the step which could be targeted to prevent flower abscission. A number of ethylene antagonists block the ethylene receptors in the plant and in so doing prevent the receptors from binding ethylene and transducing the abscission signal. 1-MCP isone such ethylene antagonist. To test whether 1-MCP could be used for the prevention of flower abscission in Plectranthus, plants were placed in sealed perspex chambers in the light and in the dark and treated with 100 nll-1 1-MCP for a single 6 h treatment, or for 6 h every day prior to continuous exposure to ethylene. 1-MCP treatment greatly reduced ethylene- and transport-induced flower abscission when plants were treated continuously, but reduced flower abscission for the first 24 h when pre-treated with a single 6 h exposure to 1-MCP.Transport-induced flower abscission in Plectranthus is the result of exposure to ethylene. The increase in ethylene production by the plants in transport conditions is likely due to an upregulation of the ethylene biosynthetic pathway and an increase in cytokinin concentrations or movement in the pedicle tissue. This transport-induced flower abscission can be prevented by continuous treatment with 100 nll-1 1-MCP during the transport period. By using 1-MCP plants can be transported for up to 4 d and the opportunity for export is made possible.