COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Five Aces Breeding owner Harry Swartz spent 30 years traveling the world on a quest to find the perfect strawberry plant.
Miles of fields and half a million strawberry plants later, in a row of strawberries in Huelva, Spain, Swartz found it – a strawberry plant with single-bladed leaves, dozens of single-flowered trusses, each holding one berry – all ripening at the same time.
Eureka. “It was extraordinary because I didn’t imagine what it would look like, but within five seconds I realized it was a million-dollar plant,” said Swartz.
That million-dollar plant, nicknamed the “Monophylla” strawberry, is the subject of a new study conducted at the University of Maryland by Gary Coleman, associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and Landscape Architecture, to determine the genes responsible for the new variety, as well as its optimal growth environment, such as temperature, sunlight and day length.
“This one plant could be instrumental in successfully resolving one of the main challenges in strawberry growing – getting the berries to ripen at the same time,” said Swartz.
“Uniform ripening makes mechanical harvesting possible.”
Savings. Mechanical harvesting could reduce costs for growers by $5,000 to $10,000 per acre, since fresh strawberries are picked almost exclusively by hand, according to Swartz.
Strawberry plants usually have triple-bladed leaves that ripen on multibranched, multiflowered trusses, maturing over the course of several weeks. Both ripe fruits and flowers often occur on the same cluster.
But if Swartz and Coleman succeed, each plant will feature multiple, single-branched trusses, each with a single strawberry, all ripening at the same time, on branches well presented for harvesting.
Once the genetic and breeding behavior for the Monophylla are determined, the next challenge will be breeding a plant with other traits required for commercial production.
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