Breaking the daffodil code: new research is first step in bulb identification

Monday 5 November 2018

  • The RHS and Reading University map daffodil’s chloroplast genome for the first time
  • Genetic markers could help identify bulbs at point of sale and aid conservation efforts and breeding of new cultivars

Gardeners might end up never planting the wrong bulb again after the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and Reading University successfully mapped a daffodil’s chloroplast genome for the first time.

When sold as dry bulbs daffodils are impossible to tell apart, with 1,766 different cultivars - including pink, green, trumpeted and double-headed – available in the UK.

In the first step towards identifying different cultivars in bulb form, researchers from the RHS and Reading University mapped the entire code which makes up the chloroplast genome – the DNA responsible for photosynthesis in plants.

The code was built by extracting DNA from the leaf material of a pheasant’s eye daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) grown at RHS Garden Wisley. The data was then examined and the 2% relating to the chloroplast genome pulled out and assembled.

Never before done for daffodils, the team can now look for variations in the genome that could serve as genetic markers and be effective in distinguishing between cultivars. This could eventually be used to avoid the wrong bulbs being traded and aid conservation efforts, new breeding and the registration of cultivars. 

The work could also be applied to other bulbous plants like snowdrops, crocus and hyacinths which are being busily planted by the UK’s 27 million gardeners this autumn.

John David, Head of Horticultural Taxonomy, at the Royal Horticultural Society said:
“This is an exciting first step in identifying daffodil varieties at the point they are most popularly bought but when there is nothing to tell them apart. With so many bulbs due to be planted this autumn it is a huge industry and we hope our work might avoid disappointment for professionals who plant en masse and gardeners who will often seek out their tried and tested favourites.”

Alastair Culham, Associate Professor of Botany, Reading University, added:
“The technology used in this project is fast moving and it will be both practical and affordable for routine use within the next 10 years. As a keen gardener I have sometimes been disappointed to find special bulbs I’ve planted in the autumn have turned out to be less good varieties when they come in to flower in the spring. Better management of the supply chain and the ability to authenticate dormant bulbs should stop such mistakes in the future.”

The first paper detailing the research is published in Mitochondrial DNA Part B. The RHS has been responsible for registering daffodil cultivars for 110 years. For more information about daffodils visit the RHS website.

The RHS is building the UK’s first National Centre for Horticultural Science & Learning at RHS Garden Wisley. Help us to protect the future of plants, people and the planet: www.rhs.org.uk
 

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Notes to editors

Images available on request.

For more information please contact Laura Scruby in the RHS press office: laurascruby@rhs.org.uk / 0207 821 3060

About the RHS: The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. Our vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener, healthier, happier and more beautiful place. We believe everyone in every village, town and city should benefit from growing plants to enhance lives, build stronger, healthier, happier communities and create better places to live.

We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, our flagship garden, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity. At our gardens and shows and through our scientific research, publications, libraries and our education and community programmes we inspire a passion for gardening and growing plants, promote the value of gardens, demonstrate how gardening is good for us and explain the vital roles that plants undertake.

The RHS is committed to bring the joy of gardening to millions more people, inspire the next generation of gardeners and invest in the future to safeguard a £10.4 billion industry employing more than 300,000 people. We are entirely funded by our members, visitors and supporters. RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and help us secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 020 3176 5820, or visit www.rhs.org.uk/join

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262
 

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About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit www.rhs.org.uk

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262