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Institute of Plant Breeding: Intensifying ornamental industry through plant breeding

Ma. Eloisa E. Hernandez

Facade of the IPB office at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

The Philippine ornamental industry continues to gain popularity and recognition in the country and more so abroad.  The increasing demand for ornamentals has been one of the pressing issues faced by the ornamental sector today, making it self-sufficient, sustainable and diversified.

Encouragingly, there are private sectors, entrepreneurs, government institutions, and state colleges and universities that have the same goal to bring about a sustainable development in agriculture for the country.  This is where the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) under the College of Agriculture at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, Laguna, comes into picture.  IPB is geared toward strengthening plant breeding research through development of new and improved crop varieties.

Enactment of laws

As a headstart of plant breeding in the Philippines, researches began in 1914 though improvement of rice and corn.  This led to the establishment of a plant breeding division in 1945 under the Department of Agronomy of the College of Agriculture.  It was in 1960 that breeding work came into full blast, which included more crops.

Presidential Decree (PD) 729 issued on 5 June 1975 created the IPB under the College of Agriculture in UPLB.  PD 729 recognized the importance of modern plant breeding requiring closer collaboration among plant breeders and scientists.  IPB also envisions the need for a strong research and administrative staff and excellent facilities.

Two years later, another Presidential Decree, PD 1046-A established the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory (NPGRL) within IPB.  The laboratory served as the national center for germplasm collection and maintenance of important and potentially useful agricultural crops.

And by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 7308, otherwise known as the Seed Industry Development Act of 1992, IPB was also identified as the lead agency for crop biotechnology research.

IPB at front

Since then, IPB has been at the forefront of plant breeding research and applications in the country.  Now, Dr. Jose E. Hernandez serves as the director of IPB and concurrent director of the Crop Science Cluster.

IPB serves to: (1) develop new and improved varieties of important agricultural crops; (2) undertake studies in plant breeding and allied disciplines related to crop improvement; (3) systematically collect, introduce, preserve, and maintain a germplasm bank of important and potentially useful agricultural and horticultural crops; and (4) assist other agencies in the multiplication of quality seeds and vegetative materials of recommended crop varieties.  They likewise ensure availability of the varieties to small farmers.

Facing new demands for research breeding, IPB has classified its major programs into five categories, namely: germplasm collection and conservation, varietal improvement, crop biotechnology, seed multiplication, and seed and technology dissemination.

Ornamentals are considered among the priority crops of IPB, which include cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruit crops, root crops, industrial crops, and special crops.  IPB now has a wide collection of germplasm that utilizes its collection for evaluation and distribution of important and potentially useful agricultural crops.  The collection ensures biodiversity, making traditional and wild varieties readily available for breeding new improved varieties.

At present, the Institute maintains more than 43,000 accessions of about 500 species.  The National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) and the IPB-Germplasm Registration and Release Office have approved more than 100 varieties developed by the Institute.  The varieties are planted by farmers and growers nationwide under the national programs for increased crop production.

Plant breeding research also focuses on breeding crops, resulting in improved varieties in terms of quality, yield, and pest and disease resistance to include other abiotic stresses.  More so high quality breeder and foundation seeds, seedlings, vegetative planting materials, and asexually propagated fruit trees are being propagated.  These include crop varieties that have been developed through tissue culture technique.

IPB's work on ornamentals

As among the priority crops of IPB, new and promising ornamental varieties, specifically the Mussaendas, Hibiscus and the Hoyas, have been the subject of research.

Cutflowers (fresh buds that have been cut from the plant), foliage, and other plants fresh (foliage and branches of trees, shrubs, bushes and other plants) or dried, and live plants comprise the ornamentals.  Live plants include palms, trees, shrubs, and bushes.  For dried ornamentals, dyes and bleaches are used in plant materials of fruits, grasses, eucalyptus, and ferns.

One of the promising contributions of the Institute is the release of Hibiscus varieties the “Centennial”, “Millennium”, “Star”, and the “Oblation” Series.

In recognition of the Centennial year celebration of Philippine Independence, IPB has released the “Centennial” Series in recognition of Philippine heroines.  Eleven Hibiscus varieties have been released in yellow tone colors (Oryang, Marcela, and Nay Isa), orange tone colors (Lolay, Ningning, and Heneral Aqueda) and red tone colors (Gabriela, Goria, and Sentenarya).  The Tandang Sora is the only white tone color variety.  The Hibiscus varieties are characterized by their single-petal and that can be easily propagated by cutting.

Also, IPB has released the Hibiscus “Millenium” popular for the single-petalled and very prolific bloomers.  This served as a tribute to UPLB women scientists for their significant contribution to the advancement of Philippine Agriculture.  Scientists given recognition were Drs. Claire Baltazar, Dolores Ramirez, Gelia Castillo, and Emerita de Guzman.  The hybrids were in yellow tone colors.  Red tone varieties were named after Millennia and Obdulia Sision while the two-tone color after Helen Valmayor.

The “Star” Series are the “Megastar”, “Diamond star”, “Superstar”, “Star for all Seasons”, and “Novastar”.  The “Oblation” Series were named after UP President Emerlinda Roman, DOST Secretary Estrella Alabastro, and UP Board of Regent Nelia Gonzales.

The potted mussaenda is one project of the Institute coordinated with the Bureau of Agricultural Resarch (BAR).  The study on the Development of Colored Multi-Petaloid Mussaendas Suited for Potted Ornamentals, conducted by Dr. Simeona V. Siar, aimed to develop indigenous ornamentals such as Mussaenda as substitute and alternative to the traditional and introduced potted ornamentals such as poinsettias and chrysanthemum.  This included: (1) hybridization and development of outstanding plants; and (2) evaluation and mass propagation of outstanding plants.  To date, 513 seedlings have been generated from hybrids and open-pollinated cultivars with outstanding varieties being mass-propagated for varietal release and registration and eventual distribution to ornamental growers and enthusiasts.

The project is under the Ornamental RDE Program of the Department of Agriculture closely working on the ornamentals.  This is under the High-Impact projects.

IPB also introduced the Philippine endemic and indigenous “Hoya” species as potential export ornamental through studies conducted by Dr. Siar.  This showed great potential in the world market.  “Hoya” is characterized as “wax plants because of the waxy leaf texture”.  New species of Hoya was named after Dr. Siar, Hoya siariae.

Philippine Hoya has gained recognition abroad.  In fact, at the Flora Conference on Sustainable Floriculture Industry in Asia, Dr. Siar presented the export potential of the Philippine Hoyas.

As an Institute for plant breeding researches, IPB has served the ornamental industry, making the Philippines known even in other countries, setting new trends and breakthroughs in ornamental production.  As an ending quote, the institute states that “IPB breeds crops for a healthy, food-secured and globally competitive Philippines.”

Sources:
IPB Homepage <http://community.uplb.edu.ph/ca/ipb/main/>.
DOST-PCARRD, Ornamentals <http://www.pcarrd.dost.gov.ph/cin/Orna/description.html>