Lachenalia: Not A Flower By Any Other Name
South African floral diversity is well known worldwide. Gerbera, Gladiolus, Freesia, Ornithogalum, and Protea representing some of the most important floral crops and all of them originated here in South Africa. The world export market for floriculture products is estimated to be worth more than $25 billion. Despite South Africa’s rich floriculture diversity the country only contributes a fraction (less than 1%) to this market via exports. The development of new indigenous flower crops locally creates the opportunity to enlarge this fraction and to derive direct benefit from the rich flora of South Africa. Furthermore, if crop production of these genera can remain local much as possible before being exported, this would add much more value for the South African floral export market. For instance, the export of dry flower bulbs can contribute cash flow back into the country in the form of royalties for the cultivar developers. Further, it would produce job creation and other socio-economic benefits through the increased local production demand and foreign revenue of the export of products. Lachenalia is an indigenous bulbous plant that produces beautiful flowers, ARC has bred a genus of Lachenalia which is suited for dry bulb production and export. This is ideal for the large foreign market where bulbs will be used for fresh cut flowers or potted flowers.
South Africa having such richest floriculture diversities in the world, means it is a pity that we contribute less than 1% to the world export market which is estimated to be worth more than $25 billion. Therefore, the local development of new indigenous flower crops creates an opportunity to become much more competitive in the export market and to derive direct benefit from the rich flora of South Africa. ARC's development of this endemic genus of Lachenalia presents a unique advantage as dry bulb production can easily be carried out by local farmers and agricultural workers which create job opportunities amongst other socioeconomic benefits. Furthermore, once exported the bulbs can be planted for either cut flower production or as pot plants, which greatly expands opportunities beyond the limitations of the small local market. Becoming more competitive in the export market means that this product has the potential to contribute positively to the South African economy.
The floriculture sector is characterized as a sector with fierce competition where supply is growing quicker than demand. The availability of superior planting material and constant breeding innovation are some of the major pillars on which success and sustainability of desirable crops rest. For any crop to be sustainable in the floriculture sector constant innovation in achieving new breeds and varieties is paramount. Breeding and selection technology are constantly involved in the development of crops. For Lachenalia it includes conventional breeding as well as more advanced breeding techniques like mutation breeding and molecular biology. Developed by a multi-disciplinary technology programme at ARC and Lachenalia being an indigenous plan, this new breed represents a truly South African product. The development was not simple, and required techniques included plant breeding and selection, flower bulb forcing, as well as molecular production technologies including tissue culture, both in vitro and in vivo bulb multiplication and production techniques (cutting production) and production system development. Most flower bulbs only bloom once a season and often for only a few weeks meaning the market window is too short. A technique known as flower bulb forcing using temperature treatments of bulbs, treated bulbs will result in active flowering over a longer period of time. This lengthens the window to market the bulbs and allows penetration of markets in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Several experiments to establish the optimal temperature to treat bulbs were carried out, as bulb forcing temperature is genera specific and needs to be optimised. Finally, production technologies need to ensure that the production system by which bulbs are generated, produces disease free bulbs, produces sustainable crops in order to keep meeting market demand and must be cost effective.
In terms of teams and collaboration, ARC and Afriflowers (a SMME nursery) currently collaborate on the development of Lachenalia as an indigenous floriculture crop. ARC acts as the Lachenalia breeder, maintains the mother stock material and supplies disease free mother stock material to Afriflowers. While ARC owns all of the IP, Afriflowers is licensed by the ARC for the production of bulbs, marketing of pot plants to the local market as well as the dry bulbs for the export market. We are seeking partners to aid us in the distribution and marketing to sell flower bulbs worldwide through license agreements.