LSU AgCenter researchers showcase improved plants for coastal restoration

Bruce Schultz, Materne, Michael D., Knott, Carrie  |  11/3/2009 1:42:03 AM

News Release Distributed 11/02/09

CROWLEY, La. – Saving Louisiana’s coast with vegetation was the focus of a coastal plants field day at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station Oct. 28.

More than 65 people attended the event, including scientists, state and federal agency representatives and commercial growers of coastal plants, according to LSU AgCenter officials.

“This field day was the first coastal plant field day in the state, and the response from the coastal community was great,” said Dr. Herry Utomo, LSU AgCenter coastal plants breeder who organized the event.

“It was a good exchange to guide us in our efforts to make sure we are doing what is required,” he said. “It was a good chance for everyone to review progress.”

Utomo and Dr. Carrie Knott, LSU AgCenter coastal plants breeder, told about their work to advance sea oats and smooth cordgrass.

Utomo said native smooth cordgrass is a poor seed producer, but he has developed a cross, named PolyC15, of several different types of the plant that produce more seed.

Conventional planting of smooth cordgrass has relied on transplanting whole plants, but Utomo said that relies too heavily on one variety.

PolyC15 is a cross of 15 diverse lines with good seed-production potential, he said. It offers a new approach from clonal propagation into seed-based planting that potentially can be used for a large-scale restoration.

Utomo also is working to improve California bulrush to make that plant more salt-tolerant.

Knott is working on a project to improve sea oats, a valuable plant that creates sand dunes to hold beaches in place during storms and high tides. She is using plant-breeding techniques to produce a line of sea oats that would produce more seed and result in thicker growth.

She said sea oats planted in 2008 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast survived Hurricane Gustav, but a stand of sea oats in Cameron Parish was wiped out by Hurricane Ike.

In another presentation, Mike Materne, LSU AgCenter coastal restoration specialist, described his work to restore coastal wetlands in Texas and Louisiana, including a 300-acre effort at Port Fourchon.

Dr. David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research, said he hopes research presented at the field day leads to breakthroughs that will prevent Louisiana losing a predicted 1 million acres of coastal land in the next 40 years.

Sherrill Sagrera of Vermilion Parish said saving existing coastal areas should be a high priority and not just restoring land loss.

“We can restore all we want, but we need to protect existing land,” he said. “We need to protect what is there already so you don’t have to restore it.”

Morris Houck of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service said gains are being made.

“I think we are making an impact, long-term,” Houck said.

Bruce Schultz

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