Table of Contents
Shands, H.L. and G.A. White. 1990. New crops in the U.S. national plant
germplasm system. p. 70-75. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in
new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
New Crops in the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System
Henry L. Shands and George A. White
- THE NATIONAL PLANT GERMPLASM SYSTEM
- NPGS AND NEW CROPS
- Amaranthus spp. (Amaranth)
- Guayule (Parthenium argentatum)
- Meadowfoam (Limnanthes spp.)
- Seed Oil Sources of Epoxy Fatty Acids
- Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) and Roselle (H. sabdariffa)
- Table 1
- Fig. 1
The National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) has recently been characterized in
detail (Shands, et al. 1988, and White et al. 1989). The NPGS is described as
a user-driven system whose repositories are principally funded and managed by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) with
significant financial and operational input by the State Agricultural
Experiment Stations (SAES). Principle functions of the NPGS are the
acquisition, preservation, evaluation and distribution of plant germplasm of
economic food, fiber and industrial crops. The policy of the USDA is to
distribute germplasm freely for bonafide research on a worldwide basis.
The NPGS consists of operational, advisory, and administrative units that
provide appropriate support to serving users. Operational units (Fig. 1)
consist of working collections at regional Plant Introduction Stations (RPIS)
located at Ames, Iowa; Griffin, Georgia; Geneva, New York, and Pullman,
Washington; National Clonal Germplasm Repositories (NCGR) at Brownwood, Texas;
Corvallis, Oregon; Davis, California; Geneva, New; York; Hilo, Hawaii; Miami,
Florida/Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; Orlando, Florida; and Riverside/Brawley,
California; and, numerous individual sites with individual commodity and
genetic stock collections. The National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) at Ft.
Collins, Colorado houses the base collection for the NPGS.
Additional support units consist of those in the Germplasm Services Laboratory
(GSL) and National Plant Germplasm Quarantine Laboratory (NPGQL) of the Plant
Sciences Institute, Beltsville, Maryland. Offices of the GSL include the Plant
Introduction Office (PIO), Plant Exploration Office (PEO) and the Germplasm
Resources Information Network (GRIN) Database Management Unit (DBMU). The
NPGQL is physically located in the( National Plant Germplasm Quarantine Center
(NPGQC) operated jointly with the Animal and Plant f Health Inspection Service
(APHIS) of the USDA which has regulatory responsibility for the international
movement of plants and plant parts used in the germplasm program.
The NPGS is unique in many ways but most importantly in that it is a loosely,
coordinated network of Federal, State and private industry organizations and
individuals with a common goal for acquiring, preserving, and developing plant
germplasm. The NPGS has direct linkages to both national and international
persons, institutions, and official outlets for acquiring material which could
benefit the scientist. There are many individuals who are very actively
engaged in plant selection and improvement who obtain plant materials through
their own means. They literally bypass the system, to their own and the
system's disadvantage. Likewise, material going directly to the scientist is a
loss to other scientists in the future. Even if it does get into the NPGS,
often the passport data (source, origin, field collection, descriptive and
other information) are lost or are potentially inaccurate with possible
transcription errors as a result of the delay. It is most desirable that newly
acquired material be included in the NPGS, that appropriate plant introduction
(PI) numbers be assigned, and that passport data be entered into the GRIN
database. It is the responsibility of individual scientists to be cognizant of
their part in helping to meet the Nation's need for preservation of germplasm
and maintenance of biodiversity. Preservation of these materials for future
generations of scientists cannot be overemphasized. Original material,
reflecting the full diversity of the samples acquired, along with accurate
passport information, should be submitted to the appropriate NPGS working
collection. Associated data are incorporated into the GRIN and seeds sent,
usually after an increase, to the base collection at NSSL for long term
The "golden new crops" of North Americasoybean in the United States and
rapeseed in Canada resulted from dedicated, sustained research efforts and the
availability of germplasm. Herein lies the foundation for successful
establishment of new crops. The NPGS's role is to assemble, document
information, and maintain the integrity of new crop germplasm placed under its
care. Researchers are urged to donate genetically unaltered wild accessions
and advanced lines/releases/cultivars to NPGS for safekeeping. To avoid
orphanage treatment of new crop germplasm, basic descriptors for evaluation and
advisory groups are needed to strengthen germplasm activities and enhance
utility of available germplasm in improvement programs. While some potential
new crops can be effectively researched by scientists of one or of a few
states, national input, including coordination of agronomic and chemical
research are desirable because of national implications and possible shifting
of production areas.
In 1956, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), through the New Crops
Research Branch and the Regional Research Centers (utilization laboratories),
embarked on a systematic and highly successful program to identify potential
new crop leads and to develop the most promising ones. The initial emphasis,
because of large crop surpluses, was directed to industrial use such as new
oilseeds, seedgums, natural pesticides, and fibers for paper pulp.
Unfortunately, support ebbed as time passed and the farm economy fluctuated.
Support for breeding and cultural research proved very inadequate to follow up
on the many promising leads. These efforts were highly cooperative and
involved state, federal, and private research, with a good mix of chemistry,
processing and agronomic research. This kind of cooperation is essential for
success. The USDA Regional Research Center at Peoria, Illinois actively
complements the existing new crop agronomic research with chemical analyses,
processing studies, and product development research.
The remainder of this paper is devoted to the germplasm status within NPGS of
selected new, crop species. The following benefits of the NPGS are
Species within this genus range from serious weeds to ancient grains. Amaranth
has been cultivated in the Andes and in Mexico for centuries as a good quality,
high lysine grain crop. More recently, Africans began to grow certain species
as a vegetable similar to spinach and other greens. Campbell and Abbott (1982)
field evaluated 20 entries of vegetable amaranth in Maryland. Amaranth is an
established new crop in the U.S. albeit, on low acreage and has a bright,
continuing future as a specially crop for health foods (grain and vegetable)
and an ornamental. There is a vast reservoir of germplasm in the NPGS (see
Table 1). Many accessions are unidentified at the species level, thus much
will be required in taxonomy and evaluation. Additional germplasm should be
available through exchange and field explorations. Yield increases and
increased seed size of grain types would enhance amaranth as a new crop and
additional evaluation of the germplasm would be helpful in improving these and
other characters. Rodale Research Center researchers have been leaders in the
development of amaranth as a new crop both in the U.S. and abroad (Cole 1979).
They have identified preferred accessions for grain and garden vegetable
production and recently established a core collection. A large portion of
their collection is being characterized and added to the NPGS collection at
Ames, Iowa. Amaranth is becoming a common ornamental.
The new crops program identified C. abyssinica as a good new crop
prospect in 1957 because of the high level of erucic acid (60%) in the seed
oil, and good agronomic characteristics. Subsequent agronomic research
resulted in the delineation of potential production areas (White and Higgins
1966) and in the development of five cultivars ('Prophet,' 'Indy', and 'Meyer'
by Purdue University researchers and 'BellAnn' and 'BelEnzian' by Campbell et
al. 1986a) and three germplasm releases (Campbell et al. 1986b). Limited
genetic diversity in available germplasm of C. abyssinica has hindered
major progress in yield improvement (Lessman and Anderson 1981, Lessman and
Meier 1972). Only a few accessions are known to have come directly from the
wild. Accessibility of undoubtedly limited wild germplasm in Ethiopia, the
center of origin, is poor. Nonetheless, crambe has been successfully grown in
several areas on a large field scale. A sustained breeding effort to increase
yield and improve disease resistance, especially to Alternaria, is
needed. Generic diversity for low or zero thioglucosides in the seed meal
could enhance the economics of crambe production through development of a
superior protein-rich feed supplement.
- Provides adequate germplasm availability with good passport data. NPGS,
through exchange and plant exploration, is in a unique position to add to the
germplasm base of potential new crop species.
- Provides proper maintenance of the integrity and longevity of each germplasm
- Acts as a safekeeping storehouse for new crop germplasm.
- Can assist in coordination of sustained and well balanced (interdisciplinary)
- Provides the national coordination and advisory components including promotion
and user interactions.
G.A. White, K.J. Lessman, and K. Meyer (unpublished) collected seed of other
Crambe species in several Mediterranean countries in 1974. While these
species generally had desirable erucic acid and seed oil levels, they offered
little to the agronomic development of crambe as a new crop. White and Solt
(1978) identified three ploidy levels in C. kralikii which could be
useful in obtaining more cold tolerance in C. abyssinica. Leppik and
White (1975) delineated the natural distribution of Crambe species.
Shortly thereafter, wild populations were discovered in Turkey.
This natural rubber-bearing species is native to Southwestern United States and
adjacent areas in Mexico (Thompson 1989). Considerable research was conducted
on guayule during and following World War II because foreign supplies of
natural rubber were threatened. When the research was phased out, seed of 25
lines was deposited in the NSSL. With renewed interest in new crop
development, these lines provided the basic testing materials until the
germplasm base could be greatly expanded through field collection. Only 33
accessions reside in the NPGS. Numerous accessions have been collected from
the wild but these have not been tendered to the NPGS for maintenance. The
importance of maintaining the original integrity of germplasm through proper
growout sample size, pollination control, and storage cannot be overemphasized.
Improved yield and rubber content will be highly dependent on availability of
This is a native North American genus whose most common species is L.
alba. Seed oils are rich in longchain fatty acids (C20 and C22). Research
on meadowfoam has been conducted at Oregon State University and the University
of California-Davis for several years and superior genotypes of L. alba
have been released by Oregon researchers and tristate (Oregon, Washington, and
Idaho) cooperation has promoted continuing research and attempts to
commercialize meadowfoam (Jolliff 1981).
According to Table 1, there are 58 accessions of meadowfoam in the NPGS.
Researchers in California and Oregon hold substantial germplasm. Again,
provisions for pollination control when increasing each accession, and
maintenance under good cold storage conditions are important features for
continuing research. Improved seed yield, increased height and erectness, and
less seed shattering would enhance the crop potential of meadowfoam.
According to Princen (1979), the U.S. consumption of epoxy fatty acids is about
140 million pounds annually and expanding. There are no commercially available
natural sources of epoxy oils. Herein, we consider two genera that contain
seed oils rich in epoxy acids.
Stokesia laevis (Stokes aster). This plant is monospecific and
native to the Southern and Southeastern United States (Gunn and White 1974).
Campbell (1981) discussed its agronomic potential. A breeding program was
initiated at Beltsville to select for improved seedling vigor and seed
retention within broad-based populations derived from early- or late-flowering
plant introductions. Two early and four late-flowering synthetics resulting
from this research have been increased and germplasm will be released in 1989
(T.A. Campbell, unpublished data). This perennial species should be a prime
candidate for new crop development because of the following factors: ready
accessibility of germplasm; wide diversity in germplasm; high seed oil content
(27-44%) and high epoxy acid content (63-79%) (White 1977); and adequate seed
retention. Research is needed to speed up stand establishment, to conduct
sustained management studies of this perennial, to establish an aggressive
plant improvement program, and to continue processing and product development
studies. While germplasm is readily available, some of the smaller wild
populations and those along roadsides are especially vulnerable to extinction.
Despite little present-day ongoing agronomic research, we consider Stokes aster
the best U.S. new crop prospect for natural epoxy fatty acid production.
Vernonia. This genus is widespread in India, Pakistan, and
Africa. There are two weedy naturalized perennial species in the United
States. After the 1954 discovery of vernolic (epoxy) acid in V.
anthelmintica, the new, crops program identified this species as a
prospective new oilseed crop. Subsequently, extensive field work ensued
including breeding efforts at Purdue University. Considerable diversity for
various traits except for seed retention was identified (Berry et al. 1970).
Harvesting trials in three states on a several acre basis showed that with
improved seed retention, conventional combine harvesting would be feasible.
Breeding efforts resulted in the development of relatively determinate and
earlier maturing types, however little generic variability for better seed
retention was found. Also, a bitter resinous principal associated with the
heads and seeds proved very disagreeable in harvesting and processing of seed.
While some large seedlots were introduced from India, sampling of wild
populations throughout the range of V. anthelmintica was inadequate.
V. galamensis is distributed in several African countries (Perdue et al.
1986). It exhibits better seed retention and higher oil content than V.
anthelmintica. However, it presently has little crop potential for
continental U.S. because of its short day requirement. There is limited
germplasm in NPGS but recent field collections will provide a much broader base
of germplasm. According to R.E. Perdue (personal communication), an estimated
yield of 2.5 t/ha was obtained from experimental plots of unimproved V.
galamensis in Zimbabwe. Approximately 32 accessions of V.
galamensis (two or more accessions each of the six subspecies) have been
collected from various African countries but not all are available to the U.S.
at this time.
These species have been grown for many years in various countries as sources of
cordage fiber. The U.S. had a project at Belle Glade, Florida that emerged
from the war effort when supplies of cordage fiber products were seriously
threatened. Researchers released two cultivars-'Everglades 71' and 'Everglades
41' (Wilson et al. 1965). Kenaf was identified in 1960 as a prime new crop
prospect for paper pulp. New crop researchers conducted extensive cultural
research at several locations (White et al. 1970) using 'Everglades' and other
cultivars that were provided by the Belle Glade research unit. Research
support especially for agronomic/breeding has fluctuated with a recent period
of no effort on the production side.
Interest has been rekindled primarily through the determined effort over
several lean research years by Kenaf International to commercialize kenaf in
the United States. This company has developed plans for a mill in south Texas
dedicated to kenaf for newsprint pulp. Processing, pulping, and other trials
to promote the commercialization of newsprint manufactured from kenaf has been
summarized by Kugler (1988). The future crop status of kenaf appears very
The germplasm status for kenaf and roselle is summarized in Table 1. In
addition there are numerous breeding lines from the Belle Glade program that
need to be carefully inventoried, perhaps many composited, and evaluated. The
authors suggest the following germplasm related activities:
Internationally, the interest in kenaf for pulp and fiber remains
high. The same may be said for roselle. For example, C.A.B. International
listed 167 annotated references for kenaf (1988a) and 71 for roselle (1988b)
with most published during 1980-85.
New Crop success stories and consideration of several potential new crops have
been discussed at this symposium. The future will undoubtedly bring other crop
prospects for food-to increase nutrition and dietary variety such as the Andean
crops, natural pesticides, medicinal plants, and perhaps many with
industrial-use potential. There will always be the need for ample,
well-documented germplasm of the species involved.
- Develop a complete inventory of seedstock holdings of kenaf, roselle, and other
closely related Hibiscus species.
- Initiate a systematic evaluation and increase of germplasm accessions.
- Arrange for the proper identification, increase, and screening for nematode
reaction of the 1979 Jones collection from Africa.
- Introduce and evaluate current cultivars of kenaf and roselle from other
- Establish a sustained, well-supported, and nationally coordinated breeding
The NPGS is unique in its mission to acquire, evaluate, maintain, and
distribute plant germplasm and to manage associated data. Germplasm of
potential new crops, so critical in their development, needs to be maintained
in an unaltered state to preserve diversity. New crop researchers are urged to
provide complete passport data when donating germplasm to NPGS for
While the germplasm base of most if not afl of the new crops discussed herein
needs to be expanded, thorough assessment and increase of available accessions
in a systematic manner are imperative. Appropriate descriptors and descriptor
implementation plans are needed for obtaining the desired and important data
which will enhance the germplasm utility. The NPGS has and will continue to
play an important role in new crop development through germplasm maintenance,
evaluation, and distribution.
- Berry, C.D., K.J. Lessman, G.A. White, and F.R. Earle. 1970. Genetic diversity
inherent in Vernonia anthelmintica (L.) Willd. Crop Sci. 10:178-180.
- C.A.B. International. 1988a. Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus). Ann Bib. No. G
281B. Wallingford, Oxon, Ox10 8DE, UK.
- C.A.B. International. 1988b. Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Ann Bib. No.
432A G, Wallingford, Oxon, Ox10 8DE, UK.
- Campbell, T.A. and J.A. Abbott. 1982. Field evaluation of vegetable amaranth
(Amaranthus spp.). HortScience 17:407-409.
- Campbell, I.A. 1981. Agronomic potential of Stokes aster. Chap. 20:287-295. In:
E.H. Pryde, L.H. Princen, and K. D. Mukherjee (ed.), New sources of fats and
oils. Amer. Oil Chem. Soc. Monograph 9. Champaign, IL.
- Campbell, I.A., J. Crock, J.H. Williams, A.N. Hang, R.E. Sigafus, A.A.
Schneiter, E.F. McClain, C.R. Graves, D.G. Woolley, R. Kleiman, and W.C.
Adamson. 1986a. Registration of 'Belann' and 'Belenzian' crambe. Crop Sci.
- Campbell, T.A., J. Crock, J.H. Williams, A.N. Hang, R.E. Sigafus, A.A.
Schneiter, E.F. McClain, C.R. Graves, D.G. Woolley, R. Kleiman, and W.C.
Adamson. 1986b. Registration of C-22, C-29, and C-37 crambe germplasm. Crop
- Cole, J.N. 1979. Amaranth from the past to the future. Rodale Press,
- Gunn, C.R. and G.A. White. 1974. Stokesia laevis: taxonomy and economic
value. Econ. Bot. 28:130-135.
- Jolliff, G.D. 1981. Development and production of meadowfoam (Limnanthes
alba). 1981. Chap. 19:269-285. In: E.H. Pryde, L.H. Princen, and K.D.
Mukherjee (ed.), New sources of fats and oils. Amer. Oil Chem. Soc. Monograph
9. Champaign, IL.
- Kugler, D.E. 1988. Kenaf newsprint: realizing commercialization of a new crop
after four decades of research and development U.S. Department of
Agriculture-Cooperative State Research Service, Special Projects and Program
- Leppik, E.E. and G.A. White. 1975. Preliminary assessment of crambe germplasm
resources. Euphytica 24:681-689.
- Lessman, K.J., L.H. Princen, and K.D. Mukherjee (ed.), New sources of fats and
oils. Amer. Oil Chem. Soc. Monograph 9. Champaign, IL.
- Lessman, K.J. and V.D. Meier. 1972. Agronomic evaluation of crambe as a source
of oil. Crop Sci. 12:224-227.
- Perdue, R.E., K.D. Carlson, and M.G. Gilbert. 1986. Vernonia galamensis,
potential new crop source of epoxy acid. Econ. Bot. 40:54-68.
- Princen, L.H. 1979. New crop developments for industrial oils. J. Amer. Oil
Chem. Soc. 56:845-848
- Shands, H.L., P.J. Fitzgerald, and S.A. Eberhart. 1988. Program for plant
germplasm preservation in the United States. Proc. BARC-XIII Symposium on
Biotic Diversity and Germplasm PreservationGlobal Imperatives. p. 97-115.
Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrect/Boston/London.
- Thompson, A.E. and D.T. Ray. 1989. Building guayule. Plant Breed. Rev.
- White, G.A. 1977. Plant introductionsa source of new crops. p. 17-24. In:
D.S. Seigler (ed.), Crop resources. Academic Press, New York.
- White, G.A., D.G. Cummins, E.L. Whiteley, W.I. Fike, J.K. Greig, J.A. Martin,
G.B. Killinger, J.J. Higgins, and T.F. \Clark. \1970. \Cultural harvesting
methods for kenafan annual crop source of pulp in the Southeast USDA
Production Res. Rpt. 113.
- White, G.A. and J.J. Higgins. 1966. Culture of crambe, a new industrial oilseed
crop. USDA-ARS Production Res. Rpt. 95.
- White, G.A., H.L. Shands, and G.R. Lovell. 1989. The history and operation of
the National Plant Germplasm System. Plant Breed. Rev. 7:5-56.
- White, G.A. and Solt, Marie. 1978. Chromosome numbers in Crambe,
Crambella, and Hemicrambe. Crop Sci. 18:160-161.
- Wilson, F.D., T.E. Summers, J.F. Joyner. 1965. 'Everglades 41' and 'Everglades
71'two new varieties of kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.) for fiber and
seed. Fla. Agric. Exp. Sta. Cir. S-168.
Table 1. Constituent of interest and germplasm status in NPGS of
selected new crop species.
zThe 1969 Jones collection from Africa not included. It contains accessions of
kenaf, roselle, other species, and unidentified item.
Scientific name ||Common name ||Constituent of interest ||Site ||No. of NPGS accessions ||
|Amaranthus spp. ||Amaranth ||Food-grain & vegetable, Ornamental ||Ames, IA ||
2,554 ||Many unidentified accessions in working collection|
|Crambe abyssinica ||Crambe ||Oilseed-high erucic acid ||Ames, IA ||164 ||
Variability low. Need more wild accesions. Five cultivars.|
|Crambe spp. || ||Oilseed-high erucic acid ||Ames, IA ||121 ||Poor agronomic
|Cuphea spp. ||Cuphea ||Oilseed-short chain fatty acids ||Ames, IA ||360 ||New
accessions recently acquired. Exploration activity.|
|Hibiscus cannabinus ||Kenafz ||Annual source of paper pulp ||Griffin, GA ||284 ||
Germplasm evaluations needed. Introduce foreign cultivars.|
|H. sabdariffa ||Roselle ||Annual source of paper pulp ||Griffin, GA ||94 ||
Resistant to root-knot nematodes. Yields lower than for kenaf.|
|Limnanthes spp. ||Meadowfoam ||Long chain fatty acids ||Pullman, WA ||58 ||
Considerable germplasm not in NPGS|
|Parthenium ||Guayule ||Natural source of rubber ||Ft. Collins, CO ||33 ||Need for
higher rubber content and improved yield. Germplasm must be maintained &
|Stokesia laevis ||Stokes aster ||Oilseed-epoxy fatty acid, ornamental ||
Griffin, GA ||34 ||Germplasm readily accessible. Cultural management and breeding
|Vernonia anthelmintica ||Ironweed ||Oilseed-epoxy fatty acid ||Ames, IA ||19 ||
Narrow germplasm collection. Seed shattering. Amenable to machine harvesting,
Bitter principle associated with seed and seed head.|
|V. galamensis || ||Oilseed-epoxy fatty acid ||Griffin, GA ||10y ||Good seed
retention and yield potential. Short day requirement.
yDoes not include recent collections from Africa.
Fig. 1. Location of principal repositories and operational units of the
U.S. National Plant Germplasm System.
Last update August 26, 1997