plant science

Meet Samuel Kocurek

Samuel KocurekSamuel is our Ecotypic Seed Supply Chain Intern this summer. His majors are Mathematics and Environmental Science – ’23 CLAS.

I truly believe in developing a personal relationship with the land. So when I saw UConn Extension offering this internship I was immediately hooked. With this work, I am aiding a professor and doctoral student in developing an ecotypic seed supply chain to revegetate highway roadsides with native plants. Ecotypic seed refers to native plant ecotypes that are grown and processed here in New England. It results in better erosion control, better pollinator health, greater plant longevity, less invasive plants… the list goes on about the benefits of using native plants.

I am also learning about mowing patterns and how we can best mow for pollinators and native plants. Although not an initial interest of mine, I have been taken aback by how much reducing our mowing can benefit the land. As I drive along the highways now, I am particularly aware of all the beautiful plants and wildflowers that have proliferated due to reduced mowing. We use our roads every day, traveling at high speeds turning the landscape into a blur. Having the opportunity to make our drives more ecologically authentic for ourselves, pollinators, and wildlife has been extremely meaningful. I am learning so much about the land we inhabit and about the beautiful plants that we often take for granted.

Ana Legrand: Educator Spotlight

Creating Sustainable Landscapes Through the Interactions of Plants and Insects

Educator Spotlight: Ana Legrand

Ana LegrandAna Legrand built her career around helping people understand the benefits that insects provide. Legrand is an entomologist and UConn Extension educator in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. Entomology is the study of insects, and it plays a vital role in our environment and landscapes.

“My interest in entomology started when I was young,” Legrand says. “I worked with an agricultural ecology professor in college, and she focused on insects for her research. I saw that it was a good path to follow because I was also interested in agriculture.”

Legrand started working on the project as an undergraduate. Then, she took a class on entomology that showed the formalities and that it could become a profession. “Part of my educational experience was working in the laboratory. I found that collaborating with the graduate students and professors was fun,” Legrand recalls. “I went on to pursue research in graduate school at the University of Maryland because you’re always learning something and that’s exciting. Teaching is also exciting because you are sharing that new information.”

At UConn, Legrand’s research and extension program focuses on plant and insect interactions in vegetable crops. Her work uses insects to enhance biological controls and looks at plant traits that impact insect pests. Legrand’s lab team is investigating plants that attract pests away from crops. Their goal is to trap insects on crops in the early stages before any damage to the food being grown.

Educational outreach including field days and fact sheets target growers and other researchers. “It’s rewarding to find something that wasn’t documented before, even if it’s a small thing,” she says. “I also enjoy seeing the diversity of insects. It might seem like a quiet agricultural field, but it’s really complex with a lot of activity out there.”

Ana Legrand teaching an Extension programShe enjoys getting students and growers excited about insects. Watching undergraduates complete research and pursue entomology in graduate school is also rewarding. “I want everyone to know that insects are a diverse group of animals,” Legrand says. “We face many challenges from pest problems – including health issues. But we also need to appreciate the beneficial insects and make them better allies in what we’re doing. Obviously, there is pollination. But beneficial insects also help with waste management, pest control, and in other areas.”

Remote sensing for early detection of pest damage is one of her new research projects in agriculture and entomology. Legrand and Bivek Bhusal, her graduate student, are partnering with researchers in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. They are using drones to identify insect damage to plants. Analyzing the way the light bounces back from the plant surface helps them find tissue damage and then look for patterns. There is a lot of data, and it has many other applications for agriculture production, specifically in vegetable crops.

Extension educators at several Northeast states are collaborating on a brassica project. The results of their research will enhance agricultural operations. Maussi Arrunategui, another of Legrand’s graduate students, is working on the project with her. Brassica crops include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and turnips. Her research avenues continue expanding and innovating beyond these projects. She is also securing more grant funding to sustain her research and extension initiatives.

“Extension work is valuable, and we want to keep people informed of the latest IPM developments,” Legrand concludes. “There are so many new pest challenges and there are new options available for management of traditional pests. The local environment is important too, our research is more applicable to what people are facing here in Connecticut.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

Job Opening: Educational Program Assistant

The University of Connecticut is seeking applicants for a full-time position as Educational Program Assistant 1. The ideal candidate is a dynamic and engaged individual with a strong interest in finding horticultural solutions and a passion for communicating with the public. This position has 80% effort in support of the Home and Garden Education Center (HGEC) and affiliated service laboratories, and 20% effort in support of communications for the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture (PSLA). The HGEC is part of UConn Extension and this person will be the main point of contact for the Plant Diagnostic Lab, Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center, and the Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab. The selected candidate will join a team of exemplary staff and faculty members in the HGEC that strive to identify and educate the public and private entities on environmentally sustainable and economically feasible solutions for commercial and residential horticultural issues. The selected candidate would also be a member of and primary communications staff person for the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, which is recognized for service to Connecticut through graduate and undergraduate education, outstanding public outreach programs associated with formal extension and engaged scholarship, and nationally competitive research programs.

Hemp Outreach and Research Initiatives at CAHNR

hemp plants growing under glass in a UConn CAHNR research lab
Photo: Jessica Lubell

The UConn CAHNR Hemp Research and Outreach team has members from Extension and the UConn Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. We have a suite of resources available for commercial growers. Our recent workshop was full, and the presentations and other resources are at https://hemp.cahnr.uconn.edu/.

Interveinal Chlorosis

One of the most common plant-problems we see in the lab is interveinal chlorosis. This issue can affect house plants and garden vegetables, to landscape trees and shrubs. We often get inquires about the plant-tissue analysis we offer in the soil testing lab as a means to identify various problems. While this is an extremely useful tool for diagnosing nutrient deficiencies, when we see a plant showing interveinal chlorosis, we usually check the soil test results first.

What is interveinal chlorosis? A good place to start is defining what chlorophyll is. Greek for green leaf, chlorophyll is the pigment in plants that gives them their green color, and traps the light necessary for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process in which plants produce sugar from light energy. The chlorophyll molecule is held together by a central Magnesium ion. Interveinal Chlorosis is a yellowing of the tissue between the veins of a leaf due to the decline of chlorophyll production and activity. A give-away tell of interveinal chlorosis is that the veins generally retain their green color, hence the name, interveinal. When a plant cannot produce chlorophyll it loses its green color and could face stunted growth, fail to produce fruit and flowers, and eventually die.

What causes interveinal chlorosis? The quick version is nutrient deficiency. We already know that Magnesium is a central part in chlorophyll, but there are other essential elements like Iron, Manganese, and Molybdenum that are necessary in many enzyme activities, and a deficiency in one of these nutrients can lead to interveinal chlorosis. In our lab we most commonly see interveinal chlorosis caused by a lack of Iron or Magnesium. When thinking about a nutrient deficiency, it’s important to remember that there are other factors to take into account than just whether the nutrient is present in your growing media. Interveinal Chlorosis brought on by a nutrient deficiency can be caused by a pH imbalance, injured roots or poor root growth, and excessive amounts of other available nutrients in your growing media.

How can you get rid of interveinal chlorosis? We are available in the lab, and in the Home & Garden education center to help you figure out what’s causing your interveinal chlorosis. Once you determine what the cause is, fixing the problem shouldn’t be too difficult. Most of the time it’s a pH issue. If your soil is too alkaline, generally having a pH value of over 6.7, iron becomes more insoluble and less available for absorption. Soil pH can be corrected using a few different approaches, the most common method for acidifying soil is adding Sulfur. Generally, 1 lb Sulfur/100 sq ft will lower pH ~ 1 unit. Nutrient deficiencies can also be remedied using foliar and trunk applications, as well as soil treatments amendments.

More information on diagnosing and remedying interveinal chlorosis can be found through the UConn Home & Garden Education Center and the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab. Information on foliar fertilization can be found here: http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/factsheets/FoliarFertilization.pdf. Happy Gardening!

Tomato plant leaf with magnesium deficiency.

 -J.Croze

Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center