Drought responses of six ornamental herbaceous perennials

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Scientia Horticulturae







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Although low water use landscaping is becoming common in arid regions, little is known about drought tolerance and drought responses of many ornamental plants, especially herbaceous perennials. Drought responses were assessed for six herbaceous ornamental landscape perennials in a 38 l pot-in-pot system in northern Utah over a 2-year period. The first year was an establishment period. During the second year, drought responses were evaluated for established Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench, Gaillardia aristata Pursh, Lavandula angustifolia P. Mill., Leucanthemum × superbum (J.W. Ingram) Berg. ex Kent, ‘Alaska’, Penstemon barbatus Roth var. praecox nanus rondo, and Penstemon × mexicali Mitch. ‘Red Rocks’. Plants were irrigated at frequencies of 1 (control), 2, or 4 weeks between June and September, simulating well-watered conditions, moderate drought, or severe drought. Osmotic potential (Ψs), gas exchange, visual quality, leaf area, and dry weight were assessed. In a confined root zone, P. barbatus showed the greatest tolerance to all levels of drought, avoiding desiccation by increasing root:shoot ratio and decreasing stomatal conductance as water became limiting. L. angustifolia and P. × mexicali showed tolerance to moderate drought conditions, but died after exposure to the first episode of severe drought. Neither G. aristata nor L. superbum were able to regulate shoot water loss effectively. Instead, both species displayed drought avoidance mechanisms, dying back when water was limiting and showing new growth after they were watered. Compared to control plants, G. aristata shoot dry weight was reduced by 50% and 84%, and L. superbum shoot dry weight was reduced by 47% and 99% for the 2- and 4-week irrigation intervals, respectively. Root dry weights were affected similarly for both species. E. purpurea exhibited poor visual quality at all irrigation intervals, in particular wilting severely in both drought treatments, but regaining turgor when watered again. P. barbatus is recommended for ornamental landscapes that receive little or no supplemental irrigation, while E. purpurea is not recommended for low water landscapes because of low visual quality under even mild drought.`


*indicates graduate student co-author

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