sealPurdue News
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February 1998

Purdue's new-crops center is one of a kind

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Center for New Crops and Plant Products at Purdue University is unique in that it's a center for plant research on new crop development and an information clearinghouse.

"We are the only fully integrated center in the nation that has research, education and Extension components," says James Simon, the center's research leader and Cooperative Extension Service horticulturist in Purdue's Department of Horticulture. "While other centers serve primarily as information centers, we also conduct research and work closely with growers and processors to facilitate economic opportunities."

The center's staff also maintains a comprehensive World Wide Web site filled with both scientific and practical information on new crops. Staff members provide educational outreach programs, conduct field demonstrations, provide technical support for growers and processors, and work to introduce new crops to Indiana producers.

The center's staff developed a new lemon basil, "Sweet Dani," that was named a 1998 All-America Selection. It has a strong lemon scent, light green leaves and small white flowers. It has a distinctive upright growth habit, larger leaves and rounder shape than most lemon basils. According to Simon, it can be used as an ornamental, a culinary herb, dried for use in potpourris, or used fresh in floral arrangements.

"It's a pleasure to see this new cultivar in all the major seed catalogs," Simon says. "We hope it's the first of many releases to come." He adds that current research includes development of a cinnamon basil, a rose-like basil, and others for either ornamental use or for extractable essential oils.

Another success of the center, an "electronic sniffer," was an interdisciplinary project with the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. The device nondestructively tests fruit ripeness, maturity and quality.

"In addition, a real success of the center is NewCROP, the New Crop Resource Online Program" Simon says of the center's extensive Web site. "Hundreds of people visit it every week."

NewCROP can be accessed at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/. Center director and horticulture Professor Jules Janick and Simon are responsible for start-up of the site, and Janick directs its continued growth. One full-time and one part-time employee maintain it. The site provides crop information, scientific and common plant names, reference materials on crops, a directory of resource personnel, the center's newsletter, events, a listserv, a list of farm markets, import/export information, unconventional food sources, and other links. The site is primarily research-oriented, but work is under way to make it more grower-friendly.

Grower outreach is an important component of the Center for New Crops and Plant Products. In particular, the center provides support to the Indiana mint industry. Mint studies examine crop management and culture issues and the relationship between plant growth, plant stress and essential oil production. Information gleaned from the studies directly benefits the growers. Indiana ranks fourth in the nation in peppermint production and fifth in spearmint.

Other research of benefit to growers focuses on the feasibility of collecting and domesticating plant species for their extractable secondary products; identification of new natural sources of industrially or medically useful compounds; and identification of novel compounds.

"We're one of few places that works with botanicals," Simon says. "We started 14 years ago, before these plants hit mainstream America. We hope to open opportunities for growers to raise botanicals for companies."

Botanicals are plants believed to have health-promoting properties. He explained that with consumers becoming more interested in botanicals, it could create a new market niche for savvy growers. Some plants that researchers at the center are studying are echinacea, goldenseal, St. John's wort, black cohosh and ginseng.

Other selection and breeding projects by Janick and Simon include artemisia as an anti-malarial drug and for its essential oil; cilantro for late-bolting, high vigor and continuous summer production; botanicals and medicinal plants for processing; basil for ornamental and culinary use; oregano for fresh and dry markets; thyme for fresh market; and Ancistrocladus korupensis , as an anti-AIDS agent.

CONTACT: Simon, (765) 494-1328; e-mail, simon@hort.purdue.edu

Compiled by Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; E-mail, sig@ecn.purdue.edu
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, purduenews@purdue.edu