Variations in vernalization requirements among ecotypes of Festuca hallii

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Abstract

Plains rough fescue (Festuca hallii [Vasey] Piper) is an important forage grass species in the Northern Great Plains of Canada. Its seed is in demand for forage production and habitat restoration, but erratic seed production limits supply. A comprehensive understanding of factors influencing flowering and seed production in this species is needed. This study evaluated the morphological and phenological variation among six ecotypes of F. hallii from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Seeds were germinated, and seedlings were grown in the field and then transplanted to a greenhouse in November. Plants not flowering in the greenhouse were vernalized under 5°C and 8-h light for 11 weeks. In a separate experiment, plants were subjected to temperature regimes of 15/5°C, 10/0°C and 5/−5°C with day-length treatments of 12 h, 8 h and a gradually changing daylength from 12 to 8 h respectively. This study demonstrated the existence of considerable variation in morphological and phenological characteristics, and in growth and vernalization requirements among ecotypes of F. hallii. Vernalization requirements were not met for the ecotype from the Moist Mixed Grassland Ecoregion when it was grown under common conditions, whereas ecotypes from other ecoregions were vernalized in at least one of the 2 years in the field experiment. Northern ecotypes tended to flower earlier after artificial vernalization treatments. Overall, 15/5 to 5/−5°C d per night temperature regimes with photoperiods between 12 and 8 h were effective in inducing flowering. The seed source of F. hallii should be regarded as an important consideration affecting its use, both for habitat restoration and for forage production.

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