ArticlePDF Available

The Development of Perennial Sunflower for Wildlife and Food Uses.

The Development of Perennial Sunflower for Wildlife and Food Use
The Development of Perennial Sunflower for Wildlife and Food Uses
Michael Kantar1, Kevin Betts1, Bob Stupar1, Brent Hulke2& Don Wyse1
1Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota
2USDA-ARS Northern Crop Science Laboratory
The objective of this research is to use current genetics
and plant breeding techniques to introgress genes for
perennial habit from Helianthus tuberosus L. (2n=6x=102)
into domesticated sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.,
2n=2x=34). H. tuberosus is part of the secondary gene
pool of sunflower and has been used as a donor of many
disease resistance traits, most notably Sclerotina
resistance, making it an excellent donor for perennial
habit. Because of previous success in gene transfer from
H. tuberosus, we believe we will be successful in
transferring perennial habit into annual sunflower, thus
creating a perennial sunflower with high enough yield to
attract blackbirds diverting them from commercial fields
and eventually with enough yield for oil production.
Funding for the this project came in part from the University
of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, The Land
Institute and the Pioneer Hibred University Fellowship
NSA Research Forum January 13-14, 2010
Experimental questions
Experimental questions
Do perennial habit traits correlate with seed
characteristics and fertility traits?
Which agronomic traits are we breeding
How complex is the inheritance of perennial
What agronomic traits are linked to
To answer these questions we propose to look
at perenniality as a trait controlled by a few
major genes with quantitative modifiers, as
there may be different degrees of perenniality.
A robust perennial hybrid would have a better
suite of genes than a minimal perennial hybrid
making it a better parent for future crosses.
In order to assess the validity of a quantitative
perennial habit extensive phenotyping must be
done in the interspecific F1 hybrid population.
To this end 187 F1hybrids amd 18 H. tuberosus
parents were planted in a completely random
design with three replications in St. Paul. Plants
were scored for tuber number, tuber size tuber
weight, individual tuber weight, pollen
viability, flowering time, flower number,
branch number, branching type, and spreading
Crossing Scheme
Crossing Scheme
Phenotypic correlations
Phenotypic correlations
Flow Cytometry
Flow Cytometry
It is difficult to break dormancy in the tubers of the
interspecific hybrids, which are the basis of the perennial
breeding program at the University of Minnesota. This causes
it to be difficult to get more than one generation of plants per
year, or to evaluate multiple crosses per year. The most
common method of breaking tuber dormancy has been
extended exposure to cold (2̊C), here we attempted three
different hormone treatments, ethylene, gibberellic acid and a
cytokinin, as well as a control with no hormone treatment. In
these treatments the gibberellic acid induced sprouting >90%
of the time while the other treatments did not produce
sprouting in the tubers.
Cox, T.S. , M. Bender, C. Picone, D.L. Van Tassel, J.B. Holland, E. C.Brummer, B.E. Zoeller, A.H. Paterson, and
W. Jackson. 2002. Breeding Perennial grain crops. Critical Revie ws in Plant Sciences, 21(2): 59-91.
DeHaan, L.R., D.L. Van Tassel, and T.S. Cox. 2005. Perennial grain crops : A synthesis of ecology and plant
breeding. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 20(1), 5-14.
Ellis, JR and JM Burke. 2007. EST-SSRs as a resource for population genetic analyses. Heredity 99:125-132.
Heesacker, Adam, Venkata K. Kishore, Wenxiang Gao, Shunxue Tang, Judit h M. Kolkman, Alan Gingle, Marta
Alexander Kozik, Richard M. Michelmore, Zhao Lai, Loren H. Rie seberg, Knapp, Steven J. 2008. SSRs and
INDELs mined from the sunflower EST database: abundance, polymorphisms, an d cross-taxa utility.
Theor Appl Genet,
117: 1021-1029.
Hu, F.Y, D.Y. Tao, E. Sacks, B.Y. Fu, P. Xu, J.Li, Y.Yang, K. McNally, G.S. Khush, A.H. Paterson, and Z.-K. Li. C
2003. Convergent evolution of perenniality In rice and sorghum. PNAS, 100(7), 4050-4054.
Hulke, Brent S. and Donald L. Wyse. 2008. Using Interspecific hybrids with Helianthus tuberosus L. to transfer
genes for quantitative traits into cultivated sunflower,H. annuus L. Pr oc. 17th International Sunflower Conference
729-731, Cordoba, Spain.
In 2001, native H. tuberosus from UMORE Park,
Rosemount, MN, was collected and transplanted to the St.
Paul Agricultural Experiment Station, where it remains as
a living collection. H. tuberosus is native to Minnesota
and highly tolerant of Minnesota winters. In 2003,
interspecific hybrids between the H. tuberosus plants and
inbred lines contributed by the USDA Sunflower breeding
program were created. Nearly all of the hybrids exhibited
perennial habit, moderate fertility, and heterosis for above
ground biomass production. In order to improve the
agronomic and seed oil quality and quantity of the hybrid
population it was decided to backcross the population with
elite sunflower inbred lines from the USDA Sunflower
breeding program. Previous work had determined that
even one backcross results in a high degree of sterility in
the populations (unbalanced triploid genome) and
complete loss of perennial habit (Hulke and Wyse, 2008).
A novel solution to address these problems was developed
where the F1hybrid was backcrossed to a newly
developed tetraploid form of the annual inbred lines,
which resulted in a tetraploid BC1F1population (crossing
scheme). This population provided 8 genotypes that were
able to survive the winter of 2006-2007 (Hulke and Wyse,
2008). This indicated that the loss of perennial habit in
backcross populations might not be the result of
segregation distortion in the interspecific hybrid
populations, but rather a result of small population size
and an unbalanced (triploid) genome (Hulke and Wyse,
2008). Further, it shows that the genes for perennial habit
in a backcross population can be retained.
Embryo rescue of BC2F1 and BC1F2 plants
Embryo rescue of BC2F1 and BC1F2 plants
Next Step
Next Step
Tetraploid annual lines have been developed from the inbred
lines HA89 and HA434 in order to make crosses that result in
more meiotically stable offspring with the interspecific
perennial sunflower.
Correlations and 95% confidence intervals for Correlations between traits
Trait Flower
number Branch
number Branch
Score Spread
Score Pollen
fertility Tuber
number Tuber
Branch number 0.49
Branch Score 0.28 0.51
Spread Score 0.65 0.29 0.13
Pollen Fertility 0.02 0.04 0.07 0.05
Tuber number 0.05 -0.14 -0.14 0.25 -0.05
Tuber weight (kg) 0.17 -0.09 -0.15 0.37 0.01 0.81
Individual tuber weight (g) 0.15 0.02 0.16 0.14 -0.02 -0.27 0.13
* significantly positive correlations are highlighted in yellow negative correlations in green
Trait Heritability
Tuber number 0.65
Tuber weight (kg) 0.59
Branch Score 0.54
Spread Score 0.23
Flower number 0.21
Branch number 0.17
Pollen Fertility 0.10
Individual tuber weight (g) 0.05
*heritability based on parent offspring regression from 1000
bootstrap simulations
Trait Values
Trait Values
Trait Mean Median Range
Flower number 49.12 ±1.33 48±1.69 2-107
Branch number 18.9 ±0.4 19 ±0.42 3-37
Branch Score 2.52 ±0.05 2.67 ±0.18 1- 4
Spread Score 3.28 ±0.05 3.33 ±0.03 1-5
Pollen Fertility 0.38 ±.01 0.37 ±.01 .05 – .78
Tuber number 152.17 ±7.1 145 ±9.98 11-509
Tuber weight (kg) 0.65 ±0.03 0.62 ±0.04 0.05-1.76
Individual tuber weight (g) 5.10±0.21 4.51 ±0.14 1.6-24.73
Use the stable tetraploid annuals to continue making
Continue embryo rescue efforts to increase population
Since pollen fertility and tuber characteristics are not
correlated we will more easily select for both favorable
tuber and fertility characteristics
Increase backcross population size
This is the same plant (BC1F2) that was rescued in
September and is currently growing in the greenhouse
... In the next decade, I am optimistic that more effective bird repellents will be registered for use on ripening sunflower (and other grain crops) and that a perennial sunflower will be available for use as an alternative food source for blackbirds and other animals (Carlson et al. 2013, Kantar et al. 2009). Alternative sources of foods, in combination with repellents, should help us make significant advances in management of blackbird damage in sunflower (Avery 2002). ...
Full-text available
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) growers in North Dakota and South Dakota harvest-ed 593,522 ha in 2012, valued at $US600 million. Blackbirds, numbering about 75 million, annual-ly damage 2 to 3% of the crop. Damage tends to be clumped around cattail (Typha spp.) dominated wetlands with standing water. In an attempt to reduce sunflower damage, three general population management strategies have been tested over the past three decades. One potential strategy was to reduce blackbird numbers during winter in the southern U.S. A second strategy was to use an avicide at spring roost sites in eastern South Dakota. A third approach was to reduce local black-bird populations that were doing or about to damage ripening sunflower. All three schemes largely relied on the use of DRC-1339 (3-chloro-4-methylaniline hydrochloride) and related compounds and all failed because of logistics, cost-effectiveness, environmental risks and societal concerns. In this paper, I chronicle significant research efforts to implement these strategies.
... An initial release of a perennial sunflower variety is anticipated in 2012, which would make WCSPs more cost effective (Kantar et al. 2010). Perennial sunflowers would substantially reduce planting costs, stabilize highly erodible lands near wetlands, and provide year-round habitat for wildlife, adding more to WCSPs' economic contributions. ...
Full-text available
Even though avian damage to sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is a worldwide economic issue, several of the current methods used to reduce sunflower damage were developed and tested in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States. An intensive research program was conducted in that area because of the regionalized concentration of sunflower production and the severe incidences of blackbird (Icteridae) depredation. During the past 40 years, federal and university scientists tested chemical and physical frightening agents, aversive repellents, bird-resistant sunflowers, decoy crops, habitat management, population management, and cultural modifications in cropping. Some of these techniques have broad applicability and may be useful in depredation scenarios involving other bird species and crops. Population suppression is intuitively appealing, but it typically fails beyond local scales because of avian mobility, population dynamics, and public antipathy. Scare devices, repellents, habitat management, and decoy crops are more likely to meet the test of predictable efficacy and practicality.
Full-text available
From 2001 to 2013 (except 2004), the National Sunflower Association sponsored a comprehensive production survey of physiologically mature sunflower (Helianthus annuus) fields in the Canadian province of Manitoba and eight states in the United States. Trained teams of surveyors randomly stopped at one sunflower field for every 4,047 – 6,070 ha (10,000-15,000 acres). Each team evaluated plant stand, yield potential, disease, insect, weed, and bird damage for each field. We pooled data gathered during the most recent 5-years (2009 to 2013) of the survey and found that sunflower damage caused by blackbirds and plant lodging ranked fifth (behind plant spacing, disease, drought and weeds) as the most limiting factors on production. We found that overall annual economic losses from blackbird damage averaged $US13.5 million and $US4.9 million for oilseed hybrids and confectionery hybrids, respectively. We suggest elements of a multi-faceted bird management plan that might help reduce damage.
Full-text available
Blackbird damage to sunflower in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota is an unyielding challenge to the industry. Large populations of blackbirds and environmental concerns have driven the direction of research toward nonlethal methods that can be implemented locally. Currently, Wildlife Services field specialists lend propane cannons to growers and spray wetlands with glyphosate to fragment dense cattail stands used by roosting blackbirds. After researchers demonstrated decoy crops (wildlife conservation sunflower plots), some growers have adapted the basic principles and have started diverting blackbirds from sunflower, a high value crop, to alternative lesser-value crops, such as corn. USDA and university scientists are developing a perennial sunflower that might significantly lower the costs of planting WCSP. Growers now have access to several desiccants that hasten the crop harvest and thus avoid late-season blackbird damage. Finally, researchers are closer to developing an effective chemical bird repellent. In this paper, we outline current nonlethal blackbird management strategies.
Full-text available
One-third of the planet's arable land has been lost to soil erosion in recent decades, and the pace of this degradation will increase as the limits of our food production capacity are stretched. The persistent problem of worldwide soil erosion has rekindled interest in perennial grain crops. All of our current grain crops are annuals; therefore, developing an array of new perennial grains - grasses, legumes, and others - will require a long-term commitment. Fortunately, many perennial species can be hybridized with related annual crops, allowing us to incorporate genes of domestication much more quickly than did our ancestors who first selected the genes. Some grain crops - including rye, rice, and sorghum - can be hybridized with close perennial relatives to establish new gene pools. Others, such as wheat, oat, maize, soybean, and sunflower, must be hybridized with more distantly related perennial species and genera. Finally, some perennial species with relatively high grain yields - intermediate wheatgrass, wildrye, lymegrass, eastern gamagrass, Indian ricegrass, Illinois bundleflower, Maximilian sunflower, and probably others - are candidates for direct domestication without interspecific hybridization. To ensure diversity in the field and foster further genetic improvement, breeders will need to develop deep gene pools for each crop. Discussions of breeding strategies for perennial grains have concentrated on allocation of photosynthetic resources between seeds and vegetative structures. However, perennials will likely be grown in more diverse agro-ecosystems and require arrays of traits very different from those usually addressed by breeders of annuals. The only way to address concerns about the feasibility of perennial grains is to carry out breeding programs with adequate resources on a sufficient time scale. A massive program for breeding perennial grains could be funded by diversion of a relatively small fraction of the world's agricultural research budget.
Full-text available
Perennial grain crops would address many agricultural problems, including soil erosion, nutrient loss and pesticide contamination. Doubts about the possibility of perennial grain crops rest upon two assumptions: (1) that the relationship between yield and longevity is a fixed function that cannot be influenced by selection, mutation or environmental changes; and (2) that yield and longevity trade off in a bivariate manner to the exclusion of all other traits. These assumptions are consistent with the phenotypic trade-off model, but recent research suggests that a quantitative genetic model is a more appropriate approach to trade-offs. In the quantitative genetic model, environmental and genetic changes can result in increases in two traits simultaneously even when a trade-off, or negative correlation, exists between the two traits. Empirical evidence that the trade-off between perenniality and reproductive allocation is not fixed comes from wild, herbaceous perennials that can produce more than 2000 kg seed ha -1 in the temperate zone, and herbaceous perennial crops that produce on average 8900 kg fruit ha -1 in the tropics. Ecological literature suggests that most perennials produce small amounts of seed relative to their vegetative growth not as a physiological absolute, but rather as a result of natural selection in a stable, competitive environment favoring longevity. By selecting strongly for seed yield in a population of perennial plants, the plant breeder can likely achieve that which is rare in nature—a high seed-yielding perennial plant. The same general methodologies that have allowed annual grain breeders to increase grain yield and push many combinations of negatively correlated traits to levels of expression not seen in nature are available to the perennial grain breeder. Perennial grain breeders are integrating ecological principles and traditional plant breeding methods in their efforts to develop perennial grain wheat (Triticum spp.), sorghum (Sorghum spp.), sunflower (Helianthus spp.), Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis) and rice (Oryza spp.).
Full-text available
Simple sequence repeats (SSRs) are abundant and frequently highly polymorphic in transcribed sequences and widely targeted for marker development in eukaryotes. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) transcript assemblies were built and mined to identify SSRs and insertions-deletions (INDELs) for marker development, comparative mapping, and other genomics applications in sunflower. We describe the spectrum and frequency of SSRs identified in the sunflower EST database, a catalog of 16,643 EST-SSRs, a collection of 484 EST-SSR and 43 EST-INDEL markers developed from common sunflower ESTs, polymorphisms of the markers among the parents of several intraspecific and interspecific mapping populations, and the transferability of the markers to closely and distantly related species in the Compositae. Of 17,904 unigenes in the transcript assembly, 1,956 (10.9%) harbored one or more SSRs with repeat counts of n > or = 5. EST-SSR markers were 1.6-fold more polymorphic among exotic than elite genotypes and 0.7-fold less polymorphic than non-genic SSR markers. Of 466 EST-SSR or INDEL markers screened for cross-species amplification and polymorphisms, 413 (88.6%) amplified alleles from one or more wild species (H. argophyllus, H. tuberosus, H. anomalus, H. paradoxus, and H. deserticola), whereas 69 (14.8%) amplified alleles from safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) and 67 (14.4%) amplified alleles from lettuce (Lactuca sativa); hence, only a fraction were transferable to distantly related genera in the Compositae, whereas most were transferable to wild relatives of H. annuus. Several thousand additional SSRs were identified in the EST database and supply a wealth of templates for EST-SSR marker development in sunflower.
Full-text available
Annual and perennial habit are two major strategies by which grasses adapt to seasonal environmental change, and these distinguish cultivated cereals from their wild relatives. Rhizomatousness, a key trait contributing to perenniality, was investigated by using an F(2) population from a cross between cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) and its wild relative, Oryza longistaminata. Molecular mapping based on a complete simple sequence-repeat map revealed two dominant-complementary genes controlling rhizomatousness. Rhz3 was mapped to the interval between markers OSR16 [1.3 centimorgans (cM)] and OSR13 (8.1 cM) on rice chromosome 4 and Rhz2 located between RM119 (2.2 cM) and RM273 (7.4 cM) on chromosome 3. Comparative mapping indicated that each gene closely corresponds to major quantitative trait loci (QTLs) controlling rhizomatousness in Sorghum propinquum, a wild relative of cultivated sorghum. Correspondence of these genes in rice and sorghum, which diverged from a common ancestor approximately 50 million years ago, suggests that the two genes may be key regulators of rhizome development in many Poaceae. Many additional QTLs affecting abundance of rhizomes in O. longistaminata were identified, most of which also corresponded to the locations of S. propinquum QTLs. Convergent evolution of independent mutations at, in some cases, corresponding genes may have been responsible for the evolution of annual cereals from perennial wild grasses. DNA markers closely linked to Rhz2 and Rhz3 will facilitate cloning of the genes, which may contribute significantly to our understanding of grass evolution, advance opportunities to develop perennial cereals, and offer insights into environmentally benign weed-control strategies.
Full-text available
Simple-sequence repeats (SSRs) have increasingly become the marker of choice for population genetic analyses. Unfortunately, the development of traditional 'anonymous' SSRs from genomic DNA is costly and time-consuming. These problems are further compounded by a paucity of resources in taxa that lack clear economic importance. However, the advent of the genomics age has resulted in the production of vast amounts of publicly available DNA sequence data, including large collections of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from a variety of different taxa. Recent research has revealed that ESTs are a potentially rich source of SSRs that reveal polymorphisms not only within the source taxon, but in related taxa, as well. In this paper, we review what is known about the transferability of EST-SSRs from one taxon to another with particular reference to the potential of these markers to facilitate population genetic studies. As an example of the utility of these resources, we then cross-reference existing EST databases against lists of rare, endangered and invasive plant species and conclude that half of all suitable EST databases could be exploited for the population genetic analysis of species of conservation concern. We then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of EST-SSRs in the context of population genetic applications.
Using Interspecific hybrids with Helianthus tuberosus L. to transfer genes for quantitative traits into cultivated sunflower,H. annuus L
  • Brent S Hulke
  • Donald L Wyse
Hulke, Brent S. and Donald L. Wyse. 2008. Using Interspecific hybrids with Helianthus tuberosus L. to transfer genes for quantitative traits into cultivated sunflower,H. annuus L. Proc. 17 th International Sunflower Conference 729-731, Cordoba, Spain.