Index | Search | Home | Table of Contents

Bradley, V.L., R.C. Johnson, R.M. Hannan, D.M. Stout, and R.L. Clark. 1993. The Western Regional Plant Introduction Station: A source of germplasm for new crop development. p. 99-102. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

The Western Regional Plant Introduction Station: A Source of Germplasm for New Crop Development

V.L. Bradley, R.C. Johnson, R.M. Hannan, D.M. Stout, and R.L. Clark

  5. Table 1
  6. Fig. 1

The mission of the Western Regional Plant Introduction Station (WRPIS) at Pullman, Washington is to maintain the diversity and the accessibility of plant germplasm resources. This is accomplished by implementing a multi-faceted program (Fig. 1). Current trends indicate that diversification by the agricultural and industrial communities will benefit both producers and consumers. Reasons for diversification include (Anon. 1989): growing interest in crops that are less demanding on renewable resources; crop diversification may reduce farmer's financial risk; growing interest in alternative and sustainable agricultural systems; demands for new and exotic varieties of food from consumers; plants can supply raw materials for industry.

The agronomic community is encouraging diversification by the growth and development of new crops. Once a plant has been identified as having the potential to become a new crop, it must be developed into a marketable commodity. Desirable traits may be transferred to the crop from germplasm available in accessions which are preserved at Plant Introduction stations.

The WRPIS currently utilizes two Washington state locations in the regeneration program. A third environ-ment at Maricopa, Arizona will soon be operating and will allow seed increase of accessions of Parthenium argentatum Gray (guayule), Simmondsia chinensis (Link) C. Schneider (jojoba), Lesquerella S. Watson, and other species which are adapted to the southwest desert climate.

The WRPIS germplasm collection is a plant materials resource for new crops, underexploited crops, herbs, medicinal, and ornamental plants. Samples of available accessions, usually 50 to 100 seeds, are sent upon request to researchers worldwide.


Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter, Poaceae, commonly referred to as tef (also t'ef and teff), is an annual C-4 grass (Kebede et al. 1989) native to Ethiopia which is grown in Australia, India, and South Africa as forage (Costanza et al. 1979). Tef flour is used by Ethiopians to make an unleavened sourdough bread called "injera." Tef seed has a good balance of essential amino acids, except lysine (Ebba 1969). The great diversity within the species is evident in seed color differences; there are reports of purple, white, brown, and red-seeded types (Mengesha 1966; Costanza et al. 1979). The diversity also enables tef to be grown in a variety of environments. There are 366 Eragrostis tef accessions at the WRPIS, some of which are cultivars that were developed in Ethiopia. The accessions are regenerated at the Central Ferry Research Farm, located on the Snake River, 45 miles southwest of Pullman, Washington.

Lesquerella, Lamiaceae, is also known as bladderpod. Many of the species within this genus are native to the arid southwestern United States. Lesquerella is considered a prime candidate to be used as an oil seed crop because of the presence of three new hydroxy fatty acids which are similar to a primary component in castor oil. Castor oil is a main ingredient in the production of lubricants, plastics, and drying agents (Purseglove 1974). Lesquerella seed meals were found to be relatively high in lysine, indicating potential for use as a protein supplement in feed grains (Thompson and Dierig 1988). The 53 accessions maintained by the WRPIS will be increased at a new off-station site located at Maricopa, Arizona.

Lactuca sativa L., Asteraceae, or lettuce, is not normally considered a new crop. In recent years, the practice of offering only `iceberg' lettuce in American supermarkets has declined, and in most produce sections, one can now find selections of red, leaf, romaine, and other types of lettuce. Germplasm for developing new types of lettuce with potential consumer appeal is abundant in the 742 accessions managed by the WRPIS.

Lupinus L., Fabaceae, the "legume" family, have been a useful crop for both human consumption and livestock feed for centuries (Forrest 1991). Lupinus albus L. (white lupin), and L. mutabilis Sweet (pearl lupin or tarwi) have been the subject of several studies. In both species, lines with low levels of alkaloids have been found. These lines are desirable as food for livestock and humans due to the high protein, up to 50%, and oil content, up to 24% (Langer and Hill 1982). A wide assortment of germplasm is present in the 743 accessions of Lupinus which the WRPIS maintains and regenerates at the Soil Conservation Service Plant Materials Center at Pullman, Washington. Lupins vary in such phenotypic characters as growth habit, flower color, seed color, and height.

Parthenium argentatum Gray, Asteraceae, commonly called guayule, is a drought tolerant shrub that is a good source of natural rubber. It was cultivated in the southwestern United States during World War II when Hevea rubber was not available from Southeast Asia (Princen 1977). Although direct seeded stand establishment has been a factor limiting the development of guayule as a crop, researchers have recently developed techniques to alleviate this problem (Foster and Moore 1989). The 27 guayule accessions at the WRPIS will be regenerated at the Maricopa Research facility.


Carthamus tinctorius L., Asteraceae, or safflower, is an annual crop that has been grown since about 1600 BC (Langer and Hill 1982). Major cultivation of this crop in the United States began about 1950 (Purseglove 1974). Safflower is primarily grown for use as a low saturated fat cooking oil. One type, oleic safflower oil, is a result of a mutation discovered at the University of California, Davis (Smith 1985). In the mutated seed, the normal ratio of linoleic to oleic fatty acids (usually 77 to 15%) is reversed. The mutation produces an oil that is monounsaturated instead of polyunsaturated. After the oil is pressed out, the seed is valued as a high protein (approximately 43%) livestock feed (Langer and Hill 1982). The 1,706 accessions held at the WRPIS vary in oil content and quality, spininess, leaf shape, flower size, height, and flower color.

Lens culinaris Medikus, Fabaceae, also known as lentil, has been cultivated since ancient times in Egypt, southern Europe, and western Asia (Purseglove 1974). Lentils are highly branched annual legumes that grow to a height of about 40 cm. They are grown mostly in Pakistan and north India (Langer and Hill 1982). The WRPIS is located in the Palouse Region of Washington, where 98% of the lentils produced in the United States are grown. The American Dry Pea and Lentil Association estimated that in 1991, 76,000 t of lentils were grown on the Palouse. A national lentil festival is held in Pullman, Washington every September to promote lentils and lentil cuisine. The WRPIS lentil collection consists of 2251 accessions. Many accessions have been used extensively in lentil cultivar development programs.

Cicer arietinum L., Fabaceae, commonly referred to as chickpea or garbanzo bean, is an annual legume that is thought to have originated in western Asia. Chickpea seed has approximately 20% protein, 5% oil, and 60% carbohydrate. The whole or ground seed is used in many ways by Mediterranean cultures and is also a favorite ingredient in the American salad bar. Livestock are fed crop residues (Langer and Hill 1982). The 3,741 accessions of chickpea managed by the WRPIS are grown at the Pullman site. The WRPIS and the USDA Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Project are collaborating on a project to screen for resistance to Ascochyta blight, a major disease of chickpea, to develop large-seeded, blight resistant cultivars. To date, 400 WRPIS accessions have been screened for resistance to blight.

The WRPIS is also responsible for the preservation of other new and interesting crops. Cucurbita foetidissima Kunth (buffalo gourd), Limnanthes R. Br. (meadowfoam), and Simmondsia chinensis (Link) C. Schneider (jojoba) as well as many herbs, ornamental, and medicinal plants (Table 1) are of potential interest to those working to introduce or improve new crops.


Crop diversification has become a major goal in the agronomic community. For developing new crops, researchers may utilize germplasm from the Western Regional Plant Introduction Station. Accessions of Lesquerella, Parthenium argentatum, and Eragrostis tef are among the new crops maintained in the WRPIS collection. Accessions of underexploited crops such as Cicer arietinum, Lens culinaris, and Carthamus tinctorius, are also maintained at Pullman. These and other new and underexploited species maintained at the WRPIS are a valuable germplasm resource for individuals and groups working to improve nontraditional crops.


Table 1. Selected herbs, ornamental, and medicinal plant accessions preserved at the Western Regional Plant Introduction Station.

Scientific name Common name Use
Achillea millefolium L. Yarrow, milfoil Ornamental, an ingredient in mead (Adams 1987)
Aquilegia L. Columbine Ornamental
Artemisia absinthium L. Wormwood Aromatic, ornamental (Adams 1987)
Borago officinalis L. Borage Culinary herb with cucumber flavor, source of gamma-linolenic acid (Fletcher 1972)
Papaver somniferum L. Opium poppy Source of codeine and morphine (Fletcher 1972)
Plantago ovata L. Psyllium Laxative, stabilizer in ice cream (Morton 1977)
Salvia officinalis L. Sage Culinary herb used as pork and poultry seasoning (Prakash 1990); source of antioxidants
Sanguisorba minor Scop. Salad burnet Culinary herb (Prakash 1990)
Satureja hortensis L. Summer savory Culinary herb (Adams 1987)
Trigonella foenum-graecum L. Fenugreek Culinary herb, sprouts for salad, imitation maple syrup from seed, used in salves and poultices (Adams 1987)

Fig. 1. Germplasm maintenance program.

Last update September 5, 1997 aw