Ornamental Horticulture & Biofuels Research

The Ornamental Horticultural Program at the Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC), in Homestead, FL, provides research and teaching activities related to ornamental plant production. The large diversity in tropical and subtropical ornamentals requires advanced production techniques, including plant tissue culture and micropropagation, temporary immersion bioreactors, long-term cryopreservation, molecular marker technologies, and space biology (microgravity). Our projects on ornamental plant production and conservation focus mainly on orchids. Projects involving bioreactors included sugarcane, banana, jatropha, and orchids. Additional ornamentals of interest include palms, flowering trees, and cycads, among others.

Because of the needs in research related to alternative fuels, an interdisciplinary project with jatropha (Jatropha curcas L.), a biofuel plant was initiated in 2007. The project included the establishment of a germplasm collection with accessions from around the world, followed by selection and breeding aiming at domestication and genetic improvement, and subsequently cultivar development and release. Additional studies involved the elucidation of cultivation practices, evalutation of genetic diversity in accessions, and the development of in vitro clonal propagation systems. A series of jatropha videos can be found at our UF Jatropha channel in YouTube.

Our most cutting edge research is aimed at studies of plant cell growth and development in space, including differential gene expression as affected by microgravity. Such studies assisted in laying the groundwork for the utililzation of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory and may lead to significant discoveries as related to plant biology, medicine and space science in the future. We conducted experiments on 5 spaceflights, including 4 missions in the ISS (STS-118, STS-130, STS-132, and STS-133), and one mission in the last space shuttle, Atlantis, STS-135. Species studied included orchids, flowering trees, jatropha and Arabidopsis.

Our teaching program focuses on orchid biology and production. Two courses are available. Orchidology is a 3-credit online course available Spring semester of odd-numbered years. This course is offered at both undergraduate (ORH4280) and graduate (ORH8252) levels. The Orchid Short Course is a 1-credit course offered live during a 2-day period, usually Spring of even-numbered years. This course brings guest speakers from different areas of orchid expertise and offer students a live learning experience, including hands-on activities.


Dr. Wagner A. Vendrame (Professor) — Biotechnology - Ornamental and Biofuel Crops