Local plants defy assault by salt

Thessaloniki – There is good news for farmers cultivating fields with high levels of salinity – traditional Greek varieties will still thrive, a Cretan agricultural research institute has found. Laboratory research by the Institute of Viticulture, Vegetable Crops and Horticulture of the National Agricultural Research Foundation in Iraklion, Crete, shows that traditional Greek strains are the most resistant to the problems posed by excessive salinity. According to the study, presented at the Ninth Panhellenic Congress of the Hellenic Scientific Society for the Genetic Improvement of Plants a few days ago in Thessaloniki, traditional strains of seeds of the squash family, from Crete and other islands, managed to sprout in saline conditions, in contrast to imported varieties and hybrids, which failed to grow. Comparison Researchers took 16 domestic strains from Crete, Santorini, Samos and Chios, using an imported hybrid melon (Galia) which is extensively cultivated on Crete as the control group. «From the experiments that were carried out, we found that certain Greek strains showed resistance to the effects of high salt concentrations without significant retardation of their rate of growth. Though saline resistance needs to be measured at different stages of the plants’ growth, the variations in the seeds’ sprouting ability in high concentrations of sodium chloride points to a genetic superiority of some varieties over others,» institute researcher Marina Lydaki told Kathimerini. This superiority is attributed by experts to the plants’ adaptation to their habitat. «The ability of Greek strains of melon, cucumber and other seeds to sprout in high concentrations of sodium chloride in contrast to the control group (the melon Galia) is of great significance and requires further research at other stages of the plants’ growth with the aim of using this valuable genetic material of Greece in improvement programs,» the institute’s paper said. Prospects Improving salinity resistance would be particularly important in the case of cotton. The same congress heard another paper on the in vitro sprouting of several cotton strains. Rising salinity affected all the varieties, with the exception of two strains. «But that is just an indication,» said I. Kaltsikis of the Agricultural University of Athens, who undertook the above study. «What counts is how the plants behave in fields. That’s the real test of whether one variety differs from another.» Coastal areas will suffer from growing salinity In Greece and a number of other Mediterranean countries (Spain, Israel, etc.), soil salinity is a major problem in agriculture. And it is getting worse in the coastal districts of Crete (e.g. Ierapetra) and other islands, the Argolid and Thessaloniki, due to over-irrigation from boreholes. «Unfortunately,» said Nikos Misopolinos, who is the head of the Laboratory of Applied Soil Mechanics at Thessaloniki University, «we are in no position to determine the extent and the degree of the problem as an attempt to draw up a map of soils in Greece has not been crowned with success.» Salinity, Marina Lydaki explained, is a significant factor in stunting growth and affects crops in arid and semi-arid regions. Secondary soil salination due to poor drainage or to the mediocre quality of irrigation water is one of the most significant factors retarding plant growth. «This year, high rainfall may cause the problem to recede, but in the future, owing to the average rise in temperatures and in sea levels, more land along the coast will be affected by salinity,» Misopolinos said.