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Research Spotlight takes a closer look at the various research projects taking place at West Virginia State University.

Fall 2016: Mum is the Word for Agriculture Research

While autumn may conjure images of falling leaves, football and pumpkin spice lattes for many of us, at West Virginia State University, “mum” is the word this time of year. Chrysanthemum, that is. Two ongoing research projects at the University are focused on studying ornamental perennials, which are plants grown for their aesthetic beauty that persist for many growing seasons.
“Mums come in a wide range of colors and forms, require only moderate levels of care and reach their peak when many flowering plants are winding down for the season,” says Dr. Barbara Liedl, a WVSU Associate Professor leading up the ornamental projects. “So, it isn’t a surprise that their popularity soars as fall approaches and the plants are incorporated into our decor.”
Liedl’s has been running ornamental plant trials for a colleague at the University of Minnesota since 2003. WVSU serves as their southernmost testing site for evaluating plants that are developed specifically to be winter-hardy. A number of plant types have been trialed over the years, but the one constant are the mums. This year, the trials also include Gaura, a genus that includes several species of flowering plants.
Data is taken on flowering time, flower color, plant size, vigor and winter survival. The mums in this year’s trials are expected to have a new growth habit, wave or prostrate, compared to the traditional cushion habit. None of the plants have been released to consumers, so WVSU is getting in on the ground floor to see how these plants will do in our state.
A new plant to the trials is a relative of the mum, pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium). The white daisy flowers are harvested to extract pyrethrins, which are used as insecticides. Liedl’s research is helping to determine if the plant could be grown in West Virginia. Currently, the major producer is Tasmania, Australia. 
“Once we know how well pyrethrum grows in our region, we can determine the feasibility of incorporating them into our state’s agricultural landscape, adding a new revenue source for our small farmers who can begin growing the plants for pyrethrin extraction from the flowers,” Liedl says.
“Like all our agricultural research projects at State, our research is designed to boost West Virginia’s agriculture industry in multiple ways,” says Liedl. “Our farmers are able to diversify their offerings with new and innovative farm enterprises, while consumers will reap the aesthetic benefits of these beautiful and hardier plants.”
To learn more, contact Liedl at or (304) 932-0843.
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