Helping fruit trees cope with global warming

By Peter Kent

peach tree blooms; photo by peter kent

Climate change and global warming will affect our food supply. South Carolina is the No. 2 peach-producer in the nation and growers are concerned. Many fruit and nut trees need sufficient chilling hours to make fruit, and the trees also need to be hardy enough to withstand a late frost.

Douglas Bielenberg, a Clemson plant physiologist, examines dormancy and chilling. Focusing on peach trees, his research could help breeders and growers develop trees better attuned to the local winter environment. He is studying the genetic and cellular signals that begin dormancy and the developmental events involved in bud formation and non-growth seasonal phases.

“Looking at ways to alter the number of chilling hours a plant such as the peach tree needs can mean the difference between where we can grow fruit and nut crops,” said Bielenberg.

In California, warmer temperatures could mean fewer chilling hours and the change could affect as many as 18 varieties of fruits and nuts. Agriculture experts theorize that climate change could have similar effects in South Carolina.

For more information: Douglas Bielenberg, 864-656-4968, dbielen@clemson.edu or www.clemson.edu/biosci/faculty/bielenberg/.