Current issue: 54(3)
Growth, crown structure, flowering and seed production of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) seedlings, grafts and micropropagated plants was compared during four years in a polythene greenhouse experiment. The growth of the seedlings was clearly the most vigorous and that of the grafts the weakest, the micropropagated plants being intermediate. The seedlings had the highest and the grafts the lowest number of branches before cutting the tops of the plants, but the differences between the material types were no more significant after cutting the tops. The grafts had significantly shorter and thinner branches than the seedlings and the micropropagated plants, whereas the differences in branch length and branch thickness between the latter two groups were not significant. The grafts started flowering at the age of two years, one year earlier than the other two types of material. At the age of four years the micropropagated plants had abundant seed production, about 75% of that of the seedlings and about two times higher than that of the grafts. Thus, the micropropagated plants can be used instead of grafts when establishing polythene greenhouse seed orchards of birch.
Forest tree breeding involves manipulation of genetic composition of populations and individuals, and biotechnology focuses on selected individuals. The new techniques cannot replace the conventional breeding techniques but both need effective cooperation of each other. Thus, the distinction between conventional breeding and biotechnology is artificial. The biotechnology methods are new and fast developing and the future with field and progeny testing will show which techniques will be permanently adopted into tree breeding. For instance, the earlier hope of the use of somaclonal variation as a new source of variability and a powerful tool for the breeder seem today quite the opposite. Somaclonal variation constituting a major problem in present-day micropropagation is due to the unpredictable variation. Based on knowledge of today, especially micropropagation via somatic embryos, transgenic trees and the identification of major genes seem to be good candidates to be permanently adopted into tree breeding.