Scientists exploring cup plant as potential new biomass and carbon storing crop

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Washington, March 20 (ANI): A new research by scientists at South Dakota State University (SDSU) is exploring a native perennial called cup plant as a potential new biomass crop that could also store carbon in its extensive root system and add biodiversity to biomass plantings.

Researchers are exploring whether cup plant could be grown in low, moist prairies generally unfit for cropland.

It would be grown and processed along with native grasses grown for biomass.

"We anticipate down the road there's going to be a need and maybe even a market for plants that can store carbon under ground and be part of a biomass production system," SDSU professor Arvid Boe said.

Boe, a plant breeder, is the lead investigator on a grant of 324,336 dollars from the US Department of Energy channeled through the SDSU-based North Central Sun Grant Center.

Project goals include studying genetic variation and developing molecular markers in cup plant populations from the eastern Great Plains; developing new cultivars that can be grown in combination with other biomass crops; determining best practices such as seeding rate, row spacing, harvest timing and nutrient management so that producers will know how to grow the plant; determining life histories of insect pests; and determining biochemical composition.

According to Boe, cup plant, or Silphium perfoliatum, is a member of the sunflower family found in moist low ground in the eastern Great Plains, where it can grow more than 7 feet tall.

It has large seeds and good seedling vigor, and it yields a lot of biomass.

"It's conspicuous in the prairie as a very productive forb in a tallgrass prairie where you have your major grasses such as big bluestem, switchgrass and prairie cordgrass," Boe said.

"We haven't come up with too many things to grow with our grasses to add biodiversity to these biofuel mixtures that we're anticipating growing down the road. It's very compatible with such things as switchgrass and prairie cordgrass and big bluestem," he added.

Boe said that scientists don't envision planting entire fields of cup plant.

Instead, they view it as one in a mix of biomass species that would be seeded in zones best suited for them, just as in the original tallgrass prairie.

Cup plant is likely to increase biodiversity in a plant community because it attracts a variety of insects and even birds. (ANI)

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