Backstage at the Jardin: Seeing to the health of plants in the greenhouses

At the top of the rock, in exhibition greenhouse 7, Encephalartos villosus, a specimen registered at the Montreal Botanical Garden in 1959.
Credit: Jardin botanique de Montréal
En haut du rocher, dans la serre d’exposition 7, Encephalartos villosus, un spécimen enregistré au Jardin botanique de Montréal en 1959.
  • En haut du rocher, dans la serre d’exposition 7, Encephalartos villosus, un spécimen enregistré au Jardin botanique de Montréal en 1959.
  • Indentification  Encephalartos villosus, au Jardin botanique de Montréal.
  • Ce tronc immense dans l’Expo 7, Beaucarnea recurvata, est un spécimen enregistré au Jardin botanique de Montréal en 1938.
  • Indentification  Beaucarnea recurvata, au Jardin botanique de Montréal.
Backstage at the Jardin: Seeing to the health of plants in the greenhouses

Phytoprotection – exactly what is that? The term, currently used in agriculture and horticulture in Québec, is apparently not an “official term” in the English language. But in fact, that’s what my job is: I’m a specialized horticulturist responsible for phytoprotection in the Jardin botanique de Montréal greenhouses. Care to know more about what goes on behind the scenes?

Phytoprotection, you said?

Phytoprotection groups together all the actions taken to ensure the health of plants by protecting them from potential pests and diseases. Think of this approach as plant health care. It’s a bit like being their guardian angel. You have to be on the lookout for the presence of insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses. In the greenhouses, nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything circulates, everything simply changes place! An intruder can easily spread from one location to another from the propagation bench right to the exhibition greenhouse. Even horticulturists and gardeners can contribute to the problem while performing their tasks. Over time, populations of mealybugs and two-spotted spider mites, to name a few offenders, have visited our greenhouses again and again. Pests in our ecosystem can come from within the greenhouse and beyond, sometimes even via air currents. They take advantage of any situation, grasping onto plants and hitching a ride to an ideal environment. They occasionally establish themselves for good, even in the crevices of plants or containers! Quite the challenge, isn’t it? This little-known reality has existed for a very long time: bear in mind that certain plants being presented today have been part of the Jardin botanique de Montréal collections since since the first half of the 20th century.

To the rescue of plants!

My role as a horticulturist? To see that growing conditions are ideal for for the plants in our collections, but not for the organisms hoping to live at their expense. I’m a warrior who protects these precious specimens, and we often have only two or three examples of them. Some of these plants no longer exist in their native habitat! The measures taken vary, and actions must be consistent and organized. Since we work in a relatively closed environment, harsh weather conditions and natural predators can’t help us against invaders, like they can outside. But we can attempt to reproduce the natural environment. For example, in many cases, a steady stream of water is our best weapon. You read that right: Simply dislodging insects with a forcible spray of water! There’s no better mechanical way to remove those tough mealybugs – as long as you’re painstakingly thorough and don’t overwater the plants. Surprised?

You shouldn’t be: there are more than just pesticides in the toolbox of any diligent plant health care professional. Moreover, for the sake of respect and balance, as much for human health as for the environment, new and more sustainable solutions are available to growers: biostimulants, biopesticides, predatory insects and parasitoids... Some new approaches even take the management of stress in plants into account – In other words, we prevent our most vulnerable plants from becoming infested. From mycorrhizae in the soil to bacterial life on foliage, plants still have a lot of secrets to reveal about their symbiosis with their environment. So at the end of the day, even in artificial environments, plants may not need us as much to ensure their protection, once we succeed in creating a balanced and invigorative habitat for them to thrive.

To learn more about phytoprotection at the Jardin botanique de Montréal:

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4 Comment(s)
Laura Taylor's picture
Laura Taylor

The notion that nothing is lost or created in greenhouses, but rather everything circulates and changes place, emphasizes the interconnectedness of the ecosystem within these controlled environments. The ease with which intruders can spread from one location to Soccer Skills World Cup, including from propagation benches to exhibition greenhouses, is a reminder of the challenges faced in maintaining plant health.

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