Joanna Bloese has joined the Extension team at Komohana Research Center, and one of her first projects with researcher Joanne Lichty is to examine the effects of soluble silicon fertilizers on plant defense responses, mainly thrips damage in two flowers beloved in the Hawaiian islands: dendrobium and anthurium.
Besides the good news, that preliminary results suggest the fertilizers show potential for improving plant resistance across some cultivars, Joanna and Joanne also found a more immediate impact on the community: as “Thank you” bouquets for healthcare workers on the front lines of Covid.
With students Tiani Kow and Ryan Porter, they’ve created colorful, creative mixtures by adding foraged olive, dracaena, monstera, Ti and gorse flowers to the dendrobium and anthurium. The bouquets, donated to Hilo Medical Center, are being displayed throughout the hospital for staff, patients and visitors.
“This is a difficult time for everyone; COVID-19 is still affecting many families on Hawaiʻi Island,” says Joanna. “We just want to spread hope and aloha. Flowers are a small, but heartfelt, gesture of our appreciation to the frontline medical workers who have worked tirelessly under exhausting conditions to heal our community.”
Ryan adds, “I want to share my gratitude to the healthcare workers, as they are modern-day heroes. I am hoping all the patients can recover quickly so they can once again thrive.”
The study, part of a USDA APHIS grant to develop Best Management Practices for invasive pests and disease in Hawai’i, is employing a bottom-up approach to integrated pest management, similar to fortifying human’s immune system to help prevent disease.
With increasing evidence that silicon plays an important role in plants’ immune response to pest and disease, the hope is this approach will “stretch” the life of chemical tools through fewer sprays, and get more use from them before resistance develops.
“It is really good to see how our research can both benefit our local growers as well as the Hilo Medical Center,” says Tiani. “In such trying times, it is always important to give back to our community as they have been there to support us through the tough times.”