How do you determine if you have ethylene contamination in your greenhouse?
The best way you can determine if you have ethylene contamination in your greenhouse is to carefully monitor plants that are sensitive to ethylene for symptoms of damage. This includes accelerated flower wilting or leaf yellowing, shedding of leaves or petals, and abnormal or stunted growth. If you suspect that you may have an ethylene problem, you can place indicator plants in the greenhouse. The best indicator plant is tomato, which will show epinasty or downward bending of the leaves when exposed to very low concentrations of ethylene (Figure 1). Place young tomato plants near heaters or any source you suspect may be producing ethylene (Figure 2). Tomatoes will be one of the most ethylene sensitive plants in your greenhouse, so if you observe symptoms of epinasty you should have time to remediate the problem and prevent permanent damage to your crops. Juvenile plants (before flowering) are more sensitive to ethylene than mature flowering plants, and they will show symptoms of ethylene damage at lower concentrations of ethylene. Once your indicator tomato plants flower you should replace them with younger seedlings.
If you see epinasty in your indicator plants, you must immediately identify the source of ethylene and remove it or turn it off (i.e. heaters). The greenhouse can then be ventilated to remove the ethylene gas. Ethylene damage may easily be confused with other types of stress that cause similar symptoms. If you suspect you may have an ethylene problem or you would just like more information please feel free to contact me. We can use an instrument called a gas chromatograph to measure air samples and determine if ethylene levels in your facility are high.
Inquiries about ethylene damage have increased considerably in the last few years. Losses due to ethylene contamination can be devastating to both small and large greenhouse producers. If you are aware of the potential sources of ethylene gas in the greenhouse and you are able to recognize the symptoms of ethylene damage, crop losses can be prevented. Indicator plants are the best way to diagnose potential problems.
Dr. Michelle L. Jones
D.C. Kiplinger Chair in Floriculture
The Ohio State University
Department of Horticulture and Crop Science