The University of the Virgin Islands School of Agriculture unveiled two new sorrel varieties developed right in U.S. Virgin Islands soil on Thursday at the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. The varieties – “Festival” and “Midnite” – are a combination of seeds from Nigeria and Ghana crossed with a Black Sorrel variety from Trinidad.
The seeds were obtained by Thomas Zimmerman, assistant director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, 12 years ago from the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit in Griffin, Georgia. “The Ghana one had a unique leaf characteristic and the one from Nigeria had a large fruit,” Zimmerman said. The varieties are a combination of the Caribbean and Africa together, and the research has taken 11 years.
Once the seeds from Africa were obtained, Zimmerman and his team went to work breeding them into the Black Sorrel that can be found locally. Plants from these crosses were grown out for three generations and selected for dark fruit and high production. Selections from the third generation were then crossed with a “day neutral” variety from St. Kitts. The seed was planted in January and then moved into the field in February.
“As you can see, we are in April; you don’t really think of sorrel in April. You think of sorrel during the Christmas time, but here we are in the spring with sorrel still producing,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman and his team were able to select the plants with day neutral characteristics because they were flowering. “We were able to naturally select from the plants that would produce into the spring all the way up to June. Those that would not flower we had no seeds from so that was easy to make a selection,” Zimmerman said. “When you plant into the fall, because we are going into the shorter days, all the plants flower and set fruit. Therefore, you are not able to select for the day neutral characteristic.”
The new varieties can produce sorrel for up to 10 months and have similar nutrients to what you would find in a blueberry.
If you are wondering how to tell them apart, “Festival” has a longer fruit, while “Midnite” has a unique leaf shape and open leaf canopy that reveals fruiting calyxes. Despite the heavy winds on the fields of UVI, the sorrel plants have been able to thrive. There was a point after hurricanes Irma and Maria when Zimmerman was concerned due to the loss of power generation, but he and his team were able to sustain the varieties and the research continued.
Seeds for these varieties will be available in May. “We should have an ample supply of seeds by then,” Zimmerman said. “I recommend starting a new plant every two months starting in June so that it can produce more in the fall.”
“It is a Caribbean thing, it is a local thing, it is good for you [and] has a lot of nutrients for you. We can replace some of the fruit that we import, and we got it right here and we can grow it,” he said.
Zimmerman said that he will be donating the two varieties to the USDA so they can be made available around the world. “The names are Crucian names and people will know that these names come from the Virgin Islands,” he said.
The debut of the two varieties can be viewed online at the UVI School of Agriculture’s Facebook page.