What Is Grafting? - Definition & Methods

What Is Grafting? - Definition & Methods
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  • 0:01 Bizarre Plants
  • 0:40 Definition
  • 2:36 What Good Is Grafting?
  • 3:33 Avocados
  • 4:42 Grafting Methods
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrienne Brundage
Grafting is a technique used by farmers and scientists to attach the tissue of one plant to the tissue of another. It allows for asexual reproduction of plants, and for making some neat new decorations for your yard!

Bizarre Plants

Have you ever been perusing the latest gardening catalog and come across one of those 'miracle' trees? You know the ones - an apple tree that produces six different kinds of apples, or a tree that grows plums, peaches and nectarines all on the same trunk.

Or how about something a little less fantastic? You can buy an orange tree that has the strong roots of one variety, but the delicious fruit of another.

These trees aren't just wishful thinking or false advertising. For generations farmers, botanists, and home gardeners have been using plant biology to make these ideas into reality through a technique called grafting.

Definition

Grafting is an advanced technique that botanists, farmers, gardeners, and hobbyists use to add living tissue from one plant to another. Plant tissues have the ability to grow new vascular tissue, and the process of grafting takes advantage of this ability. The vascular tissue of the main plant joins with the vascular tissue of the added plant, keeping the new tissue alive and growing. This is a way for plants to reproduce asexually. You can think of grafting as being similar to organ donation - when someone needs a new kidney or liver, they can get one donated.

Their body will grow new blood vessels, and the new organ will grow and work in its new body. The same thing happens with plants, except it's much less expensive!

We can take a branch from one tree and graft it onto another. The tree that received the 'donated' branch will grow new vascular tissue - those tubes that plants use to move food and water around - and begin to feed the new branch. This will keep the new branch alive, and the branch will start to grow as part of the tree. The process of joining vascular tissue together in this manner is known as inosculation.

Inosculation is possible because of basic plant biology. We are familiar with the outer layer of plants - in trees, we know this as bark. However, there is a much more interesting layer of tissue just beneath that bark layer, known as the cambium.

This layer is undifferentiated, meaning that the tissue doesn't have any particular job yet - it's just waiting to be told what to do. This means that it can turn into anything the plant needs: more bark, new vascular tissue, new branches, even some roots. Grafting takes advantage of this undifferentiated tissue layer by exposing it and giving it an idea of what to do.

What Good is Grafting?

Ah, here's the big question. Why would anyone go to all this trouble of attaching two bits of plants together? Well, it turns out that this technique has a lot of benefits. Growers can choose different parts of plants that have particular attributes and attach them to other plants.

Let's say a certain tree has really strong roots, but its fruit isn't so great. This tree would make great rootstock, or a plant selected for its roots. It can be combined with another tree that doesn't have good roots, but produces wonderful fruit. Plants that are selected for their stems, flowers, or fruit are called the scion. A desirable scion can be grafted onto a strong rootstock to create a truly great tree. This is pretty common practice in the gardening industry. It allows for plants to grow in many new areas, and gives us access to more products.

Avocados

One common example of grafting is in avocados. If you've ever tried to grow an avocado tree from an avocado seed, you know that the resulting tree isn't very strong. This is because the avocado trees that produce the best fruit don't have the best support system. They put all of their energy into producing tasty guacamole (or at least the avocado part of the guacamole), so they don't have a lot of energy left over for things like strong roots, or good defenses. This is why avocados were so expensive for so long.

There's a certain breed of avocado that produces a really strong tree, but not very good fruit. The tree can live in many different kinds of soil, and the roots defend themselves from diseases, but no one wanted to grow this tree because the avocados were not very tasty. Thanks to grafting, it is now common practice to take the scion from one tree and graft it onto the rootstock of the other, producing a new tree with strong roots and delicious fruit. Take a look at the avocado trees the next time you're at the store. The tag will tell you the type of avocado fruit, and the type of rootstock. All this thanks to grafting!

Grafting Methods

Grafting is a pretty easy thing to accomplish, once you get the technique down. There are several types of grafting that you can choose from, depending on what you want to accomplish.

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