Development of a black willow improvement program for biomass production in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley
Black willow (Salix nigra Marsh.) has the potential to be a significant feedstock source for bioenergy and biofuels production in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV). This potential is based on a number of primary factors including rapid growth, ease of vegetative propagation, excellent rooting, and the ability to regenerate from coppice following harvest. To date, there has been no directed black willow improvement effort for the LMAV and production rates of this species in dedicated energy plantations is unknown. The focus of this program is to identify genetically superior black willow clones and define planting stock for use in regeneration of marginal agricultural sites. The Mississippi State University Forestry Department and the USDA Forest Service Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research formed a joint venture in 2008 to pursue this effort. The initial selection strategy incorporated five geographic areas, four stands within each area, and five clones within each stand. The five geographic areas included two along the Mississippi River and one each along the Atchafalaya, Trinity, and the Brazos Rivers. From each stand 5-8 one to two year-old stems were collected during the winter of 2009. Over a two-year period a total of four screening trials were established. Data from ages one and two have provided insight into geographic origin performance and heritability. These early results allowed us to design a more highly replicated clone test of the better performing clones as well as to increase selections for the base population.