PhD (Crop Development) at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, Graduation date: October 2020


  Study leader: Dr Cecilia Bester


"I checked out the (honeybush) flowers, I interrogated the bees, and I got some answers."

The science of making honeybush plant babies

To continue growing honeybush, we need seeds. With my research, I have tried to help plant breeders produce enough seeds for new plants. Successful reproduction of honeybush depends on various factors, and when humans become involved, the process is often hampered. Honeybush flowers have extremely delicate parts, and it is crucial to handle them carefully and avoid damaging them. Timing is also important – the flowers need to be at their optimal ripeness. I investigated these factors as part of my doctoral thesis, aiming to find out how we can ensure the successful reproduction of honeybush.

Why this matters

In nature, there are generally no problems with making plant babies. Honeybush produces a lot of seeds when pollination is left to insects. But when people become involved, some problems tend to arise. Pollinating by hand causes honeybush plants to be strangely reluctant to produce enough seeds. This research provided the honeybush breeding programme with information to overcome the honeybush flowers' reluctance to make seeds and make their matchmaking more productive. While some couples are simply not compatible, research can help others produce seeds more effectively.

JeniferKoen.jpgAbout the student

Dr Jenifer Koen has ample experience of horticulture and honeybush. Her research focused on improving the sexual propagation rates of this indigenous tea. After completing her degree in horticulture through the University of South Africa (UNISA) in 2010, she began her honeybush research. Her Master's degree, which she obtained cum laude in 2015 from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), focused on the germination characteristics of dimorphic honeybush (Cyclopia spp.) seed.

Koen's PhD research project includes honeybush pollen viability and surface morphology, honeybush seed development, and honeybush flower structure, pollination and intra-species cross compatibilities. Koen graduates in September 2020 from TUT.

Jenifer Koen, formerly a student at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij's division for crop development, focused her research on the reproduction of honeybush plants in commercial environments.