The basil breeding program is headed by Dr. Jim Simon, Department of Plant Biology & Pathology in New Brunswick, and Dr. Andy Wyenandt, located at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Bridgeton, New Jersey. Collaborators in the project include researchers, extension personnel, and graduate students from Rutgers, Cornell University, University of Massachusetts, and the University of Florida. Efforts are part of a large, four-year 1.8 million dollar SCRI Grant funded by the USDA.
Sweet basil is the most commercially important annual culinary herb crop grown in the U.S. and one of the most popular garden herbs. Commercially, basil is grown for culinary use for both fresh and dry consumption and also to a limited extent is a commercial source of essential oil and oleoresin that are used in perfumes, food flavors, and aromatherapy products.
Rutgers Professor of New-Use Agriculture Dr. Jim Simon begins to develop an extensive collection of basils from around the world.
Dr. Simon begins breeding basil, first attempting to understand the genetics of aroma formation and the development of lines rich in specific aroma compounds. Breeding for disease resistance began with Fusarium wilt resistance, which was a major problem for commercial basil growers in the 1990s. A large leaf Italian types of open-pollinated Fusarium wilt resistant sweet basil was soon developed.
Focus on researching downy mildew for solutions, as this new disease came into New Jersey and devastated the commercial basil crop.
“In concert with our state vegetable pathologist, Andy Wyenandt, and with encouragement of some of our lead basil farmers like Dennis Dalponte and other Rutgers vegetable specialists, we first sought to address this problem by identifying basils from any species that exhibited tolerance or resistance.” -Dr. James Simon
The following varieties were released by VDF Specialty Seeds in 2018:
- Rutgers Obsession DMR: Sweet basil for field and potted plant production; vigorous growth, high leaf-to-stem ratio, dark green color, highly resistant to fusarium wilt.
- Rutgers Devotion DMR: Genovese-type basil for potted plant production and fresh market; uniform, upright growth and dome or cup-shaped leaf.
- Rutgers Thunderstruck DMR: Sweet basil primarily for field production; medium-sized, slightly ruffled leaf with bright green color
- Rutgers Passion DMR: A beautiful sweet basil for potted plant and field production. Exhibits vigorous growth with a high leaf to stem ratio; ability to regrow after many harvests over a season, and slightly cupped leaf of a greater size compared to Rutgers Obsession DMR.