Submitted to: Horticulture Reviews
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: June 9, 2011
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Citation: Barney, D.L., Hummer, K.E. 2012. Rhubarb botany, horticulture, and genetic resources. Horticulture Reviews. 40:147-182. Interpretive Summary: Rhubarb: Botany, Horticulture, and Genetic Resources describes the cultivation of medicinal and culinary rhubarb for approximatley the past 4,000 years.Details are provded on historical medical applications and modern research supporting those uses and showing compounds in rhubarb to have promise in preventing or treating some forms of cancer, diabetes, vascular disease, and infections. The development and production of culinary rhubarb are described. A table listing accepted Rhem species is provided and the rare desert rhubarb, Rheum palaestinum, is described. Genetic and virology research findings on rhubarb are presented. World genebanks with rhubarb collections are listed and details are provided for the USDA-ARS rhubarb collection.
Technical Abstract: Rhubarb (Rheum spp.) is native to areas around the Tibetan Plateau and has been cultivated for medicinal purposes for approximately 4,000 years. The roots (rhizomes) of species in this genus are rich in anthraquinones and other biochemicals that may show promise in treating or preventing cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, bacterial and fungal diseases, and other human ailments. Use of the petioles for culinary purposes is relatively recent, ca. late 18th century. Genetically, Rheum species can be diploid (2n = 2x = 22), tetraploid (2n = 4x = 44), or hexaploid (2n = 6x = 66). Breeding for culinary use began in England in the late 1700s or early 1800s and produced named cultivars that are cultivated commercially today. Outside of China, genetic resources are maintained in plant collections in many countries throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Arctic and Subarctic Plant Gene Bank in Palmer, Alaska, preserves the national rhubarb collection.