06-18-2012, 11:24 PM
Aparecium Deletrius Legil
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: The Soprano State
just an interesting tidbit about grass if you care
Rutgers turf grass and plant breeders honored | NJ.com
Turf grass breeder William Meyer at a nursery in southwest Holland.The term "hall of fame" is usually associated with sports heroes and rock stars, but a pair of Rutgers University plant breeders recently inducted into horticultural halls of fame might have done the world more practical good.
Turf specialist William Meyer has produced nearly 300 new varieties of grass to cover golf courses, sports fields and ordinary backyards in a durable carpet of green. Elwin Orton, devoted to trees and shrubs, is a key figure in the breeding of modern hollies and the creator of two entirely new series of disease-resistant dogwoods.
Both are now hall-of-famers, recognized for lifetime achievement in their areas of expertise. Meyer was honored by the New Jersey Turf Grass Association, while Orton received his award from the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association.
Last week in New Brunswick, colleagues from the university’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station hosted a party to toast the honorees.
"This is a joyous occasion," said Bradley Hillman, director of research at the experiment station. "It’s well-deserved recognition for a pair of guys who have been cornerstones of our breeding program."
Rutgers’ plant breeding program is widely recognized as one of the strongest in the nation, producing new ornamental species, better crops, plant-based pharmaceuticals and even potential bio-fuels. It lends new meaning to the university’s slogan, "Jersey roots, global reach."
Critical to the program’s success is the revenue generated by new plant varieties, which are patented and trademarked as intellectual properties. The turf program is in the lead, producing about $4 million annually to support research programs. Woody plants, which can take 25 years to bring to market, generate proportionately less, about $60,000 a year. The income makes the program more self-sufficient and less dependent on fluctuating public funds.
The two honorees usually labor in obscurity, their patient and meticulous work unseen by the general public. But each is something of a celebrity in his field.
A modern plant hunter, Meyer has traveled widely in search of new material for his genetic pool, collecting some 15,000 samples over the past 14 years. He’s been in every country in Western Europe and several in Africa. An analysis of his samples has revealed just where some of our most familiar grass species originated.
"You go to Poland and everywhere you look, Kentucky bluegrass is the dominant species — that tells you Poland had something to do with the genesis of bluegrass," Meyer says. "Rye is concentrated in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy. We found tall fescues in some pastures in North Africa that have never been known in Europe."
The new material expands the range of characteristics that can be enhanced through cross-fertilization. American turf breeders like Meyer would otherwise be limited to grasses brought to the New World by early European settlers. Plants from seed gathered abroad are crossed with grasses already adapted to local conditions with the aim of producing new strains that are more disease- and drought-resistant, with reduced needs for fertilizer and pesticide.
Some of the most successful Rutgers grasses are sold under the names Plantation, Rebel, Faith and Greenkeeper. Meyer admits he can’t visit Lowe’s or Home Depot without checking what’s on the shelves.
If grass seems like the most ubiquitous and widespread of all greenery, that’s because it is. In New Jersey alone, 846,000 acres are covered in turf — more acres than are devoted to farmland or covered by bodies of water. Most people also are "shocked," Meyer says, by the numbers that figure in his research: 150,000 clones growing in 45,000 turf lots covering 30 acres.
For those who criticize the traditional American lawn as less than environmentally friendly, Meyer has a rebuttal. Studies have shown that turf is an excellent filter, trapping fertilizers and other chemicals and preventing them from polluting waterways. In a Wisconsin trial, sod actually outperformed "rain gardens," stands of native species planted in shallow depressions to capture runoff, Meyer says.
His lawn? It’s mostly tall fescue adapted to shady conditions. His philosophy? A lawn doesn’t have to be perfect to be an asset.
Orton marks 50 years at Rutgers at the end of this month, but his enthusiasm for a breeder’s work is hardly flagging. In fact, he concedes that his most recent new plants — two hollies and a dogwood due to be introduced this year — might be his best yet.
"The time it takes to get results may account for my longevity as a researcher, since I wanted to stay to see what might come to fruition," Orton says. "My greatest enjoyment is watching seedlings germinate. Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but I would always think ‘This may be the one.’"
Few individuals have played a larger role than Orton in improving hollies available in the trade. Unlike Meyer, he didn’t have to travel far to find plant material.
Cuttings from a seminal holly orchard of 41,000 trees established in 1926 in Millville — the town where the Holly Society of America was founded — already had been planted at Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick when Orton joined the faculty. The collection ranked for decades as the largest accumulation of American hollies in the eastern United States and provided excellent fodder for Orton’s early breeding efforts.
During the last 40 years, Orton’s hollies have set new standards for vigor and berry production. Many can be recognized by names that reflect home state pride: Jersey Princess, Jersey Gold, Jersey Knight, Jersey Jewel, Jersey Sprite. It’s no reach to say Orton single-handedly put New Jersey on the map for holly lovers.
In 1970, the year his first holly was introduced, Orton turned his hand to dogwoods. Native dogwoods, known botanically as Cornus florida, were under attack from insects and diseases that were decimating their numbers.
Orton cross-bred the native tree with the sturdier Asian species, Cornus kousa, to produce new and unique hybrids. It took nearly a quarter-century of painstaking work before the first of his Stellar dogwoods reached the market, but the fruits of his labor were spectacular — and disease-resistant. Aurora, Constellation and Celestial were shortly followed by Stellar Pink, Ruth Ellen and Stardust.
Orton next set his sights on a Pacific coast species, Cornus nuttalli, that had virtues but wasn’t hardy in harsh eastern climates. Complicated cross-breeding with the Asian dogwood produced the Jersey Star series, new trees unique in the world. The first two, Venus and Starlight, made their commercial debut in 2004 and were an immediate sensation for their robust nature and huge flowers — up to 8 inches across.
Because Orton "never met a flower I didn’t want to pollinate," the work goes on. Hyperion is the latest Jersey Star, due for introduction this year. The keen delight that Orton takes in inventing never-before-seen hybrids of beloved plants underscores what Robert Goodman, dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and executive director of the experiment station, sees as the critical quality of a successful plant breeder.
"It’s imagination," says Goodman. "What the plant breeder is after doesn’t exist, except in his mind’s eye. A lot of it is art and a lot is instinct. It takes patience and perseverance and an intimate knowledge of the plant material. You get out in the field and you don’t give up."
- Don't forget to buy Jiro's Special Edition Sunglasses for $19.95