Cleveland, OH

Rhododendron conservation and collections - work in progress on ornamental plant breeding

Angela Kervorkian-Wattle

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RHODODENDRON CONSERVATION AND COLLECTIONS/holdenfg.org

CLEVELAND — The research started with the following question – ‘How are we going to keep up with climate change if we just cultivate decorative plants that can’t keep up?’

The David G. Leach Research Station has long been a part of HF&G’s research department. David Leach, its namesake, dedicated his life to breeding and studying rhododendrons. He gifted the station to Holden Arboretum in 1986 with the condition that the organization continues his breeding project, and for the most part, the station has maintained to do precisely that.

Around that time, David Leach’s breeding program was oriented around the goal of developing ornamentally superior, USDA Hardiness Zone 5 frost-tolerant rhododendrons.

Following David’s death, his successor, Dr. Stephen Krebs, carried the research one step further by making David’s and other hybrids resistant to the primary cause of root rot-disease, the water mold Phytophthora cinnamomi.

More than 15 years after their first hybridizing attempt with R. hyperythrum, it is the first time the researchers see the blossoms that they expect to be exceptional rhododendrons for the Cleveland and greater Northeastern Ohio area.

In addition, different breeding initiatives will also involve ventures into non-rhododendron plants focused on ornamental and adaptive characteristics. Sterile, non-invasive landscape plants, plants adaptable to climate change, and plants resistant to developing diseases are just a few examples of types of plants that can be used in locations where temperatures range from cold to warm.

Researchers at the organization commented that they mostly rely on traditional breeding methods and multi-site field studies in their attempt to create these plants.

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