December 27, 2006 at 8:00 p.m.

History of landscape plants at the U of M

History of landscape plants at the U of M
History of landscape plants at the U of M

Well, the holidays are almost over, now what do we write about? One of the few things I have done right is to keep a consistent garden log. I log all the events for the day whether they are garden related or not. This way, I at least am aware of what I have done wrong over the years. I also notice what not to plant again. Along with plants, shrubs, and trees I wish I had planted

I am already receiving catalogs from nurseries and I imagine you are too. One of the problems I have with some of these catalogs is that they mislead you on the winter hardy zones. We are a solid Zone 3 and any zone above that is really plant at your own risk. I get excited at some of the new offering at the U of M until I see that they are Zone 4 or even Zone 5.

However, in 2004, the Woody Landscape Plant Breeding Project at the U of M celebrated 50 years of actual breeding and development of cold-hardy woody landscape plants. The project celebrated 50 years of woody plants that thrived in Minnesota's harsh winters with hardiness in Zones 4B in the south to Zone 2B in certain locations in the north.

I can remember reading articles in the 50's by Dr. W. H. Alderman and Dr. Leon Synder. However, evaluations and selections for cold hardy, adapted landscape plant materials have been ongoing at the U of M since at least 1888. Professor Samuel Green, who was hired as the head of the Dept. of Horticulture, planted trees and shrubs on the new St. Paul campus in 1883.

The first directed breeding work on woody landscape plants dates back to 1942 when Dr. Louis Longley started a chrysanthemum breeding project. He also began making some crabapple and rose crosses. He is credited with developing the Pink Project, Red Rocket, L.E. Longley, and White Dawn, roses and also the Radiant crabapple. Robert Phillips was hired by Longley as an assistant and after Dr. Longley's retirement in 1949, developed the Prairie Fire and Viking Queen roses.

In 1957, Albert Johnson was hired to work on the breeding project at the Arboretum. Johnson carried on the day-to-day activities of the project. In 1957, Johnson made the first crosses that signaled the beginning of an effort that largely defined the project to this day, the "Lights" azaleas.

Over 40 cultivars have been released by the University and the Woody Landscape Plant Breeding Project. The list includes several flowering crabapples, apricots, and plums released in the 1920's, 30's and 40's. These early releases were by products of the fruit breeding program which was initiated in 1888.

Over the years the project has developed many trees, small flowering trees and shrubs. The trees include the Northwood Red Maple and the Autumn Splendor Buckeye in 1980. In 1992 the Autumn Spire Red Maple and in 1995 the Stately Manor Kentucky coffee tree. In 1996 the His Majesty Amur Cork tree was developed. The Firefall Maple and the Summertime Amur Maackia were developed in 2001.

The small flowering trees that were developed include the Manitou Flowering Almond and Newport Cherry plum in 1923. In 1934, the Flame Crabapple and in 1958 the Radiant Crabapple were introduced. In 1963 came the Vanguard and in 1969 the Sparkler Crabapples. In 1986 the Princess Kay doubled flowered wild plum and in 1992 the Minnesota Strain Redbud were introduced.

There were also several shrubs developed by this project. They include the Isanti Red Osier Dogwood in 1971 and the Northern Sun Forsythia in 1982. The Cardinal Red Osier Dogwood in 1986 and the Freedom Honeysuckle in 1986 and the Honey Rose Honeysuckle in 1994. In 1994 the Emerald Triumph Viburnum was developed and in 1995 the Northern Pearls Pearl bush. Finally in 2001, the Garden Glow shrub dogwood was introduced.

Next spring when you are planning to do some landscaping or replacing of trees, flowering trees or shrubs, you may want to consider some in this article.


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