News Archive

Department News

Machete in hand, clad in a pair of work boots, blue jeans, and a black oilskin hat, Alex Susko scans the landscape slowly and methodically for any sign of his quarry. Halfway down along the sloping stream bank, he successfully finds his mark. 

It’s a fungus that can devastate an entire grape crop from leaves to fruit, eliminating entire yields: powdery mildew. The fear of powdery mildew leads to frequent fungicide applications, but graduate student Soon Li Teh (Applied Plant Science, Ph.D.) hopes for a better way to control it. Advised by professors Jim Luby and Adrian Hegeman, he is combining DNA marker-assisted breeding with metabolomics to speed up the selection process towards powdery mildew-resistant wine grape varieties.

As Jack Pahl (B.S. Horticulture ’14) picks up a slice of pizza and heads to the table at the front of 310 Alderman Hall, he admits this is the first time he’s been back to campus since his graduation. Since leaving the U he’s been hard at work at Pahl’s Market Garden Center in Apple Valley, where he’s learning the ropes to manage the 6th-generation family-owned farm. What brought him back for his first visit to Saint Paul was the chance to sit on the department’s inaugural alumni panel to share with students the the lessons he’s learned since graduation.

What sparked your interest in a career working with plants? Many people can trace their interest in plants back to one or two people. Now you have a chance to get the next generation interested in horticulture. CFANS has started an exciting opportunity called the Alumni Ambassador Program, which invites alumni to share their professional and collegiate experiences with students who are looking to explore careers in the food, agricultural, and natural resource sciences.

The structures of today morph into history alongside the innovations of tomorrow. This idea lays the groundwork behind the exhibition “Still . . . Life,” a collaboration between three professors, including Neil Anderson from the Department of Horticultural Science currently viewable at the Weisman Art Museum. During the 2010–2011 school year, when two of the artists were on Fulbright sabbaticals in the Czech Republic, the three collaborators traveled to Jewish cemeteries around Bohemia and Moravia as an alternate way to explore the history of the Holocaust than the better-known concentration camps.

Vervet monkeys have specific alarm calls for leopards, snakes, and eagles. Blackbirds give off a high seee call when birds of prey are nearby. And plants get…gassy? Over the last 30 years research has shown that plants, much like animals, ‘scream’ at each other when being attacked by pests through the specific gasses they give off. Recent findings in John Erwin’s lab, however, indicate that these gasses do more than just warn nearby plants to be on high alert: they also call in beneficial insects.

In the spring of 2015, media outlets were buzzing with the news: there was a new Minnesota apple in need of a name. Thanks to Honeycrisp fame, new apple releases from the Department of Horticultural Science tend to get a lot of people excited. The new apple, MN-55, is still a ways from having a name and showing up on market shelves. However, other breeding programs within the department have been hard at work.

This summer the front of Alderman Hall was re-landscaped thanks to the Living Laboratory initiative and generous donations from our alumni and friends. The new garden combines plantings that are both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally beneficial to help create a more sustainable campus environment. Read more about this and other exciting changes in the department in the News from the Department Head.

In early August, alumnus Arnold ‘Arne’ Blomquist passed away. Arne earned his master’s degree (1961) and Ph.D. (1963) from the University of Minnesota in horticulture, genetics, and biology. Known for his strength of character and physical constitution, Arne used his extraordinary intelligence and bold leadership to spearhead many projects. He had led military, professional, religious, and education programs that benefit humanity and are a credit to the University.

On West Bank, between the Carlson School of Management and the Rarig Center, a small garden lays brimming with tomato trellises, native perennials, kale, and scattered pollinator beds. It’s there thanks to a small cohort of students looking for a place where faculty, staff, students, and community members can gather on the more metropolitan side of campus to have meaningful interactions with a core theme of healthy food and the environment. With the help of the Living Laboratory initiative, an IonE grant, and Professor Tom Michaels advising, these students created the West Bank Community Garden (WBCG).

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Have a Story?

We’re always looking for new stories to include in our alumni newsletter. If you’re a current member of the department or an alumni and you’re doing something interesting, tell us about it by emailing Echo Martin at mart1794@umn.edu