2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient: Phil Forsline

January 12, 2023

The 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient is Phil Forsline. 

Phil Forsline was recognized for his distinguished achievements at the annual Kermit Olson Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, February 15th, 2023. His lecture, “The Real Origin of the Apple: Genetic Treasures from Apple's Ancestral Home”, discussed his research, travels, and wild apple collections, which subsequently shaped his career and apple breeding programs worldwide. 

Phil Forsline received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science in 1970. After graduation, Phil enrolled in graduate school at the University of Maine, Department of Agronomy where he earned a master’s degree in 1973 studying the physiology of potato tuberization. 

After receiving his master’s degree, Phil served as a Senior Research Support Specialist at Cornell University in the Department of Horticulture, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES). From 1973-1984 Phil worked in research concerning breeding of apple rootstocks and studied the effects of stresses on the physiology of fruit crops, including exposure to air pollutants and exposure of fruit crops to extreme cold weather.

Phil worked for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Plant Genetic Resources Unit from 1984-2010 in Geneva, NY. In that role he achieved international recognition as a horticulturist and as a collector and curator of the national collections of apple, grape, and tart cherry germplasm. The late 20th century was a time of expansion for the National Plant Germplasm System, including the establishment of clonal repositories. At Geneva, Phil managed a 50-acre farm that contained apple and cherry orchards as well as grape vineyards and nurseries for propagation. Under Phil’s leadership, a large collection of over 2000 accessions was established in the first five years. These included commercial and heirloom cultivars, and Malus species and hybrids from breeders’ collections and botanical gardens. From 1989 to 1999, the USDA sponsored six expeditions to collect germplasm of wild apple, Malus sieversii—the main ancestor of the domesticated apple—and other fruit and nut species in Central Asia. Phil oversaw the distribution of this germplasm to researchers in many countries and conducted evaluations at the repository orchards. Resistance to several important apple diseases have been identified in the Malus sieversii germplasm and is being used in apple breeding programs.

Since Phil’s retirement in 2010, he has remained active in collaborating with apple programs throughout the United States and abroad and continues to give lectures on his research concerning apple germplasm collection and maintenance.

We are thrilled to award Phil Forsline the 2023 Department of Horticultural Science Distinguished Alumni Award. See a full recording of Phil’s seminar

Interested in submitting a nomination for 2024? Learn more about eligibility and criteria.