In Memory of Harold Wilkins

February 09, 2021

Written by Professor Neil Anderson

Dr. Harold F. Wilkins, Emeritus Professor, passed away this month at the age of 87. Dr. Wilkins was a long-time professor of floriculture (extension, research, teaching) in this department from 1966 to 1989. He taught many courses in floriculture, including bulb physiology and his famous Floral Design class. His research life was dedicated to understanding the physiology of popular and new floricultural crops, focused in particular on Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) and poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). In addition, his many graduate students (15 MS and Ph.D.) also studied alstroemeria, azaleas, freesia, and other cut and potted flower crops, providing important science-based research on how to schedule and profitably grow each crop - most of which are still used today. His collection of gayfeather (Liatris) in Minnesota, with colleagues Drs. Ascher and Halevy became the primary source for Israeli breeding of this important cut flower (in the top 10 in sales) and beloved flowering perennial. His in-depth knowledge and vast interest in flowering crops meant that his colleagues worldwide continue to hold him in high esteem. He was a prolific writer both for the scientific and extension audiences; Minnesota greenhouse growers loved it when he stopped by to give sage extension tips on how to grow their crops better or when they flocked to his annual grower conferences across the state. 

Uncle Harold, as we called him, was a great source of entertainment as well, from driving his car into the lake (or did he forget to put it in park with the emergency brake on?!) on a smelting trip up north; or getting into nationally famous shouting matches with his floriculture colleague just next door, Dr. Widmer (but they were also like brothers!); or he and colleague Dr. Davis planting bulbs in a Hogarth curve in the landscape; or being a charter member of the Concerned Committee; or nearly scaring to death USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz (on a trip from the airport in his beloved car, Puff), etc. A fitting tribute, years ago, occurred when several graduate students (using the acronym H.A.Rolla; only one of whom was his student!) in the 1980s joined in force to produce a seminar on the newly discovered plant family, The Plasticaceae; this was fondly dedicated to him. Each time growers count Easter lily leaves, measure leaf unfolding rates, or measure the length of developing flowering buds; grow an Alstroemeria or Freesia, make a floral design with Liatris, make a floral bow, or produce a flowering poinsettia, we will all think of him and bless the many fun times we've enjoyed in his presence and endless knowledge.

For anyone wishing to contribute to a memorial for Harold, see the Society of American Florists Tribute.

Read the Star Tribune announcement