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January / February 2003

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UMaine Today Magazine

University of Maine Foundation

Donglin Zhang
Donglin Zhang, University of Maine assistant professor of horticulture, is working with Trefoil, a Maine-based software company, to develop horticulture databases for use by the public and commercial growers. Funding for the project came from the Maine Technology Institute.

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Hardy research

With its dark foliage and white-to-pink flowers, mountain laurel is a sought-after shrub for landscaping. However, its overall winter survival rate has limited its use in northern climes.

Four years ago, research at the University of Maine on the cold hardiness of mountain laurel shed light on the varieties most likely to overwinter. The findings informed nursery owners like Jeff O'Donal and the homeowners buying plant stock from the family business in Gorham, Maine.

"Based on what the research has shown to be hardy, I'm purchasing different mountain laurel," O'Donal says. "With that kind of information, the industry is more knowledgeable and homeowners can have more confidence that they're purchasing plants that they will have success with in the winter."

In recent years, similar studies by faculty members and graduate students in UMaine's Landscape Horticulture Program have addressed overwinter survival and propagation of a number of ornamental plants, including stewartia, magnolia, viburnum, ornamental grasses, heath and heather. The direct benefit to Maine's $288 million horticulture industry has prompted the Ornamental Horticulture Council to create an endowed fund in the University of Maine Foundation in support of research. The fund-raising goal is $2 million.

The Ornamental Horticulture Council is an umbrella trade organization established four years ago to address common issues facing horticulture-related industries in the state. Joining members from four trade associations the Maine Arborist Association, Maine Landscape and Nursery Association, Mid-Maine Greenhouse Growers Association, and Maine State Florists' and Growers' Association are two state Department of Agriculture representatives and Lois Stack, University of Maine Cooperative Extension ornamental horticulture specialist. The council, formed at Stack's suggestion, represents more than 1,000 businesses in Maine.

According to O'Donal, incoming president of the council, the group's research priorities include streamlining plant production, crop fertilization, product marketing, and evaluating the feasibility of propagating and marketing underused native plants.


UMaine Today Magazine
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