News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Akron General

The Holden Arboretum


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Environment




Exploradio: Growing a Rhododendron breeder's dream
Breeding at the Holden Arboretum's Leach Research Station keeps a 50 year love affair with Rhododendrons alive
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Rhododendrons are a popular ornamental shrub worldwide. One of the premier breeding and research stations in the U.S. is in Madison, Ohio, part of the Holden Arboretum.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

We’re just past the peak season for Rhododendrons, but the quest for perfect blooms continues at one of the nation’s premier research stations. 

At the facility in Lake County, breeders create plants that can resist a disease threatening shrubs and trees worldwide, and also handle Ohio’s harsh winters.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair pays a visit in this week’s Exploradio.

Exploradio: Rhododendron dreams

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (3:42)


The legacy of David Leach
A few blooms are still holding on here at the Leach Rhododendron Research Station in Madison, Ohio.

Purple, pink, red, and peach-colored blossoms perch on graceful limbs, framed by elegantly drooping leaves.  Their ethereal beauty has earned Rhododendrons a dedicated following.

And one of the legends in the Rhododendron world was David Leach, who created more than one hundred varieties, still planted in gardens across the globe.

Leach first bred the flowering shrubs in the 1950’s in his home state of Pennsylvania. After a fire destroyed his operation in the 1970’s, he moved his remaining collection to Ohio. The 30 acre property became part of the Holden Arboretum in the 1980’s.

Leach died in 1998.  But Holden’s Steve Krebs, who arrived in 1992, carries on his legacy as, "the anointed successor to Dr. Leach.”


The patient art of plant breeding
Krebs continues Leach’s decades’ long experiments in breeding Rhododendrons.

Leach developed about 2,000 plant varieties over 50 years.  Not all of them became named hybrids, but still serve as parent stock for further work. 

Krebs creates new varieties through the ancient art of cross pollination.

He demonstrates the process of plant breeding.  

It starts by choosing two parents, "a mom and dad."  Krebs shows how he transfers pollen from one to the other to fertilize it, the result is a capsule full of  genetically different seeds,"hopefully combining the traits from each parent that you’re looking for and eliminating the flaws of each parent."

He shows me the fruits of his labor -  three small shrubs in a crowded test plot -  one, is a North American native with white flowers, another, a purple flowered hybrid, and the third looks worse for the wear from last winter.


Selecting for survival 
The plant is dead. Krebs says that shows the difference in heartiness between the white flowered native and the purple flowered plant from central Asia, which died, and the flourishing hybrid mix of the two. 

He's happy to point out that this first generation experiment shows, "a huge gain in heartiness.”

Another long-term project for Krebs is fighting a ubiquitous plant disease – root rot.

The fungal disease affects over a thousand species world-wide -  not just Rhododendrons – but economic plants, everything from avocado, to citrus, to ornamental plants, and to trees. "So," Krebs say, "it’s also and ecological issue when it spreads into the wilds.”

And, he says, it's everywhere, even at the Holden research station.

Krebs points to a sadly wilting bush - "drooping and curling of leaves is very characteristic of root rot disease.”

Krebs shows me his efforts to outwit it with a Rhododendron with natural resistance, "a species from Taiwan, and that’s been the foundation of all this breeding.”

But these Taiwanese hybrids, although resistant to root rot, don’t like the cold, and their flowers aren’t very showy.  So the cross pollination continues, and the patient wait for breeding success.


Decades of nuturing the future of Rhododendron research
Krebs has spent more than twenty years following in the footsteps of his mentor David Leach, who also bred magnolia trees toward the end of his life.

Krebs says, “It always amazed me that at age 85 he was still making magnolia crosses …hope springs eternal.”

You can see that hope flourishing in the trees and shrubs that surrounds us in the winding paths of Leach's flowering display gardens here in Madison.  

(Click image for larger view.)

Listener Comments:

Lee, sorry for the confusion in the story, but Rhododendron flowers contain both male and female parts and the cross pollination can happen between any two plants. Rhododendrons like well-drained, slightly acidic soil with plenty of organic matter. http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1078.html
-jeff


Posted by: jeff st.clair (WKSU) on June 17, 2014 10:06AM
We have one that had two blooms on this year. Didn't know until I read the article that you had to have a male and female as do Lilacs so they will pollinate and bloom. Interesting.
Do you have to feed them, if so what do we use?


Posted by: Lee (Willoughby, Oh) on June 16, 2014 10:06AM
Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Support for Exploradio
provided by:








Stories with Recent Comments

Local Ebola concerns cause officials to pay more attention to West Africa
I have a better idea, let's secure our borders and spend those billions of dollars on our own first.

HUD and Cuyahoga Land Bank extend a housing deal for another year
Need to sale lot, and would like to know how to contact someone to see if they may be interested in the property that sat between two lots. If you can give me...

Akron Beacon Journal details abuse claims against televangelist Angley
In the early 90's I went forth for pray. And the man was anointed by the hand of God. Just a fact I will never forget

Lawmaker questions why a million voters didn't get absentee applications
He's a damn lie! I vote n all elections. I missed 1. Haven't gotten my absentee ballot and their making it hard to get one.

Thirsty Dog Brewery warns it might have to leave Akron
Why is it the city's responsibility to find this guy a location? There are a hundred realestate companies that could help him.

Kent State sends home three after contact with second Ebola-stricken nurse
Why weren't all health workers who were around Duncan quaranteened for 21 days and tested for Ebola? That's a no-brainer. Why was Vinson allowed to travel right...

New book says Willoughby Coal is haunted...and that's good for business
Would love to see a series of books that would just thrill me. I cannot wait to visit some of the locations. And revisit some of the locations I have already vi...

Cleveland Indians to continue with 'dynamic pricing'
pricing is too high for a family as well as people like me who are on a fixed income. Bleacher seats are cheaper but concessions are rediculous.

Kasich talks about faith, drugs and education -- but never FitzGerald
The idea that you can learn more by talking to a 90 year old person than from a history book is just another example of how the GOP hates education and knowledg...

Third-grade charter school students fail state testing
A partisan anti-charter group came out with analysis that ODE says is based on incorrect data. So why is this a story? It doesn't seem to rise to WKSU's typic...

Copyright © 2014 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University