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    September 28, 2016 Meeting    

Richard Olsen:
Plants, Plants, Plants


The Beltsville Garden Club held its September general meeting on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in the Multipurpose room of the James E. Duckworth School at 11201 Evans Trail in Beltsville, Maryland.

September’s Speaker Highlights

Dr. Richard Olsen, Director of the U.S. Arboretum, discussed “Plants, Plants, Plants”, new, old and cool plants, at the September 28 BGC meeting. Dr. Olsen commented on the effects of climate change in our area. He stated that we are experiencing a Mediterranean climate with more rain in the spring and fall, drought in summer months and less snow in winter months. He stated that rising temperatures increase evaporation from the soil, thus trees are losing benefits from the rainfall they do get. The eye-opening information was that trees need a night temperature below 70 in order to repair cellular damage from exposure to the sun. In summer the struggling plants repair their heat-damaged membranes during cool nights when they can rest. But with our re-cent string of hot nights with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, they can’t shut down for these repairs and a death spiral begins. Trees most affected include oaks, red maple, sumac, and elm. Oaks, for example, do not have enough time to recover from drought and undergo cellular repair. As a result, they are more susceptible to disease. Also, 250 species of magnolia trees are threatened because of higher temperatures. The environmental impact will be broad. For instance, oak trees support a large range of insects and these in-sects, in turn, support our song birds. This change is coming on us rapidly. Over the next 30 years all of our bottom-land plants will be in a struggle for survival.

Dr. Olsen noted that our flora has shared its evolution with that of eastern Asia. Plants that do well in that part of the world have historically done well here. But with global warming, cities may need to change street tree choices from trees that could tolerate swings between flooding and dryness, to trees better suited to a dry-er, Mediterranean climate. Another tree that is threatened is the crepe myrtle. Scale is killing smooth bark crepe myrtles. Scientists are researching crepe myrtles with rough bark to ad-dress this dire condition.

Dr. Olsen noted that he is developing his own cultivars of Catalpa trees, some of which will soon be released to the commercial market. We hope to be able to take Dr. Olsen up on his offer of a tour at his research site in Beltsville.

Dr. Olsen has been the Director of the U.S. Arboretum since May 2015. Before that, he served as the Acting Director of the Arboretum and Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Olsen joined the Arboretum in 2006 as a research geneticist for the urban tree-breeding program at the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, where he reinvigorated the Arboretum's urban tree program. There, he developed new woody ornamental breeding projects. His research has focused on the development of superior landscape trees with pest and disease resistance, combined with non-invasiveness. In one of many projects he has developed a new catalpa cultivar, which is to be released to the public in about a decade. A recognized international leader in the public garden arena, Dr. Olsen has the distinction of being the last PhD student of the famed horticulturalist J.C. Raulston at NC State.

Members are asked to bring a plant or plant related items for the door prize table.

The public is welcome, and admission is free. Refreshments will be served after the meeting.

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