Skip to main content


Botanic Gardens’ Detrick, M.P.S. ’16, connects people and plants

Emily Detrick, a horticulturist at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, uses the Pounder Vegetable Garden to teach students in Marcia Eames-Sheavly's Seed to Supper class.  Simon Wheeler/Brand Communications

Cornell Chronicle [2018-10-04]

With a background in fine arts and experience working in museums and galleries, Emily Detrick, M.P.S. ’16, has always been interested in curation – the documentation and care of collections.

Now a horticulturist at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, Detrick continues to curate collections. But now those collections are beds of live plants, and she spends her days connecting people with them.

“A botanic garden is a museum full of living collections,” Detrick says. “By definition, botanic gardens are public-facing in their orientation, providing a gateway to the natural world, helping people to understand what’s all around them and the importance of plants in our lives.”

Citing the Botanic Gardens’ new mission, Detrick said her role is to inspire people – through cultivation, conservation and education – to “understand, appreciate and nurture plants and the cultures they sustain.”

Read the whole article.

Crusader for environmental golf course management earns Excellence in IPM award

Bob Portmess was a mechanical engineer and former executive with Cox Communications who just happened to be an avid golfer.

That last item is key. Twelve years ago, Portmess walked into turf guru Frank Rossi’s office at Cornell University. He knew exactly what he wanted: to work, he said, “with the people who produce the finest golf playing surfaces in the world.”

Two years later, Portmess had received his Masters of Professional Studies in turfgrass management by synthesizing the practical knowledge that Rossi and colleague Jennifer Grant, now director of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM), had amassed over seven years of experimental work at the world-renowned Bethpage Golf Course, also a New York State Park.

And a year after that, Portmess had developed an “IPM Handbook” of best management practices for sustainable turf, informed in part by his engineering background. This handbook, now translated into Spanish, served as a resource for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s seminar that Portmess co-instructed at several International Golf Shows. It continues to guide management of New York’s 29 state park golf courses as well as golf courses around the country that want to cut back on inputs while maintaining top quality turf.

Portmess’s passion for teaching turned out to be as consuming as his passion for golf. “Whether it was frequent light topdressing, root pruning, over-seeding, better ways to aerify the soil, or careful use of water—Bob taught them all,” says Larry Specchio, superintendent at Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course. Each tactic Speechio notes is a core IPM method.

“I find myself almost daily wanting to pick up my phone and call him; he was more than just a consultant to me,” Speechio says. “No one has a had a more positive impact on my career than Bob.”

Rossi couldn’t have predicted it at that time, of course, but that meeting in 2006 turned out to be one of the most important partnerships of his career.

“For that, I owe Bob more than simply a nomination for an award he is more than worthy of, but rather my own continued commitment to the work that he started,” Rossi says.

Sadly, Portmess passed away before he could see the full impact of his work. “Losing Bob Portmess was a tragedy” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of New York State Parks. “But his legacy lives on in the sustainable management of our golf courses.”

Melinda Portmess, Portmess’s widow, received the Excellence of IPM award at a ceremony at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse on August 10th.

Learn more about IPM at

Joseph Sieczka, potato specialist, dies at 79

Joseph Sieczka

Joseph Sieczka

Cornell Chronicle [2018-08-09]:

Joseph Sieczka, professor emeritus of horticulture, an expert on potatoes, died July 29 at his home in Mattituck, New York. He was 79.

He also worked as a Cooperative Extension agent in western New York and served as coordinator of Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, New York, for more than two decades.

Though he conducted research on vegetable crops, he focused on potatoes. Over the course of his career, he managed widely acclaimed potato extension programs, and his work on potato cultivation led to reduced grower costs and lower nitrate impacts on groundwater. Sieczka’s applied potato research included strategies for weed control and determining optimal applications of fertilizer. And he helped develop new potato varieties, including some that are resistant to golden nematodes, a major potato pest.

“Joe was extremely knowledgeable in all things ‘potato’ and had an encyclopedic memory,” said Donald Halseth, professor emeritus of horticulture. “He knew things about more potato varieties than anyone I have known.”

“From a personal point of view, I always valued the uncommon amount of ‘common sense’ that Joe showed when I would ask for his advice, which I did very often,” said Elmer Ewing, professor emeritus of horticulture. “He had sound judgment on important issues and was able to see the broad picture.”

Read the whole article.

Carl Gortzig, professor of floriculture, dies at 87

By Krishna Ramanujan Cornell Chronicle [2018-06-11]:

Carl Gortzig

Carl Gortzi

Carl Gortzig ’52, professor emeritus and chair of the former Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture, died June 2 at the Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home in Ithaca. He was 87.

Gortzig was also the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director Emeritus of Cornell Botanic Gardens, formerly Cornell Plantations.

His research covered floriculture economics and marketing. He worked closely with the floriculture industry in New York state, and with the faculty in the former Department of Agricultural, Resource and Managerial Economics, including the late Dana Goodrich, distinguished emeritus professor.

“In a period where basic civility is daily being challenged, Carl Gortzig was a true gentleman; he treated all people, regardless of their role, with dignity and respect,” said Don Rakow, M.P.S. ’77, Ph.D. ’87, associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. “He was devoted to the field of horticulture, to Cornell and to his beloved wife, Jean.”

After receiving his bachelor’s in floriculture and ornamental horticulture, the Buffalo, New York, native received his M.S. in 1963 and Ph.D. in 1976, both from Michigan State University.

He served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant from 1952 to 1954; taught biology, botany and math at the McKinley Vocational High School in Buffalo from 1954 to 1955; worked as an Erie County associate agricultural agent from 1955 to 1964; and was employed by Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as an admissions counselor from 1957 to 1958. He joined Cornell’s faculty in 1965, earned tenure in 1971 and was promoted to full professor in 1978.

Gortzig chaired the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulturefrom 1975 to 1988.

“Carl was a true Cornellian and incredibly dedicated to our land-grant mission,” said Joann Gruttadaurio ’73, M.P.S. ‘79, who served as a horticulture extension educator during much of Gortzig’s career. “While he was supportive of our teaching and research roles, what made him unique as a department chair and leader was his enthusiastic backing for faculty involved in extension and outreach. Those efforts resulted in huge impacts on commercial and home horticulture and 4-H youth programs, and earned him the respect of the industries, communities and citizens we served as well as the university administration.”

Gortzig also held a joint appointment at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, where he was acting director from 1989 to 1990 and the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director from 1993 until his retirement in 1995.

For years after retirement, he continued to teach Introduction to Horticultural Science, and Horticultural Sales and Service Business Management. He also continued to serve on a number of university committees and as a consultant to the Cornell Botanic Gardens Advisory Board.

In 1989, he received the George L. Good Gold Medal of Horticulture, the highest honor of the New York State Nursery and Landscape Association, given annually “to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to horticulture in the state of New York.”

He was a member of the American Society for Horticulture Science, International Society for Horticultural Science, American Horticulture Society, Society of American Florists, New York Florists’ Club, International Plant Propagators Society and an honorary member of the New York State Flower Industries.

He is survived by his wife, Jean.

Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

New seed company restores vegetable flavor to savor

Row 7 Seed Co. founders, from left, Matthew Goldfarb, Michael Mazourek and Dan Barber.

Row 7 Seed Co. founders, from left, Matthew Goldfarb, Michael Mazourek and Dan Barber.

Cornell Chronicle, CALS News [2018-02-27]

Cornell plant breeder Michael Mazourek, Ph.D. ’08, noted chef Dan Barber and seed producer Matthew Goldfarb have launched a new vegetable seed company and catalog. The freshly minted Row 7 Seed Co. offers seeds that can turn a container garden or backyard plot into a summer vegetable bounty any foodie will crave.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned working with breeders is that there’s a huge link between flavor and nutrition, and the craziest part is that no one talks about it. Flavor and aroma compounds – the same ones that make tomatoes and melons mouthwatering – often derive from essential nutrients. It’s nature’s way of telling us what we should be eating,” said Barber, of Blue Hill, a farm-to-table restaurant in New York City, who frequently collaborates with Mazourek.

“Similar to how the farm-to-table movement increased public awareness around the provenance of ingredients, with Row 7 we want to shift the culture around food to drive people toward more flavorful ingredients and define nutrition in terms of diets, not single ingredients,” he said.

Read the whole article.

More coverage:

Rossi recognized for environmental efforts

Frank Rossi and McGraw Tower

Associate professor and turfgrass specialist Frank Rossi has been an intellectual force behind some of the most environmentally conscious concepts embraced by the golf industry. A profile in GCM Magazine celebrating Rossi’s selection as the GCSAA’s 2018 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship notes that he is “renowned for his hands-on work with golf superintendents and  reputation for challenging convention at every turn.”

Read the whole article.

Plant exploration in China with Michael Dosmann

The Arnold Arboretum’s Michael Dosmann with a Rodgersia leaf and plumes of Astilbe grandis (Photograph: Jonathan Shaw)

Michael Dosmann, PhD ’07 and keeper of living collections at the Arnold Aboretum, with a Rodgersia leaf and plumes of Astilbe grandis (Photograph: Jonathan Shaw)

Hat tip to Nina Bassuk for passing along the article Botanizing in the “Mother of Gardens” – Pursuing seeds and specimens in Sichuan which appeared in the January-February 2018 issue of Harvard Magazine.

Michael Dosmann, PhD ’07 and keeper of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum, led a team that braved terrestrial leaches, rockslides and other hazards while collecting plants in China for two weeks last fall.

Why explore for plants in China? The Harvard Magazine article points out:

“Though it might seem like a commission from another century, the hunt to locate and collect rare plants from around the globe so they can be grown for scientific study and long-term observation is very much alive, and carries new urgency. One in five plant species on Earth is endangered. Changing patterns of temperature and rainfall, competition from invasive species, and loss of habitat are spurring new exploration—particularly in biologically rich areas.”

Read the whole article.



In the news

Kalenga Banda and professor emeritus Chris Wien, M.S. ‘67, Ph.D. ‘71 in the Kenneth Post Laboratory Greenhouse complex. Photo by Matt Hayes.

Kalenga Banda and professor emeritus Chris Wien, M.S. ‘67, Ph.D. ‘71 in the Kenneth Post Laboratory Greenhouse complex. Photo by Matt Hayes.

Some recent articles of horticultural interest:

The sweet gift of knowledge [periodiCALS 2017-11-28] – A gift in 2006 from professor emeritus Chris Wien created the Cornell Assistantship for Horticulture in Africa (CAHA), which provides a doctoral assistantship to one student from sub-Saharan Africa who completes coursework at Cornell but conducts dissertation research in the region. The position is contingent upon the student returning to his or her home country after their doctoral degree is complete. “Too often you see students get really involved in some fascinating project at Cornell and lose sight of the fact that they came from a country that could really use their help,” says Wien, who in the 1970s spent time working in Africa at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. That experience awakened him to the continent’s need for greater support in horticulture education.

Cornell program trains new farm owners for business success [CALS News/Cornell Chronicle 2017-12-12] – The Cornell Small Farms Program is preparing the next generation of farmers and ranchers to scale up their operations and reach key business milestones by preparing them to hire, manage and retain skilled employees, thanks to a USDA grant. “Our long-term goal is to ensure that all new farmers in our region can access high-quality information, supportive networks and proven tactics essential to starting and scaling viable farms,” said Anu Rangarajan, director of the Cornell Small Farms Program (CSFP) and senior extension associate in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science

Northeast farmers weigh warm climate, drenched fields [CALS News/Cornell Chronicle 2017-12-13] – Farmers in the Northeast are adopting production habits tailored to longer, warming climate conditions, but they may face spring planting whiplash as they confront fields increasingly saturated with rain, according to a new Cornell-led paper in the journal Climatic Change, November 2017. Climate change in the Northeast could present two faces. “Climate change can easily intensify agricultural susceptibility, but also present fresh, surprising opportunities,” said David Wolfe, professor of plant and soil ecology and senior author of the paper.  Earlier this fall, Wolfe also delivered the prestigious 2017 John MacLeod Lecture at the Royal Horticultural Society in London, where he detailed how gardeners can adapt to climate change as well as help mitigate its effects. View video.

Herbs From the Underground [New York Times 2017-12-06] – A hydroponic garden in a TriBeCa basement is growing rare herbs and edible flowers, and many prominent chefs are flocking to it. “People who find it weird to eat food grown in a basement have no reason to worry, said Neil Mattson, associate professor and greenhouse extension specialist at Cornell University. ‘There is nothing icky about it. Plants don’t care whether they get light from the sun or the lamps. It’s the same thing.’”

Honeynut Squash Is a Tiny Squash with a Big History [Bon Appétit 2017-11-30] – The fascinating story of how Cornell plant breeder Michael Mazourek created the shrunken butternut squash that’s increasingly popular in farmers’ markets and elsewhere. “Whether it’s farmers, chefs, or food enthusiasts talking about it, it’s clear that word of mouth is what boosted the popularity of the Honeynut. Two years ago, half the farms in the Northeast that grew squash had it, Mazourek revealed. ‘Now 90 percent of the farms grow it—you see it moving beyond regional to Cleveland going west and Virginia going south,’” he added.

Trees – the True Urban Warriors [Scientia 2017-12-12] – Trees benefit cities in many often-overlooked ways. They not only beautify concrete backdrops, but also improve the quality of our urban lives by providing shade, reducing storm runoff, filtering air and providing homes for birds and insects. Trees face big challenges, however, growing up in cities, largely because of drought and poor soils. To help trees survive these concrete deserts, Nina Bassuk and her colleagues at Cornell University have been evaluating trees and shrubs for their ability to adapt, including developing resilient hybrid oak trees. A parallel research track aims at remediating urban soil conditions to reduce urban tree stress.


Miller receives USDA National Teaching Award


Chad Miller Ph.D. '11

Chad Miller Ph.D. ’11

From Greenhouse Product News [2017-11-22]:

Chad Miller (Ph.D.  Horticulture ’11) , Associate Professor of Landscape Horticulture at Kansas State University,  was one of two educators honored with the USDA’s 2017 Best New Teacher Award for Food and Agricultural Sciences at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities 130th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The New Teacher Award recognizes a faculty with no more than seven consecutive years of experience in higher education teaching who has demonstrated a commitment to a career in teaching, has exhibited meritorious teaching through scholarship of teaching and learning, and exemplary service to students.

Miller teaches several undergraduate horticulture courses in the KSU horticulture program including an orientation course, plant propagation, and two plant identification courses. In addition, Miller assists with developing and leading departmental international study abroad course experiences. He advises an average of 25 undergraduate students each year and is also the co-advisor for the Horticulture Club.

Miller has been previously recognized for his teaching and advising, receiving the Perennial Plant Association Academic Award; North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Educator Award; K-State College of Agriculture Advisor of the Year; K-State College of Agriculture Teaching Faculty of the Semester; the Gamma Sigma Delta Teaching Award; KState College of Agriculture Innovative Teaching and Learning Award; Association of Public Land Grant Universities Innovative Teaching Award; Big 12 Faculty Fellow and was a recipient of the Greenhouse Product News Top 40 under 40 award.

Congratulations Chad!

New genomic insights reveal a surprising two-way journey for apple on the Silk Road

Yang Bai

Yang Bai

Yang Bai (Ph.D. Horticulture ’14), post-doctoral scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) is first author of the Nature Communications journal article Genome re-sequencing reveals the history of apple and supports a two-stage model for fruit enlargement  featured in this BIT News article by Alexa Schmitz. Bai’s research was also featured in The Guardian.

Centuries ago, the ancient networks of the Silk Road facilitated a political and economic openness between the nations of Eurasia. But this network also opened pathways for genetic exchange that shaped one of the world’s most popular fruits: the apple. As travelers journeyed east and west along the Silk Road, trading their goods and ideas, they brought with them hitchhiking apple seeds, discarded from the choicest fruit they pulled from wild trees. This early selection would eventually lead to the 7,500 varieties of apple that exist today.

Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have been working hard to excavate the mysteries of the apple’s evolutionary history, and a new publication this week in Nature Communications reveals surprising insights into the genetic exchange that brought us today’s modern, domesticated apple, Malus domestica.

In collaboration with scientists from Cornell University and Shandong Agricultural University in China, the researchers sequenced and compared the genomes of 117 diverse apple accessions, including M. domestica and 23 wild species from North America, Europe, and East and central Asia.

A tale of two roads

The most exciting outcome of this genomic comparison is a comprehensive map of the apple’s evolutionary history. Previous studies have shown that the common apple, Malus domestica arose from the central Asian wild apple, Malus sieversii, with contributions from crabapples along the Silk Road as it was brought west to Europe.

With the results of this new study, the researchers could zoom in on the map for better resolution. “We narrowed down the origin of domesticated apple from very broad central Asia to Kazakhstan area west of Tian Shan Mountain,” explained Zhangjun Fei, BTI professor and lead author of this study.

In addition to pinpointing the western apple’s origin, the authors were excited to discover that the first domesticated apple had also traveled to the east, hybridizing with local wild apples along the way, yielding the ancestors of soft, dessert apples cultivated in China today.

“We pointed out two major evolutionary routes, west and east, along the Silk Road, revealing fruit quality changes in every step along the way,” summarized Fei.

Although wild M. sieversii grows east of Tian Shan Mountain, in the Xinjiang region of China, the ecotype there was never cultivated, and did not contribute to the eastern domesticated hybrid. Instead, it has remained isolated all these centuries, maintaining a pool of diversity yet untapped by human selection. First-author Yang Bai remarked, “it is a hidden jewel for apple breeders to explore further.”

Read the whole article.

silk road map

Skip to toolbar