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2020 annual flower trials: The show must go on!

2020  was quite a year.  We had to cancel our annual Floriculture Field Day. But the annual flower and foliage plant trials located near the Cornell Botanic Gardens’ Nevins Center are looking good.

More information:


Rakow recognized for Nature Rx efforts

rakow flanked by two students walking through garden

Rakow strolls through Minns Garden outside Plant Science Building last year with Public Garden Leadership MPS students Trey Ramsey and Jessica Brey.

Associate professor Don Rakow was recognized for his innovative research with a 2020 SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) Award by the nonprofit Center for Jackson Hole.  The SHIFT Awards recognize individuals, initiatives, or organizations that make innovative, impactful and replicable contributions to the advancement of the health benefits of time outside.

Award organizers write that Rakow “has been one of the primary driving forces behind integrating Campus Nature Rx programs for universities and colleges in the US and Canada. He started the Campus Nature Rx network and has been collaborating with several researchers to look at how Nature Rx programs impact students’ mental and physical health. Through his research, Dr. Rakow highlights the significance of public gardens and parks as environmental, cultural, and social organizations. This focus bridges consideration of how campus landscapes can be leveraged for health and wellbeing of students, staff and faculty. He is committed to facilitating mental and physical health on university and college campuses through nature engagement that is inclusive of individuals of all ethnicities, abilities, and age groups.”

To learn more about Rakow’s work, see the Cornell Research article Nature, Our Intrinsic Healer.

Mattson featured in Gastropod podcast, Dig for Victory

Neil Mattson

Neil Mattson

Neil Mattson, assoociate professor in School of Integrative Plant Science’s Horticulture Section, was featured with other food activists in the June 16 edition of the Gastropod podcast, Dig for Victory. Gastropod looks at food through the lens of science and history. Each episode looks at the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec.

Dig for Victory podcast description:

You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.”

But what war is your pot of basil fighting? This episode, historian Anastasia Day helps us explore the history of urban gardening movements—and shatter some of the nostalgic myths about those original World War II-era Victory Gardens.

One thing is true: in 1943, more than 43 percent of the fresh produce eaten by all Americans came from Victory Gardens. So, can a combination of vegetable patches, community gardens, and urban farms help feed cities today? Or is growing food in the city just a feel-good distraction from the bigger problems in our food system? And does the hype about high-tech vertical farms live up to environmental and economic reality? Listen in as farmers and activists Leah Penniman and Tepfirah Rushdan, food writer Tamar Haspel, and researchers Neil Mattson and Raychel Santo help us dig in to the science on urban agriculture, and harvest some answers—as well as a tomato or two.


Research and teaching efforts lauded in CALS Magazine

multicolored chili pepper tomatoes

Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture, has been developing chili pepper tomatoes that come in seven different colors. His other edible inventions include a Galaxy Suite of heirloom tomatoes and new varieties of cabbage, kale and radishes. Photo: Isabel Branstrom.

In case you missed it, the Spring 2020 issue of CALS Magazine (.pdf version) is loaded with articles featuring innovative and impactful research and teaching efforts by faculty in the Horticulture Section and other faculty in the School of Integrative Plant Science:

Genetic ingenuity: What does it take to put produce on your plate? details how Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture, has been developing chili pepper tomatoes that come in seven different colors. His other edible inventions include a Galaxy Suite of heirloom tomatoes and new varieties of cabbage, kale and radishes. The story also tells how associate professor of plant breeding Michael Mazourek broke through the anonymity barrier to forge a new model for how unique vegetable varieties can gain more visibility by partnering with Manhattan chef Dan Barber and grower Matthew Goldfarb to co-found Row 7 Seed Company. Mazourek’s specialties include squash, peppers, cucumbers and snow peas. It also describes the successful releases of SnapDragon and RubyFrost apples from the breeding program of  Susan Brown through Crunch Time Apple Growers, a cooperative open to all growers in New York state.

‘Just Food’ course broadens students’ perspectives of food systems tells how Rachel Bezner Kerr, professor in the Department of Global Development, and Frank Rossi, associate professor of horticulture teamed up to create a course designed to challenge students’ perspectives of controversial and nuanced issues, such as meat production, genetically modified crops and prevailing malnutrition. The class regularly takes students to spaces where they can witness parts of the food production pipeline first-hand. “The excursions provided a tangible example of the global food system in diversity and scale,” says Rossi.

CALS strengthens NYC connections with new grant projects describes how Jenny Kao-Kniffin, associate professor of horticulture and Jonathan Russell-Anelli, senior lecturer and senior extension associate in the Soil and Crop Sciences Section built a team to create applied solutions to current challenges in urban agriculture, including food availability, individual and community health, environmental contamination and economic opportunity.

New specializations accelerate growth of MPS programs tells how Charles Gagne, MPS ’19 decided to switch career paths and found the CALS Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program to be the perfect catalyst. He graduated with a degree in horticulture and a specialization in controlled environment agriculture and recently landed an apprentice grower position at BrightFarms, a company based in the Hudson Valley.

Researchers develop market for East Coast broccoli updates the effort started in 2010 with the goal of growing a $100 million broccoli industry in the eastern United States in 10 years. Currently valued at around $90 million, researchers say they are on schedule to make their mission happen. One of the challenges stems from the fact that broccoli was originally cultivated for Mediterranean climates, so growing it in the Eastern U.S. confuses the plant’s developmental cues.  But over the years, Thomas Björkman, professor of horticulture and project director and his collaborators identified the genetic markers needed to grow a more uniform-looking plant in the Eastern climate.

Digital agriculture workshop highlights radical collaborations tells how associate professor of horticulture, Justine Vanden Heuvel and collaborators are developing soft robots armed with high-resolution sensors that perform ultrasounds on the growing grapes that can detect things like differences in sugar content, berry firmness and fungal spores of such dreaded pathogens downy mildew and powdery mildew.

Among the many answers to the question How can we protect New York state’s berry industry?,  professor of horticulture Marvin Pritts has been researching how to grow strawberries under low tunnels with stunning results, including extending the harvest season through November. He has also developed systems for growing delicate raspberries and blackberries in high tunnels. Associate professor of horticulture Courtney Weber  is working to develop varieties with the best combination of traits for New York and Northeast growers. “Cornell’s varieties are grown all over the world,” says Pritts. “The work we’re able to do for New York is significant, but it’s only part of the picture. People from all over come to us for information. The impact we’re able to have is really broad and wide and deep. ”


An inside look at LIHREC’s impatiens breeding program

CALS spotlight [2020-05-15]:

Horticulture Professor Mark Bridgen serves as the director of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, NY. There, the 68-acre facility is dedicated to providing research and extension services that support Long Island’s horticulture industries. In this video, Bridgen talks about his breeding work with the popular garden plant, impatiens, and discusses how plant tissue culture helps him develop new varieties—including ones resistant to downy mildew disease.

Crossing boundaries: Cornell’s thriving research ecosystem

This story originally appeared in the online-only spring 2020 issue of Ezra magazine.

spiral- shapped robotic moisture samplers in hands

Taryn Bauerle, associate professor of horticulture, holds three of the earthworm-shaped robots that she and a multidisciplinary team developed using a biomimicry approach. The robots, which will have attached water sensors to gather information from soil, can burrow into the ground, similar to earthworms, in a more natural manner and with less disruption than shoveling. (Photo: Lindsay France / Cornell University)

Taryn Bauerle had a problem.

Bauerle, associate professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS), studies how root systems respond to thirst. It’s a critical area of research: Better understanding roots will help breed new drought-resistant crops, which are sorely needed to meet the global challenges of climate change, food shortages and population growth.

But digging into the ground to observe roots inevitably disrupts their environment, disturbing microorganisms and fungi, and even risks cutting into the roots themselves.

For years, Bauerle tried to work around the limitations of existing tools. Last year, while brainstorming with Johannes Lehmann, professor of soil sciences in SIPS, she had a different idea. “We quickly realized we needed a new approach,” she says, “and then we thought: Why not use biomimicry to develop some new tools?”

Bauerle and Shepherd

Bauerle, right, with Robert Shepherd, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, in Upson Hall.

The team, which now includes researchers in SIPS and the College of Engineering, is developing earthworm-shaped robots that can burrow into the soil with minimal disturbance. The project received a grant from the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture, which supports radical collaborations aimed at solving agri-food challenges. “Nature has been trying to solve problems for a long time, so we’re copying what nature is already improving,” Bauerle says.

The robots, designed by Robert Shepherd, associate professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will be equipped with water-detecting sensors designed by Abraham Stroock ’95, the Gordon L. Dibble Professor and William C. Hooey Director of the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Lehmann will explore new ways to measure soil carbon forms, and Michael Gore, Ph.D. ’09, associate professor of molecular breeding and genetics for plant quality, a Liberty Hyde Bailey professor and international professor of plant breeding and genetics, will work on initial phenotyping characterizations, to help measure plants’ properties in real time.

“It couldn’t be a better team,” says Bauerle, who brings her own expertise in root systems and below-ground plant growth. “Cornell makes it so easy to just go knock on other faculty’s doors, and everybody is always very welcoming. The innate culture that we have on this campus is that people look forward to crossing boundaries and trying new things. And I think that’s why we succeed.”

Read the whole article.

Mass flower bulb plantings blooming soon

Visitors to these plantings must strictly observe social distancing by maintaining six feet from others, no groups of any size, refrain from interacting with staff and exercise all necessary precautions to prevent spread of COVID-19.

daffodils along bioswale

Dominant bulbs in the planting along the bioswale near the Nevins Center shifts from daffodils in late April …

alliums in bioswale planting

to alliums in late May.

From Bill Miller, director of Cornell’s Flower Bulb Research Program, and Professor Horticulture Section, School of Integrative Plant Science.

There’s nothing like blooming flower bulbs to lift your spirits during trying times.

Since 2017, Cornell’s Flower Bulb Research Program has installed numerous mass plantings of spring-flowering bulbs around Ithaca that will be blooming soon. We made these plantings as a way of generating interest in a novel machine that makes it easy to plant thousands of bulbs directly into turfgrass.  You can see the machine in action in these videos from 2017 (Bulb planting made easy) and 2018 (8,000 bulbs planted in 11 minutes).

The backbone of most of these plantings are deer-resistant daffodils, which are great perennials and will last for many years. We selected other species to provide foraging opportunities for pollinators.

The plantings also reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they cannot be mowed until early June after the bulb foliage has withered.

We’ve installed other, much larger plantings with public and private partners on Long Island, and increasingly, throughout the state.

Plantings in Ithaca include:

Several locations in Cornell Botanical Gardens:

  • A one-meter wide strip along the edge of the bioswale near Nevin Center parking lot off Arboretum Road. Mixed bulbs from Crocus to Allium.
  • R. Newmann Arboretum. From Caldwell Road, turn into the arboretum, park in area to the left.  Planting is a double row going up the rise into the meadow.  Allium and Nectaroscordum bulbs flower in June, attracting an amazing density of bees and other pollinators).
  • A strip in front of the McClintock Shed on Arboretum Road includes later-flowering Camassia

Other locations:

  • In front of the Foundation Seed Barn near the intersection of Rt. 366 and Game Farm Road. Five strips each featuring a different mix.
  • Along the north side of Rt. 366 between Guterman Greenhouses and Triticum Drive. Mixed planting of tulips, daffodils, Crocus and others.
  • Newman Golf Course along Pier Road and the walking path. A very long strip with mixed planting of daffodils, Crocus, Scilla, Muscari, and Alliums.

Kumar receives Atkinson Center award

Shanthanu Krishna Kumar

Shanthanu Krishna Kumar

Shanthanu Krishna Kumar, a Ph.D. student in Greg Peck‘s lab, received a 2020 Sustainable Biodiversity Fund award from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Shanthanu’s research goals involve enhancing biodiversity in cider apple production by increasing the concentration of polyphenols and micronutrients which were more plentiful in older cider apple cultivars.

With support from Sustainable Biodiversity Fund, Shanthanu plans to identify genetic markers for polyphenolic compounds which will speed development of new cultivars for the burgeoning cider market.

The Sustainable Biodiversity Fund  supports innovative research by Cornell graduate students and postdoctoral researchers on the most pressing questions in protecting biodiversity.

Kao-Kniffin Lab featured in Cornell Research

kao kniffin and lab staff with soil samples

The work of Jenny Kao-Kniffin and her team is featured in an article on the Cornell Research website, Ecosystems of Plant Roots and Soils.

Kao-Kniffin’s groundbreaking studies look at the effect of manipulating the bacteria, fungi, and soil that surround plant roots, and how that manipulation can help control weeds and increase crop yields.

“I think this way of modifying the ecosystem by altering microbiome functions has a lot of potential in the future. We need to get away from this routine of relying on genetically modified crops and their paired herbicides,” she says.

Read the whole article.

Grant funds high-tech system to improve grapevine pruning

vanden heuval with drone in vineyard

Cornell Chronicle [2020-02-26]:

Researchers from Cornell and Pennsylvania State University are developing a high-tech, portable imaging system that will increase profits and yields by making winter grapevine pruning more efficient.

The research is possible thanks to a grant from the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Program. The award begins this year with $for year 1; the grant will be renewed each year, dependent on progress, for up to three years and $160,000 total.

“We hope to have a thermal and multispectral imaging system that a grower can attach to an all-terrain vehicle, drive through their vineyard, and it will produce a map of live and dead buds that then can be used to guide their pruning practices,” said Justine Vanden Heuvel, the project’s principal investigator and professor of viticulture at Cornell AgriTech.

In the Northeast, cold damage to buds is a major issue for grape growers. Winter and spring warming followed by sudden severe cold can kill buds, as vines lose their cold hardiness after a warming spell. In years with large temperature swings, bud mortality can reach 90%.

“We have to really understand what the mortality level is in different parts of the vineyard to guide the pruning practices, because pruning is one of the viticulturist’s most important roles,” Vanden Heuvel said. “It determines shoot number and then determines the yield as a function of that.”

Read the whole article.

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