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Hort alums named to GPN ‘Forty Under 40’

Cheni Filios

Cheni Filios

Two alumni from the Graduate Field of Horticulture were named to Greenhouse Produce New’s 2019 Forty under 40.

Cheni Filios (M.S. ’14) is now Global Product Manager for Vegetables at PanAmerican Seed Co.  Since joining the team there, she has helped to double the company’s product portfolio and sales.  While at Cornell, she also received the Frederick Dreer Award, which she used to study post-havest horticulture in New Zealand and Europe.

Ockert Greyvenstein

Ockert Greyvenstein

Ockert Greyvenstein (M.S. ’09) is now a plant breeder, also at PanAmerican Seed Co.  There, he’s helped get the male-sterile patent approved for the company’s vinca breeding program and has been instrumental in the program’s trialing, evaluation, test production and ultimate product selection. He has also been active mentoring college interns in the company’s breeding program to create an exciting, meaningful and educational experiences.

Both were advised by Bill Miller, director of Cornell’s Flower Bulb Research Program.

Commencement videos

If you missed the festivities this weekend — or want to relive them — you can view videos of the Class of 2019 Undergraduate Recognition Ceremony (recognizing students receiving degrees in Agricultural Sciences and Plant Sciences May 26) and the 2019 Graduate Degree Ceremony (recognizing students receiving MPS, MS and PhD students from each of the five graduate fields within SIPS).

New book a how-to for bringing stressed students to nature

Nature Rx coverCALS News, Cornell Chronicle [2019-05-22]:

Nearly two in three U.S. college students reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, according to a 2018 report from the American College Health Association.

While there’s no simple solution, copious scientific evidence backs up the notion that even short, semi-regular exposure to parks, gardens and other natural spaces can help with stress and depression.

A new book co-written by Don Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, explores ways schools can use those spaces to address the problem.

Rakow has teamed up with co-author Greg Eells, formerly the director of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services, to write “Nature Rx: Improving College-Student Mental Health,” which came out May 15.

“It’s basically a how-to manual for college administrators, faculty and staff,” said Rakow, one of the forces behind the NatureRx@Cornell program. “The goal is to get a group of people at a school to come together to support a time-in-nature program for students.”

With its gorges, Botanic Garden and other natural areas, Cornell is well-known as one of the nation’s most beautiful campuses. But it’s far from unique in terms of natural beauty. “Every school,” Rakow said, “even urban campuses, has access to green spaces.”

Cornell serves as a case study in the book, along with three other schools. But Rakow said there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “Each campus has to develop the sort of nature Rx program that best fits their school,” he said.

See also What the Woods Do for Stressed Students, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 21, 2019.


Toxicology expert Donald Lisk dies at 88




By Krishna Ramanujan. Cornell Chronicle | CALS news [2019-05-09]:

Donald J. Lisk, M.S. ’54, Ph.D. ’56, professor emeritus of soil chemistry and toxicology and a champion of graduate education, died April 27. He was 88.

A former director of Cornell’s Toxic Chemicals Laboratory, Lisk was known for his work analyzing pesticides – including DDT – in soils, plants and animals; the toxic effects of chemicals on occupationally exposed populations; and the effects of diet on inhibiting cancer.

“Although Don was primarily a researcher, he was committed to graduate students and, upon his retirement, left a substantial amount of unrestricted funds to the Department of Horticulture to support graduate education,” said Marvin Pritts, professor of horticulture. “Don was always willing to take time to learn about what others were doing and share exciting findings from his own work.”

Read the whole article.

Online organic gardening course starts June 1

Registration is now open for Organic Gardening one of the online courses offered by the Horticulture Section in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

Raised bed vegetable gardenOrganic Gardening is designed to help new gardeners get started and help experienced gardeners broaden their understanding of organic techniques for all kinds of gardens.

Starting with a strong foundation in soil health and its impact on plant health, the course then explores tried-and-true and cutting-edge techniques for all different kinds of garden plants including food plants, trees and shrubs and lawn.

Participants read assigned essays and book excerpts, participate in online group discussions with other students, complete reflective writing/design work and take part in some hands-on activities. Most students spend about 5 hours each week with the content, though there are always ample resources and opportunity to do more.

View more information and full course syllabus for Organic Gardening.

Questions about either course? View FAQ or contact, Fiona Doherty:

Horticulture honor society inducts 27 new members

pax key

Phi Alpha Xi key

From Mark Bridgen, Professor and Pi Alpha Xi advisor:

Pi Alpha Xi (PAX), the national honor society for horticulture, inducted  a near-record 27 new members at an April 30, 2019 ceremony held in the H. H. Whetzel Room in the Plant Science Building on the Cornell University campus. Only the best students in the plant sciences are invited to join this national honor society.

Pi Alpha Xi was founded in 1923 at Cornell University and Cornell is the Alpha Chapter. Originally, it was the national honor society for floriculture, landscape horticulture and ornamental horticulture. In recent years it has changed and now honors excellence in all aspects of horticulture.

Since its founding, PAX has grown to 39 chapters at baccalaureate-granting institutions. Its mission is to promote scholarship, fellowship, professional leadership, and the enrichment of human life through plants. PAX was very active at Cornell University for many years, peaking in the 1970s. But the chapter went dormant for several years until its revival in 2013.

PAX inductees and officers with advisors  Neil Mattson (back left) and Mark Bridgen (right).

PAX inductees and officers with advisors Neil Mattson (back left) and Mark Bridgen (right).


Graduating PAX seniors received their honor cords.

Graduating PAX seniors received their honor cords.


Attendees at the PAX ceremony.

Attendees at the PAX ceremony.




Cornell researchers win major awards from cider industry

Greg Peck working at Cornell Orchards. Peck, assistant professor in the horitculture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science,  and Chris Gerling, extension associate in the food science department, both recently received major awards from the cider industry. Photo by Sasha Israel

Greg Peck working at Cornell Orchards. Peck, assistant professor in the horitculture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science,  and Chris Gerling, extension associate in the food science department, both recently received major awards from the cider industry. Photo by Sasha Israel

Erin Flynn, CALS News [2019-04-19]

Hard cider is a fast-growing segment in the U.S. fermented beverage industry, and New York’s position as a leader in craft beverage production and expertise is paving the way for cider producers to succeed.

“The burgeoning craft beverage industry in New York state has helped create a lot of applicable resources and expertise for cider makers,” said Ian Merwin, M.S. ’88, Ph.D. ’90, owner of Black Diamond Cider and Cornell professor emeritus of plant science. “We can get bottles and equipment from well-established companies in the area. We have the legislative support we need and Cornell experts like Chris Gerling and Greg Peck to help us every step of the way.”

Merwin notes that the benefit of cider makers working with both Gerling, extension associate in the Department of Food Science, and Peck, assistant professor in the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, is that they can gain expertise on both ends of the spectrum—when growing the cider apples and when making the cider itself.

Recently Gerling and Peck received major awards from the cider industry. Gerling was given the Apple of Appreciation award from the New York Cider Association (NYCA), and Peck was chosen as the Grower Advocate of the Year by the U.S. Association of Cider Makers (USACM).

Chris Gerling, who began his career offering extension expertise in the field of enology, found a natural transition into hard cider extension work. Wine and cider have many similarities, including the types of yeast used and the effect of climate, soils and terrain on the overall flavor profile.

“Chris has distinguished himself as being fully invested in improving the quality and profitability of cider made in New York and beyond,” said Jenn Smith, NYCA executive director. “He is as curious as he is knowledgeable, and in particular has been central in NYCA’s work to tackle the challenges of measuring and communicating the tricky concept of dryness to drinkers. We are grateful and lucky to have him as a partner in our work of developing a sustainable, excellent cider industry in our region.”

Greg Peck’s research explores ways to increase the quantity and quality of New York–grown cider apples, including best practices for fertilizer, crop load and harvest management. Peck also helps cider makers select varieties that will work best for high-quality and flavorful cider.

Michelle McGrath, executive director of the USACM, said the organization’s members overwhelmingly voted for Peck to receive the Grower Advocate of the Year award.

“His advocacy for cider at Cornell and his research collaborations with the industry are important for expanding our knowledge of growing cider apples. We know so little about propagating cider-specific varieties in the U.S., and Greg is such a valuable resource for cider makers looking to use specific apple varieties.”

While hard cider makers have many valuable resources in New York, the recent awards for Gerling and Peck underscore the fact that producers value experts who can help them piece together the many components that equate to a high-quality end product.

To learn more about Cornell’s hard cider research and outreach efforts, visit:

Online botanical illustration courses start May 28

Hellebore watercolor by Marcia Eames-Sheavly

Learn botanical illustration online.  Three courses taught by Marcia Eames-Sheavly start May 29, 2018:

You can view works by students in previous classes on display in the cases in the west wing of the first floor of Plant Science Building. The course webpages also have links to previous students who have posted their works online.

‘Urban Eden’ students put a price tag on trees for Arbor Day

Nina Bassuk and students tag a tree outside Roberts Hall.

Nina Bassuk and students tag a tree outside Roberts Hall.

What’s a tree worth?

In what has become an annual tradition, students in Creating the Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment (HORT/LA 4910/4920) are helping to make people more aware of why trees are worth hugging by hanging bright green “price tags” on trunks around the Ag Quad.

The students entered data about the trees, such as species, diameter and location, into i-Tree — a state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software suite from the USDA Forest Service. The application then calculates monetary benefits from reduced stormwater runoff, improved air quality,  carbon dioxide sequestration and energy savings to nearby buildings by blocking wind in winter and providing shade in summer.

“It’s really quite eye-opening for people who think that trees are just nice to look at and don’t have any other value,” said Nina Bassuk, professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, who leads the class alongside Zac Rood, lecturer in the Department of Landscape Architecture.

There are also benefits that are not easily quantified, such as wildlife habitats and emotional responses, added Bassuk, who is also director of the Urban Horticulture Institute.

Students tagging oaks in front of Mann Library

Tagging an oak on the Ag Quad

Tagging a red oak.

Tagging a Kentucky coffeetree

Tagging Katsura tree outside Mann Library

Raymond Fox ’47, emeritus professor of floriculture, dies at 96

Ray Fox

Ray Fox

Cornell Chronicle [2019-04-10]

Raymond T. Fox ’47, M.S. ’52, Ph.D. ’56, professor emeritus of floriculture and ornamental horticulture and renowned for his elaborate campus floral displays and floriculture expertise, died March 31 in Ithaca, New York. He was 96.

Fox was born Aug. 31, 1922, in Corning, New York, the son of Joseph and Marie Hauer Fuchs. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Fox began his Cornell career as an instructor in the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture the same year. He subsequently earned his master’s and doctorate, also at Cornell, and was promoted to full professor in 1979, serving until his retirement in 1987.

His late wife Vera ’48, who died in 2009, was also an accomplished horticulturist.

Fox was legendary for tirelessly organizing and leading brigades of volunteers to set up floral displays at campus events, even after his retirement.

In his address at the university’s 129th Commencement in 1997, then-university president Hunter R. Rawlings III paid him tribute: “[This] Commencement represents the 50th year that Professor Fox, with help from an enthusiastic band of volunteers, has coordinated the floral arrangements for Commencement Weekend. For 50 years, his has been truly a labor of love.”

Equally spectacular were Fox’s holiday decorations at Sage Chapel, which often included elaborate, tree-like poinsettia arrangements.

“He was a superb floral designer – both in composition of a single piece as well as grand displays,” said Professor Emeritus Tom Weiler, former chair of the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture. Fox was a key figure at the now-defunct New York Flower Show and the iconic spring flower display at Macy’s department store in New York City.

Sketch from program from Fox's retirement celebration in 1987.

Sketch from program from Fox’s retirement celebration in 1987.

To appreciate Fox’s contributions requires an understanding of how the floriculture industry has changed since its heyday, Weiler said.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, you never saw ‘in lieu of flowers’ on funeral announcements,” he said. “Elaborate floral arrangements were essential at most every social occasion from weddings and funerals to dances and other public functions.

“The emphasis was on locally produced flowers,” Weiler said. “Cut flowers were a much larger segment of New York’s greenhouse production, and Ray was the center of Cornell’s support of retail florists.”

Fox’s academic pursuits focused on teaching and outreach. He taught popular courses in floral design and retail flower store management. “He bled Cornell red and trained generations of florists,” said Bill Miller, professor of horticulture and director of Cornell’s Flower Bulb Research Program.

Fox often spoke to florist organizations, garden clubs and county Cornell Cooperative Extension audiences. He authored or co-authored many popular consumer publications, including “The Selection, Care, and Use of Plants in the Home” and “Techniques for Propagation of Plants for Interior Decoration.”

He also devoted time to community service, developing horticulture therapy programs at local senior centers, leading international garden tours and holding leadership positions in the Liberty Hyde Bailey Garden Club.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete and will be announced.

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