The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s new research center encompasses 24 acres in the ­Willamette Valley of northwestern Oregon. The hope is that plants developed there will survive Minnesota winters.

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Minnesota Landscape Arboretum gains new research site

  • Article by: Elizabeth Hustad
  • Star Tribune
  • March 1, 2014 - 5:21 PM

A recently acquired research site in Oregon could eventually bring some new species of plants to Minnesota.

The research site, 24 acres of “test gardens” in Oregon’s coastal Willamette Valley, will aid research on hardy landscape plants with the goal of introducing them to Minnesota and its harsh winter climate.

The Landscape Plant Development Center, a Minnesota-based nonprofit, transferred ownership of the research site to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in mid-December.

“The existing plants we had available [at the arboretum] couldn’t make it through the winter,” said Peter Moe, director of research and operations manager for the arboretum. “We inherited a lot of plants that might be good for Minnesota [that are] now growing out in Oregon.”

Much of the arboretum’s research, which is primarily run out of its Horticultural Research Center in Chanhassen, is focused on breeding hybrid plants to withstand temperatures as low as minus 47 degrees, according to information posted on the arboretum’s website.

That research eventually brought azaleas to Minnesota, Moe said; the arboretum has now introduced 13 varieties of the lights azalea to the state.

“The whole idea is to expand the [kinds of] plants available to get a greater diversity,” Moe said, explaining that more diversity of flora would not only improve landscapes aesthetically but also, through virtue of the new plants having different hardy characteristics, would help prevent a widespread disease from wiping out entire landscapes.

The Oregon site, transferred gratis to the arboretum after the dissolution of the Landscape Plant Development Center, will be cultivated under the curatorship of the University of Minnesota’s Steve McNamara.

The ninebarks shrub, with its bulbous patches of pale, tiny, tightly-clustered flowers; the hornbeam plant, with its crenulated leaves, and the weigela bush, which for some varieties can become a 10-foot mass of rosy flowers that as they flourish allow little of the green leaf underneath to show through, are only a few of the things researchers are looking to introduce to Minnesota.

The Landscape Arboretum, a $10.3 million nonprofit operation during its most recent fiscal year, is an outgrowth of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. It is the state’s largest public garden, comprising some 1,100 acres of gardens and maintaining the 230-acre research center.

The arboretum had its genesis in the research center, which sowed the seeds for the arboretum’s extensive gardens in 1908.

Research at the center started with breeding apples for a hardiness that wouldn’t falter through long, brutal winters. Since then the center has yielded more than 90 different fruits, including the much-coveted Haralson apple, a relic from 1923, and the more recent Honeycrisp.

Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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