Rhododendron Research Foundation, Three Decades and the Whole Nine Yards
Karel Bernady, Vice-chairman, Research Committee
Chester Springs, Pennsylvania
Harold Sweetman, Chairman, Research Committee
Jenkins Arboretum, Devon, Pennsylvania
The Research Foundation of the American Rhododendron Society is entering its fourth decade of supporting research on the genus Rhododendron. Since its formation in 1976 the Foundation has funded 121 projects. This review examines the variety and scope of these projects. The diverse interests and curiosity of ARS members are reflected in the projects selected for funding. Future grants will continue to mirror growth in our understanding of the genus Rhododendron and in the development of the technologies that help define this terrific group of plants.
Formation - In 1976 the Research Foundation was established with the signing of a Trust Agreement between the American Rhododendron Society and the Foundation's six original trustees. The purposes of the Foundation were to devote and apply the property of the trust for promoting and financing research projects relating to the introduction, production, cultivation, maintenance, improvement, propagation, and dissemination of azaleas and rhododendrons. Funding of the Trust was initiated the same year at the Annual Meeting of the Society in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. August (Augie) Kehr and Alfred (Al) Martin recorded the history of the Research Foundation's formation and listed the Pioneer Donors at that Annual Meeting (1).
Current structure - The Foundation continues today to function as it was originally established. The Board of Directors of the ARS exercises oversight of the Foundation through appointment of its six trustees. The Society president is the seventh trustee. Henry (Hank) Schannen is currently chairman of the Board of Trustees. Growth of trust funds and determination of funding to support research are major responsibilities of the Trustees. The Foundation reports to the Board of Directors of the ARS.
The Research Committee has responsibility for approving grants for research that conform with the goals of the Trust Agreement. The committee accepts proposals throughout the year and meets to select those for funding generally at the time of the Annual Meeting of the ARS. Harold Sweetman chairs this function and is supported by nine ARS members. The members have scientific backgrounds and experience in scientific research. The Committee reports to the Board of Directors of the ARS its research funding activities.
The definition of research under the auspices of the Research Foundation is purposely very broad and many subjects are highlighted on the ARS website www.rhododendron.org/researchgrants. Proposals are evaluated with two criteria: success and value. Committee members individually review each research proposal on its probability of success, high, uncertain and low, and on its probable value to ARS members, high, uncertain and low. The evaluator then ranks the proposals and the results are compiled for the meeting of the Research Committee. At that time the merits of the proposals are discussed along with the criteria above. The committee makes a final determination with recommendations for funding to the Foundation Trustees and informs the successful submitters through the treasurer of the Research Foundation. Funding occurs upon acceptance of an executed Memorandum of Agreement between the researcher and the Research Foundation of the ARS. Projects accepted are published in the Journal American Rhododendron Society and on the Society's website at www.rhododendron.org/granthistory.
Hank Schannen, current Chairman of the Research Foundation, Franklin West,
one of the six original trustees establishing the Research Foundation,
and Harold Sweetman, Chairman of the Research Committee,
gathered to reflect on the objectives and future of ARS supported research.
Number of grants awarded - Since the formation of the Research Foundation, 121 projects have been approved for funding. The number of projects accepted in each of the three decades from 1976 has been 43 (1977-1986), 45 (1987-1996), and 30 (1997-2006). The start of the fourth decade in 2007 saw three proposals granted. The decline in projects in the third decade does not reflect a lack of interest in applicants, but rather a conscious effort of the Foundation in 2000 to support proposals with greater funding.
Survey of grants - What kind of research does the Research Foundation support? On its website the ARS publishes broad categories of research identified by members as being of interest. These classifications stem in part to the grouping by Augie Kehr of research projects sponsored by ARS in his review of the first decade of the Foundation (2). Using these categories, all the sponsored projects have been assigned to one or more groupings based upon the content of their proposals. The table below shows the areas of research for all projects approved. Not surprisingly, more than a fifth of all the projects have dealt with pest control. Gardens and nurseries are prone to attacks on their rhododendrons on both the micro and macro scales. The Foundation has sponsored eight projects on control of phytophthora alone, as well as research on petal blight, powdery mildew (3), azalea dieback, and stem rot. Insect control, such as of rhododendron stem borer, black vine weevil (4), root weevil and lace bug, has garnered support. Representative publications in the Journal ARS of completed projects are noted.
RESEARCH CATEGORY PROJECTS Botanical Research 17 Breeding Research 7 Cultural Research 9 Cytological and Genetical Research 19 Fertilization Practices 7 Pest Control Research 27 Physiological Research 21 Propagation Research 14 Review Papers and Popular Publications 8 Other Areas of Research 7
Exploration of species leads botanical research proposals that have been approved. In North America finding superior and unusual forms of R. macrophyllum (5), maximum, minus and native deciduous azaleas has drawn support. One fruitful area has been the mapping of R. macrophyllum in its distribution in the west (6). In the far larger regions of the world where species reside, mapping of R. arboreum ssp. nilagiricum in India and collection of vireya in Indonesia have been supported (7). In other projects determination of essential oils in rhododendron scales and identification of Taliensia rhododendrons using their leaf waxes also were funded.
Breeding of cold hardy rhododendrons has led this area of research with the development of the Northern Lights azaleas (8). Sexual compatibility of vireya with other rhododendron series was supported (9). The Foundation has accepted proposals for breeding polyploid rhododendrons and azaleas and for utilizing allopolyploid azaleodendrons for breeding superior, cold hardy, fragrant, evergreen rhododendrons.
Cultural studies approved include determining the sensitivity of azaleas to simulated acidic fog, the adaptability of evergreen rhododendrons to the climatic conditions of the Great Plains, and evaluation of landscape performance of evergreen azalea cultivars in the South. The use of growth regulators to control flowering and plant habit of a vireya hybrid was supported (10). Contributing to our understanding of the effects of growing rhododendrons on limestone soils also drew backing (11).
Cytological and genetical research has attracted considerable interest and proposals. In addition to the classic study of the relationship of one rhododendron to another based upon plant morphology, relatedness may be studied on their chromosome levels and now on their molecular DNA basis. Towards this end the Foundation has supported research in determining chromosome counts of deciduous azaleas, investigation into the doubling of chromosomes, and the use of flow cytometry to measure ploidy level variation in rhododendrons. DNA fingerprinting has been the subject of several projects including using DNA sequences to estimate evolutionary relationships among rhododendrons and azaleas (12). In a related manner use of enzymes to fingerprint rhododendron hybrid cultivars has been supported (13). Additional projects in this category include a study of gene transfer by introducing selected DNA into evergreen azalea cultivars and the manipulation of chromosome counts for genetic improvement of rhododendrons. A genetic study of the freezing tolerance of a rhododendron hybrid followed on by the mapping of genes that confer cold hardiness gained funding.
Fertilization practices have been topics of several approved studies. Influence on flower bud formation of rhododendrons by nitrogen nutrition and by phosphorous in different fertilizer formulations have been granted. Nutrient deficiency symptoms on an elepidote were explored (14). Improving fertilizer and water use efficiency of container-grown plants is currently under study.
Physiological research grants approved mainly are associated with the effects of mycorrhizal fungi, cold, and growth stimulants and retardants. With the understanding that mycorrhizal fungi associate with rhododendrons, the benefits of those relationships are sought. Grants have been approved to examine the nature of the interaction of mycorrhizal fungi with rhododendron shoots derived from tissue culture and to use an ericoid mycorrhizal fungus to improve rooting and acclimation of difficult-to-root cultivars (15). Cold hardiness studies of flower buds (16), on winter leaf curling (17), on the mechanism of acclimation, and on deacclimation were supported. The mechanism for winter photo-protection is being explored. Projects have been endorsed to control flower initiation of vireya (10) and to stimulate growth of deciduous azalea cuttings following rooting. Currently under study is the decline of Rhododendron maximum in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Propagation research support was given to several tissue culture proposals and various treatments to improve rooting of rhododendrons. Development of basic procedures and application to specific rhododendrons were granted. The use of leaf explants in tissue culture was successfully utilized to produce PJM Group plants (18). Investigations into the cause and prevention of tissue proliferation were supported. Methods to improve rooting through use of chemical growth regulators, humic acid, mycorrhizal fungus (15), and stock plant etiolation (19) were sponsored.
Various activities have been supported in the category of Review Papers and Popular Publications. Chief among these are projects for the development of databases for hybrid rhododendrons, both in print and in digital format.
The Foundation has approved other projects, for which the development of test gardens or their expansion to evaluate rhododendrons are noteworthy. These include establishment of a vireya species collection at the Lyon Arboretum at the University of Hawaii, on Oahu Island, the testing of evergreen rhododendrons influenced by landscape exposure at the Kansas State University Horticulture Research Center at Wichita, field testing of evergreen azaleas for landscape performance at the Piedmont Substation in Camp Hill of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, and a rhododendron cold hardiness trial and display garden at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Institutions/individuals - The Rhododendron Research Foundation is open to accept from any source proposals for research, which meet its objectives. Of the 121 projects funded, two thirds (81) have come from educational institutions, where research is an important mission. Of the remaining grants given, Experimental Stations and Centers have received 16, arboreta 9, and individual ARS members and nurseries, 15. Well-written and logical proposals are essential. For those with limited or no experience in writing research proposal, take courage from the comments of Bob Ross under "The Application" in the Journal (20).
Venue - Most of the research proposals have been submitted by institutions and ARS members residing in the United States. Ten projects have sponsors outside of the U.S. These include five projects initiated in Scotland, two in Australia, and one each in India, Ireland and Russia. In a similar manner, most of the research activities are conducted within the countries of the grantees. Five projects have significant work performed outside the locations of the sponsors themselves, namely, within China, Indonesia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Poland.
Publications - One requirement for accepting a grant from the Research Foundation is that results of the project must be published in the Journal American Rhododendron Society. The journal has a review panel for acceptance of all research papers. Even if the research results are not published in the Journal, an abstract or summary of the work is still required. To date, the approved grants have generated 62 papers published in the Journal. Additionally, two books, Rhododendron in China, and a Compendium of Rhododendron and Azalea Diseases, resulted from support given by the Foundation. Rhododendron and Azalea Research: A Database of 1000 Citations with Brief Abstracts (Vol. One), Rhododendron and Azalea Research: A Database of 800 Citations with Brief Abstracts (Vol. Two) and Rhododendron Hybrids on CD also received funding (21).
Endowment Fund - An Endowment Fund was established at the time the Research Foundation was incorporated to serve the funding of ARS research activities. The fund has grown to over $280,000. Investment income from this source provides the money for projects approved by the Research Committee. Contributions to the Research Foundation go to the principal of the endowment and are not used directly for research expenditures (22).
Two subsidiary research funds were established in 1999 to tackle specific needs. One fund is dedicated for research on petal blight and the second for powdery mildew fungal disease. Donations to these reserves do not go to the principal of the endowment, but will be applied directly to research expenditures for the specific disease, when sufficient levels are accumulated. Donations to the Foundation should specify either of these special funds or the endowment fund.
How to support rhododendron research - Research is very expensive. Although grants are modest, up to $5,000, they offer important supplemental funds for larger projects and seed money for starting research. In order to continue research, the Foundation depends on support from Chapters and individuals through gifts, donations and bequests. Remember, your donations remain part of the restricted endowment and only the earnings will be used to fund research.
Acknowledgements - We acknowledge Franklin West, one of the six original trustees of the Research Foundation, for sharing the history and vision of the organization. We also thank Hank Schannen for his stewardship of the Research Foundation and his unwavering support and interest in its success. A hearty "Thank you" goes out to the chapters and individuals, who make regular or special contributions to the Research Foundation. We have so much more to learn about the wonderful world of rhododendrons.
1. Kehr, August E. and Alfred S. Martin. 2001. A history of the ARS Research Foundation. J. Amer. Rhod. Soc. 55(2):95-97.
2. Kehr, August E. 1987. What has ARS research done for you? J. Amer. Rhod. Soc. 41(4):209-212.
3. Basden, Nicholas and Stephen Helfer. 1995. World survey of rhododendron powdery mildews. J. Amer. Rhod. Soc. 49(3):147-156.
4. Cowles, Richard S. 1995. Black vine weevil biology and management. J. Amer. Rhod. Soc. 49(2):83-85, 94-97; 2003. Practical black vine weevil management. 57(4):219-221, 224.
5. Boge, Dallas. 1986. The Ross-Boge rhododendron macrophyllum expedition. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 40(2):62-65; 1987. The Ross-Boge rhododendron macrophyllum expedition, 1986. 41(2):62-65, 106; 1988. The Ross-Boge rhododendron macrophyllum expedition – 1987. 42(3):162-166.
6. Clark, Clarice. 1999. Mapping rhododendron macrophyllum in the Wind River area of Washington State. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 53(2):99-104; 2002. Western North American species project, mapping rhododendron macrophyllum on Whidbey and Cypress Islands, Washington State. 56(1):2-6.
7. Craven, Lyn A., Gillian K. Brown, and Lina S. Juswara. 2005. Collection of rhododendron section vireya in Sulawesi, Indonesia for studies into their evolutionary relationships and biogeography. J. Amer. Rhod. Soc. 59(4):195-201.
8. Moe, Susan and Harold Pellett. 1986. Breeding for cold hardy azaleas in the land of the northern lights. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 40(3):158-161.
9. Rouse, J.L., E.G. Williams and R.B. Knox. 1988. A vireya azaleodendron in flower. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 42(3):133-137, 166-167; Rouse, J. and Os Blumhardt. 1991. ‘Little Pioneer': a vireya-rhododendron hybrid. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 45(1)6-12; Rouse, J.L., E.G. Williams and R.B. Knox. 1991. The flowering of rhododendron ‘Arthur's Choice' x R. ovatum: a vireya x evergreen azalea hybrid. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 45(4):218-226; Rouse, J.L., R.B. Knox and E.G. Williams. 1993. Inter- and intraspecific pollinations involving rhododendron species. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 47(1):23-28, 40-45.
10. Criley, Richard A. 2000. Growth regulators in the control of flowering in a vireya rhododendron hybrid. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 54(2):64-69.
11. McAleese, Anthony J. and David W.H. Rankin. 2000. Growing rhododendrons on limestone soils: is it really possible? J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 54(3):126-134.
12. Kron, Kathleen A. 1998. Using DNA sequences to estimate evolutionary relationships among rhododendrons and azaleas. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 52(2):70-72.
13. Krebs, Stephen L. 1995. Enzyme fingerprinting of rhododendron cultivars. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 49(4):210-215.
14. Jolley, Von D. and Tim D. Davis. 1990. Nutrient deficiency symptoms in rhododendron. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 44(2):76-77.
15. Starrett, Mark C., David A. Heleba and Adam R. Wheeler. 2003. Use of an ericoid mycorrhizal fungus to improve rooting and acclimation of difficult-to-root cultivars of rhododendron. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 57(2):66-71.
16. Pellett, Harold, Susan Moe and Wayne Mezitt. 1986. Flower bud hardiness of rhododendron taxa. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 40(4):203-205.
17. Nilsen, E.T. and Athena Tolbert. 1993. Does winter leaf curling confer cold stress tolerance in rhododendron? J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 47(2):98-104.
18. Preece, John E., Miles R. Imel and A. Shevade. 1993. Regeneration of rhododendron PJM group plants from leaf explants. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 47(2):68-71.
19. Maynard, Brian K. and Nina L. Bassuk. 1991. The application of stock plant etiolation and stem banding to the softwood cutting propagation of indumented rhododendron species. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 45(4):186-190.
20. Ross, Bob. 1986. The application. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 40(2):64.
21. Salley, Homer E. 1992. 1000 citations to rhododendron & azalea research, a printed database. J. Am. Rhod. Soc. 46(3)167-168; 2000. CD rom of hybrid rhododendrons. 54(1):14.
22. Schannen, Hank. 1994. Rhododendron research and the role of the ARS. J. Amer. Rhod. Soc. 48(3):153, 157; 1999. Research Foundation addresses petal blight, powdery mildew problems. 53(3):154.
The Research Foundation of the ARS is 501 (c) 3 not for profit and contributions qualify for income tax deductions.