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NextGen Steps in at The Southern Plant Conference

14 Aug 2017 11:37 AM | Karen Summers (Administrator)

NextGen Steps in at The Southern Plant Conference
Dr. Richard Olsen and Dr. Thomas Molnar to take the lead in 2018 
as chair and co-chair, respectively.


Atlanta, Ga., August 14, 2017 –
The Southern Nursery Association (SNA) has announced that Dr. Richard Olsen, U.S. National Arboretum Director, and Dr. Thomas Molnar, Rutgers University Associate Professor, will take the lead with The Southern Plant Conference for 2018 as chair and co-chair, respectively. Olsen and Molnar follow in the footsteps of Dr. Michael Dirr and Don Shadow, two world-renown plantsmen who have been the driving forces behind the conference and its programming for many years.

Dr. Michael Dirr, retired University of Georgia professor, author and plant breeder, was instrumental in the development of the conference in 1989, when the first Southern Plant Conference was held in Athens, Ga. In 1993, Don Shadow, retired fourth-generation nurseryman highly recognized both as an expert horticulturist and for his success in saving endangered animal species, became involved in the conference. Their vision for The Southern Plant Conference was to effectively increase communications of new plant varieties and decrease the average time needed to bring them to market. Their commitment and tireless effort helped mold The Southern Plant Conference into a very unique and popular industry event.

The conference began as a biennial event that rotated throughout the SNA region. Beginning in 2013, with the rebound of the SNA marketplace, The Southern Plant Conference has been held annually during the event. As SNA sets new directions for the association and will no longer have a trade show, The Southern Plant Conference will be an integral part of the new SNA Conference along with The SNA Research Conference. In 2018, for the first time, the conference will be held in Baltimore, Maryland at the Baltimore Convention Center, January 8 - 9, two days prior to MANTS (January 10 - 12).

Moving forward, it seems an appropriate time for the next generation of plantsmen to take the lead in the conference and its evolution. Dr. Richard Olsen's early education has roots in the SNA Research Conference and its student competition. He was also a Sidney B. Meadows Scholarship Award recipient in 1996 (NCSU) and 2000 (UGA).

Dr. Olsen has served as the Director of the USDA-ARS United States National Arboretum (USNA) in Washington DC, since May 3, 2015. Prior to that position, he was a Research Geneticist and Lead Scientist in the Floral and Nursery Plant Research Unit (FNPRU) at the USNA. He served as Acting Director of the USNA in 2014 and as Acting Assistant Director of the USDA-ARS Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

Dr. Olsen has a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape design (NC State University), a master degree in horticulture (University of Georgia) and a doctorate in horticultural science (NC State University). He joined the USDA-ARS in 2006 as a research geneticist for the urban tree breeding program at the FNPRU. He reinvigorated the USNA’s urban tree program and developed new woody ornamental breeding projects utilizing genetic tools such as ploidy manipulation and interspecific and intergeneric breeding strategies. His research has focused on the development of superior landscape trees with pest and disease resistances combined with non-invasiveness. Dr. Olsen provided scientific leadership for the USNA germplasm program that led to unifying collection and curation efforts within the Woody Landscape Plant Germplasm Repository and subsequent germplasm characterization in the program. He is a recognized international leader in the public garden arena, providing his scientific expertise and practical knowledge to multiple national and international arboreta, urban forestry groups, and professional associations.

Thomas Molnar received his PhD from Rutgers University in 2006. As Associate Professor in the Plant Biology Department of the Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (New Brunswick, NJ), his research program concentrates on the genetic improvement and study of hazelnuts (Corylus) and big-bracted dogwoods (Cornus). Part of this work includes germplasm exploration, collection, and evaluation.

Dr. Molnar joined the Rutgers University Department of Plant Biology and Pathology in 2004 and soon began working alongside Dr. Elwin Orton, creator of the Stellar series of dogwoods, conducting research for the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES). His main focus is breeding plants for improved qualities. Dr. Molnar is proud to carry on the legacy of Dr. Orton and conduct valuable research at Rutgers University where a major aspect of his current research is developing and characterizing genetic resistance to eastern filbert blight, a fungal disease that is the primary limiting factor of hazelnut production in the eastern North America. Breeding objectives in both woody ornamentals and hazelnuts emphasize selection for high levels of disease and pest resistance and cold hardiness.

The Southern Plant Conference provides the perfect platform for plant enthusiasts alike (explorers, breeders, growers, landscapers and retailers) to come together for a glimpse at exciting new plants varieties with market potential. Fast-paced sessions highlight the best and hottest new plant varieties coming to market, and provide a unique opportunity to discover new production techniques. Presenters will share a vast array of new plants, with focus on new and superior cultivars, the most resistant, prolific blooming, superior shape or habit, and the most interesting flower or foliage.

Founded in 1899, the Southern Nursery Association is a non-profit trade association representing the horticultural industry in the southeastern U.S. SNA provides member services to wholesale growers, brokers, retailers, landscape contractors, landscape architects, grounds maintenance contractors, interiorscapers and allied suppliers. The SNA strives to unite and advance the horticulture industry through educational, research and marketing efforts.

Details of The Southern Plant Conference, including schedule, speaker information, and registration will be available after September 1.

For more information on The Southern Plant Conference or the SNA, contact the Southern Nursery Association, Inc., PO Box 801454, Acworth, GA 30101, 678.809.9992,, or visit the SNA website


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