Plant diversity, whether for conservational or aesthetic value, is the recurring theme in botanical gardens that connects our displays, research, and visitor experiences to our missions. While the domestication of crop species has significantly altered their genomes from that of their wild crop relatives, the majority of horticultural crops are not that far removed from their wild relatives. Thus, we still explore, document, and cultivate the untapped diversity in the world’s temperate floras to enrich our gardens. Richard Olsen, Director of the US National Arboretum, considers what legacies remain from early plant explorations, how we document and capture diversity, and the future of botanical gardens in a century that will see so much lost to globalization.
BIO: Richard Olsen
Richard Olsen is a Research Geneticist and served as 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 most recently 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.