ATLANTA – 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-renowned plantsmen who have led the program for many years.
Dr. 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).
He 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’s 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.
Photo (Olsen on left; Molnar on right) provided by SNA.