UGA Woody Plant Research Lab


Dr. Michael A. Dirr & Dr. Donglin Zhang

UGA Woody Plant Laboratory focuses on the selection and breeding of new woody ornamental plants for Georgia and the Eastern US landscapes. New and improved plants bring gardeners, the nursery industry, and our lab together and continue to breed new, better, and improved woody ornamentals for today’s markets.

To breed a new woody plant takes a long time. Our lab is still based on the traditional hybridization and selections from controlled crosses and open pollinations. To shorten the breeding cycle, we work on the rapid woody plant breeding system with aid of tissue cultures (embryogenesis and micropropagation) and molecular techniques (markers and genotyping). Seed germination of Ilex (holly) usually takes 2-3 years. Now, we can germinate its immature embryos in 2 weeks. The lab has produced hundreds of seedlings (clones) from a new cultivar of Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil 09-06’. To quickly screen the population of seedlings, we will apply DNA Trait Associated Markers (TAM) and test individual seedlings with our targeted traits. The lab has collected a lot of seedlings from the controlled crosses of Magnolia and focused on selecting TAM for aiding our breeding on new dwarf Magnolia cultivars, which could be used as flowering shrubs and marketed them as container plants.

Breeding lines (plant resources) are the key to successfully yield new plants. For the past 35 years, Dr. Dirr has established collections of popular woody plant germplasm and we fully take advantage of these plant treasures for our current breeding work. We also collect targeted woody plant germplasm from local, state, and national research institutions, gardens and nurseries. Many local collection trips and twice a year to China, Japan, and Korea have significantly enriched our breeding lines. With support and collaboration from green industry, we sincerely hope to breed greater new woody ornamental plants for our market demand.

Plant hunters (L to R): Ozzie Johnson, Andrew Bunting, Donglin Zhang, Scott McMahan, and Dan Hinkley in Shennongjia, China.
Plant hunters (L to R): Ozzie Johnson, Andrew Bunting, Donglin Zhang, Scott McMahan, and Dan Hinkley in Shennongjia, China.The leading principal investigator in the lab is Dr. Donglin Zhang. He is a trained plant taxonomist in China and earns his M.S. and Ph.D. in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Georgia. He has served as a Putnam Fellow for the Harvard University and an assistant, associate, and full professor for the University of Maine. After his Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Michael A. Dirr, retired, he returned to the University of Georgia and took Michael A. Dirr Endowed Chair Professor position. He teaches Plant Propagation and Plant Growth and Development courses and his research goal is to select and breed greater new woody ornamental plants for our green industries.

Please join us if you are a passionate woody ornamental plant wizard!