2019 Breakfast of Champions

The U.S. National Arboretum: Our Role, Your Future
Dr. Richard T. Olsen, Director, U.S. National Arboretum
With the passage of the 1927 National Arboretum Act, Congress fulfilled the will of the people and established a national institute dedicated to “research and education into plant life.” For much of this history, our focus has been on plant exploration, introduction, conservation and distribution, be it seeds, seedlings, or elite cones and cultivars. However, our programs encompass much more, including international recognized experts in taxonomy and nomenclature of ornamental plants, virologists, and bacteriologists at the forefront of ornamental plant diseases, a turfgrass program investigating unheralded native grasses, and of course, the oldest active ornamental plant breeding program in the United States. All of this is done across multi-state research facilities, with a 450-acre home base in Washington, DC. Here, more than 600,000 visitors a year are exposed to the importance of this work via world-class collections and gardens. As we approach our centennial in a rapidly changing world of priorities and challenges, this talk will reflect on our legacy and approach as we chart the course to position the National Arboretum to continue supporting ornamental plant research in the United States in the 21st century.

  • Value to sustainable landscapes of plant exploration and conservation in the 21st century
  • The role of the USDA national plant germplasm system
  • The use of modern genetic tools in developing novel ornamental plant germoplasm
  • The value of herbaria and their support of modern taxonomic studies and impacts on landscapes
  • The value of the United States National Arboretum

As Director of the United States National Arboretum, Dr. Richard T. Olsen guides the institute in its mission to enhance the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of ornamental and landscape plants through long-term, multi-disciplinary research, conservation of genetic resources, and interpretative gardens and displays.

But Dr. Olsen was not always an administrator. From 2006 to 2015, he was a research geneticist in the plant breeding and genetic resource programs at the National Arboretum. These long-term efforts are bearing fruit as novel plant introductions and germplasm are released to support the American nursery and landscape industry. Research expertise in plant breeding, genetics, and germplasm conservation, provides a solid foundation for leading collaborations with industry and academic partners to facilitate new technologies and solutions for challenges facing American landscapes.

Dr. Olsen is a recognized international leader in the public garden arena, providing scientific expertise and practical knowledge to multiple national and international arboreta, urban forestry groups, and professional associations. Degrees in landscape design (BS; NC State University), plant physiology (MS; University of Georgia) and plant breeding (PhD; NCSU) provide a well-balanced background for directing a multi-faceted USDA research facility and public garden.