Dr. Richard T. Olsen, director of the U.S. National Arboretum (USNA), has been named an honorary member of The Garden Club of America (GCA), one of its highest accolades. Olsen was recognized during a presentation at the GCA’s annual meeting this morning.
Honorary members of the GCA are men and women of distinction in fields such as horticulture and conservation who are not, nor ever have been, members of a GCA club. Honorary membership is limited with a maximum of four recipients selected each year. Named along with Olsen were William G. Cullina, president and CEO of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens; Gordon Hayward, landscape designer, writer, and teacher; and Dr. Eric T. Haskell, distinguished educator, research, scholar, and linguist. Perennial Garden Club of Washington, Maryland nominated Olsen for honorary membership.
GCA President Anne Neal Petri hailed Olsen as “a strategic thinker, and a passionate communicator, working to create and maintain a premier scientific institution, and develop a world class public garden.”
Before Olsen began his work at the US National Arboretum he had already distinguished himself as horticulturist and researcher. He received a BS in Horticultural Science from North Carolina State University, a MS in Horticulture from the University of Georgia, and a PhD in Horticultural Science from North Carolina State University. After receiving his PhD he joined the USNA as a research geneticist focusing on the urban tree-breeding program. In 2010, he became the lead scientist for the USNA germplasm program. He served as both the acting director of the Arboretum and the acting assistant director of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. This experience provided Dr. Olsen the unique opportunity to understand and appreciate the Arboretum, and its potential, as a premier national and international scientific institution. In May 2015, Olsen was named director of the USNA.
Highly regarded as a plant scientist and geneticist, an ardent environmentalist, and a recognized leader in the international public garden arena, he is often called upon to share his expertise. As the scientific advisor to the U.S. State Department between 2012 and 2014, he selected 3,000 flowering dogwoods which were given to Japan to honor the 100th anniversary of their gift of flowering cherry trees to the country. He is a consultant for Casey Trees serving on its Science and Technology Advisory Committee, serves on the Morton Arboretum Center for Tree Science Steering Committee and the J. C. Raulston Arboretum Board of Advisors.
Olsen’s research in plant genetics has focused on the development of superior landscape trees, with pest and disease resistance, which are non-invasive and suitable for the urban environment. The GCA has championed his research on the genetics of resistance to boxwood blight and Dutch elm disease and his conservation efforts to develop suitable varieties of woody plants and trees adaptable to climate change.
Olsen has been a featured speaker at the GCA National Affairs and Legislation Conference, as well as the GCA Shirley Meneice Horticulture Conference. The USNA has supported the Spring House Run Project, a GCA Partners for Plants program, to clean and revitalize a degraded stream on the USNA grounds.
The GCA is a nonprofit national organization composed of 201 clubs with some 18,000 club members who devote energy and expertise to projects in their communities and across the United States. Founded in 1913, the GCA is a leader in horticulture, conservation, creative arts, historic preservation, and environmental protection. www.gcamerica.org