Going nuts: continuing a 40-year-old woody ornamental breeding program©

T.J. Molnar
The Rutgers University Woody Ornamental Breeding Program began in 1960 under the direction of Dr. Elwin Orton. He was initially charged to develop a holly (Ilex species) breeding program with the ambitious goal of crossing I. opaca, our native eastern holly, with the English holly, I. aquifolium. The main premise was to develop an improved plant for the holiday cut branch market that expressed the excellent glossy foliage and berry display found on the English holly combined with the cold hardiness and wide adaptation of the American species. Dr. Orton, a scientist trained in classical corn genetics at the University of Wisconsin, accepted this responsibility and put in a tremendous effort to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, however, after over a decade of tedious work, Dr. Orton abandoned the I. opaca × I. aquifolium project, largely due to genetic incompatibilities between the two species. Fortunately, during this time he also did selection and breeding work within I. opaca alone, which yielded several cultivar releases. These include I. opaca ‘Jersey Princess’, ‘Jersey Knight’, ‘Dan Fenton’, Jersey Delight’, and most recently ‘Portia Orton’. All are female except ‘Jersey Knight’, and several have become well known in the nursery and landscape trade especially noted for their excellent dark green, glossy foliage. Besides I. opaca, Dr. Orton also worked with Japanese holly. Ilex crenata ‘Beehive’ was his best known release—a plant selected from more than 21,000 seedlings derived from crossing I. crenata ‘Convexa’ × I. crenata ‘Stokes’. ‘Beehive’ was selected for its mite resistance, cold hardiness, and compact form. In addition, he also released several dwarf forms of the species—‘Green Dragon’ and ‘Dwarf Pagoda’ were the most widely known (Galle, 1997).
Molnar, T.J. (2017). Going nuts: continuing a 40-year-old woody ornamental breeding program©. Acta Hortic. 1174, 305-312
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2017.1174.62

Acta Horticulturae