Southern Plant Conference to Feature New Leadership in 2018

Southern Plant Conference to Feature New Leadership in 2018

Thomas Molnar and Richard Olsen

Thomas Molnar and Richard Olsen

The Southern Nursery Association (SNA) recently announced that its 2018 Southern Plant Conference will feature new leadership. Dr. Richard Olsen, U.S. National Arboretum Director, and Dr. Thomas Molnar, Rutgers University Associate Professor, will take the lead as chair and co-chair, respectively. Olsen and Molnar follow in the footsteps of Dr. Michael Dirr and Don Shadow, two world-renown plantsmen who have been the driving forces behind the conference and its programming for many years.


Olsen has served as the Director of the USDA-ARS U.S. National Arboretum (USNA) in Washington D.C., 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.

Olsen reinvigorated the USNA’s urban tree program and developed new woody ornamental breeding projects, using 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.

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, 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. His main focus is breeding plants for improved qualities. Breeding objectives in both woody ornamentals and hazelnuts emphasize selection for high levels of disease and pest resistance and cold hardiness.

Dirr, a retired University of Georgia professor, author, and plant breeder, was instrumental in the development of the conference when it was first held in Athens, GA, in 1989. In 1993, Shadow, a retired fourth-generation nurseryman highly recognized as an expert horticulturist, became involved in the conference. Their vision for the Southern Plant Conference was to effectively increase communications of new plant varieties and decrease the average time needed to bring them to market. Their commitment and tireless effort helped mold the conference into a unique and popular industry event.

Beginning in 2013, with the rebound of the SNA marketplace, The Southern Plant Conference has been held annually during the event. As SNA sets new directions for the association and will no longer have a trade show, The Southern Plant Conference will be an integral part of the new SNA Conference along with The SNA Research Conference. In 2018, for the first time, the conference will be held in Baltimore, MD, January 8-9, two days prior to MANTS.

The Southern Plant Conference provides a platform for plant enthusiasts alike (explorers, breeders, growers, landscapers, and retailers) to come together for a glimpse at exciting new plants varieties with market potential. Fast-paced sessions highlight the best and hottest new plant varieties coming to market, and provide a unique opportunity to discover new production techniques. Presenters will share a vast array of new plants, with a focus on new and superior cultivars, the most disease resistant, prolific blooming, superior shape or habit, and the most interesting flower or foliage.

Details of The Southern Plant Conference, including schedule, speaker information, and registration, will be available after September 1. For more information, go to

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