Ryan Contreras, OSU ornamental crops breeder

Good Breeding
Ryan Contreras, OSU ornamental crops breeder
Oregon’s greenhouse and nursery industry earns more than $745 million annually. Oregon is among the nation’s top three states producing nursery stock and is the nation’s leading producer of florist azaleas.

Woody ornamental plants are a huge part of Oregon’s nursery and greenhouse industry. Wherever you are in the United States, your shade trees, flowering trees, flowering shrubs, and conifers likely got their start in Oregon. This is the center of woody ornamental horticulture in the country.

[caption caption="OSU ornamental plant breeder Ryan Contreras making hibiscus crosses in an OSU research greenhouse. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)"]Ryan Contreras[/caption]

That’s why I have the best job in the world. We don’t breed a single crop; we work on about eighteen different genera to address the needs of this very diverse industry. It’s not uncommon for Oregon growers to grow hundreds, or even thousands, of different plant taxa. The diversity is really fun.

The same thing that makes it really fun makes it really hard. Every time we initiate a new breeding project on a different genus, we have to figure out everything basically anew. We go to the literature and, when available, we use information on germination, propagation, things like that. But, by and large, we have to work from scratch to figure out how to germinate the seed, root the cuttings, store the pollen, make the crosses, each time with a new plant group. And each demands its own production process, fertilizer needs, irrigation rates. It’s a challenge. The same thing that makes it really fun makes it really challenging.

Our breeding program started out almost 6 years ago on a very scientific bent. We have been looking at fundamental questions of reproductive biology, fertility, genome sizes. While maintaining its scientific side, our program has recently grown more in the area of cultivar development as some of our early progeny are maturing. We want to take our fundamental knowledge one step further to result in new plant varieties that we’ll see in commercial nurseries.

Ultimately we’d like to see our work in garden centers and in people’s gardens. That’s really gratifying, to see people growing your plants.

OSU Ornamental Plant Breeding Program