Historical Overview of the NC7 Trials

Harold Pellett, Landscape Plant Development Center

The NC7 Ornamental Plant Evaluation Project has been a very successful and valuable program for the past 50 years. I was involved in the project at various times and in various capacities since 1956 when I worked as a student laborer for Dr. John Mahlstede at Iowa State University. Dr. Mahlstede was Iowa State’s representative to the project and coordinated the trial site at Iowa State. As a student laborer, I helped plant, maintain and evaluate the plants in the trials. I was also directly involved in the project as the trial site coordinator at the University of Minnesota for many years and served as the Chair of the ornamental subcommittee of the NC7 Regional Technical Advisory Committee.

The NC 7 ornamental trial was established in 1954 to evaluate plants for their adaptability and landscape qualities throughout the North Central region. The project is coordinated by the Horticulturist at the USDA North Central Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) at Ames, Iowa. Al Dodge was the Horticulturist at the time the project was initiated and served in that capacity until he retired in January of 1976. Harbans Bhella served as the NCRPIS Horticulturist and project coordinator from 1977 to 1981. Mark Widrlechner has served in that capacity from 1983 to the present time.

Between 1954 and 1995, an ornamental subcommittee of the NC7 Regional Technical Advisory Committee helped set parameters for selection of plants to be evaluated and criteria for evaluation. Each state in the North Central Region had a representative on the subcommittee. The first meeting of the subcommittee took place in Brookings, SD on January 20, 1954. Initial committee members were: J.P. Mahlstede (IA), L.R. Quinlan (KS), L.C. Snyder (MN), H.E. Mosher (MO), V.J. Miller (NE), J.H. Schultz (ND), S.A. McCrory (SD, chairperson) and M.M. Hoover and A.F. Dodge (NCRPIS). Since 1995, consultation among the cooperators has occurred through correspondence and informal meetings organized by the NCRPIS’s Horticulturist. The first plantings for evaluation were made in 1954 at the following sites: Ames, Iowa; Colby, Garden City, Hays, Manhattan and Tribune, Kansas; East Lansing and Rose Lake, Michigan; Crookston, Duluth, Excelsior, Grand Rapids, Morris, St. Paul and Waseca, Minnesota; Alliance, Benkelman, Lincoln, North Platte, and Scottsbluff, Nebraska; Fargo, North Dakota; Brookings, South Dakota; and Madison, Wisconsin. Columbia, Missouri and Highmore, South Dakota sites were added with the 1955 plantings. Plants included in the original 1954 distribution were: Cercis canadensis, Cornus racemosa, Cotoneaster lucida, Deutzia ×lemoinei, Euonymus bungeana, Gleditsia triacanthos 'Beatrice', Hypericum proliferum, Lonicera bella albida, Potentilla fruticosa 'Farreri', Pyrus ussuriensis, Rhus trilobata, Rosa rugosa 'Hansa', Rosa spinosissima altaica, Rubus deliciosus, Spiraea ×vanhouttei, Ulmus carpinifolia 'Christine Buisman', Ulmus hybrid 'Fremont', Ulmus hybrid 'Rageth', Ulmus pumila, Ulmus pumila 'Chinkota', Ulmus pumila 'Dropmore' and Viburnum lentago. Since the beginning of the project, 623 different plant taxa have been evaluated. Additional trial sites have been added to the project and a few sites discontinued as personnel have changed. In total, more than 40 different trial sites in 18 states have been involved in the evaluation process. States include: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Plants included in the evaluation come from many different sources. These include commercial sources, plants suggested and contributed by the trial cooperators and plants collected through plant exploration activity by personnel from USDA and other institutions. Plant evaluation data are collected 1, 5 and 10 years after planting. Data collected and reported include: survival, winter injury, disease and insect problems observed, general observation of ornamental qualities, site conditions and maintenance given, etc. Data are collected at each site by the cooperators and submitted to the project coordinator who compiles them and develops reports that summarize performance over different areas within the North Central Region. Information gleaned from the data is provided in reports, journal articles and through the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station website (http://www.ars-grin.gov/ars/MidWest/Ames/Ornamental_Trials/).

The project has provided valuable data that have led to the addition of many plants in the inventories that nurseries produce and maintain for their customers. It has provided data that identify regions where each plant evaluated performs adequately. These data are invaluable to both the industry and to homeowners in choosing well-adapted plants to include in landscape plantings. In addition to the valuable information on all plants evaluated, the cooperative project has resulted in the introduction of four new plants into the trade. These are: Cheyenne privet, Meadowlark forsythia, Smokey dianthus and White SatinTM birch.

Mark Widrlechner, current coordinator of the project and his technicians, Paul Ovrom, Naomi Harrold, and Jeff Carstens, who have been or are currently involved in the project.