The John A. Wott Botanic Gardens Endowed Fellowship was awarded this fall to Ryan Garrison, a master’s student in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.
Ryan was born and raised in Jackson, Michigan. His father’s love of plants and nature, and both his parents’ teaching professions set the foundation for a lifetime of growing plants and appreciating the value of learning. He started his post high school education at Michigan State University as a computer science major, but a chance encounter with a horticultural extension agent changed that course drastically. He changed his major to Horticulture, believing he had found a field that would hold his interest for the rest of his life. So far this belief has held true. While he was studying for his bachelor of science in Horticulture, he was employed at his first job in the horticultural field at the Michigan State University Botany Greenhouse. This job gave him his first experience with what has become his passion: growing plants in a public setting for research and teaching.
Ryan has worked at UW Botanic Gardens since 2003. His favorite thing about working with such a diverse collection is the stories. Plants can be used to tell a story, and a botanical teaching collection offers an incredible opportunity to tell a wide variety of stories. They tell stories of the Native Americans who lived on the land before we came here, stories about the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration and the establishment of the Arboretum. They can tell stories about the people in its place of origin. Their seeds, flowers, and fruit can tell stories about the climate, geography, and animals that the plant co-evolved with. The stories they can tell are only limited by the storyteller’s imagination.
Ryan is currently working on his master’s degree with Dr. Patrick Tobin in the Disturbance Ecology Lab. He is studying the invasive azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), a serious insect pest. The azalea lace bug causes significant decreases in plant vitality of Rhododendron species, reduces the aesthetic qualities of the plant, and in severe infestations can cause plant death. His specific research objectives are to (1) measure the rate of development and quantify voltinism (the number of generations per year) in the Western Washington climate, and (2) measure susceptibility of individual Rhododendron species to azalea lace bug when grown in Western Washington. By enhancing phenological predictions of azalea lace bug activity in Western Washington, treatment decisions – including those made by homeowners, public land managers, and the horticultural industry – can be more accurately timed. Quantifying susceptibility will allow us to better rate locally available varieties that are more resistant to azalea lace bug, and thus more desirable to homeowners. Such knowledge will also be useful in optimizing management efforts for more susceptible Rhododendron species, which also benefits homeowners, public land managers, landscapers, and the horticultural industry.