Research At The Arboretum

The Holden property encompasses extensive high-quality natural forest ecosystems (~3,000 acres) and conducting nationally recognized research in plant and environmental sciences while fostering the next generation of scientists is a key part of our mission. Thus, improving our fundamental understanding of the function and dynamics of native forests and how they respond to environmental change is another focus of the Arboretum’s Research program.

Our scientists, post-doctoral scholars and graduate students conduct basic and applied research in the following areas.

Plant Breeding

Using traditional plant breeding methods combined with modern evaluation tools, researchers at the Arboretum are transferring traits from wild Rhododendron species to hybrid varieties that are grown as ornamental plants in gardens. For example, combining disease resistance and heat tolerance in new hybrids has enabled them to perform much better in warmer climates (e.g. the Gulf South) than was previously possible. Superior plants from this program are introduced as commercial cultivars.

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Plant Physiology

The 900+ species of Rhododendrons in the world originate from habitats ranging from sub-tropical to sub-arctic. Rhododendrons also have a broad diversity of leaf types.

Research in Rhododendron physiology at the Arboretum focuses on how leaf diversity relates to the evolution of habitat diversity.

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Forest Ecology

Our ecological research mission is focused on contributing to a better understanding and conservation of the diversity, health and function of natural forest ecosystems in Northeast Ohio.

Forest ecology research at Holden examines the mechanisms by which organisms tolerate environmental change and the importance of biological diversity to the function of forests.

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Soil Ecology

Researchers and students at the Arboretum are discovering what environmental factors affect soil fungi and bacteria and how these soil organisms affect plant growth. Research studies examine how human activities like climate change and air pollution can harm these beneficial soil organisms. Healthy soil and healthy soil food webs are important to conserve our natural areas and agricultural systems for future generations.

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Urban Ecology

The goal of the urban ecology research program is to understand how urbanization impacts soil diversity. Disturbances like urbanization can lead to homogenization of the environment, thus reducing biological diversity. Holden researchers and collaborators are studying whether the types of soil organisms found in areas impacted by urbanization are the same across broad geographical scales.

BioScience Alliance

Holden Arboretum is partnered with Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the BioScience Alliance. This high-impact collaboration of Cleveland area institutions develops nationally and internationally recognized research and creates transformative educational experiences for students. More information on the BioScience Alliance can be found here.