Cultivating Success: New Mirror Gardening Trends for New Faculty Members

Successful horticulture requires a package! Horticulture has responded to the evolving needs and interests of its students and the green industry with three newly appointed faculty members within the department.

A great lecturer, Jodi Songer Riedel has the ability to energize and connect undergraduate students with meaningful horticultural topics and experiences. Melinda Knuth’s assistant professor’s horticultural marketing and economic research into consumer trends in the green industry will characterize data of statistical significance to provide a range of scientific applications and solutions. Connecting the North Carolina science community by providing cytogenetics services and polyploid manipulation of chromosomes, Hsuan Chen’s laboratory investigates the development of modern ornamental cultivars using classical genomics breeding methods.

Learn more about our new faculty and the strengths they bring.

Jodi Songer-Reed, Senior Lecturer in the North Carolina Department of Horticultural Science.

Why and when did you get into gardening?

I grew up on a small farm in Michigan and was forced to clear landscaping as punishment for my various wrongdoings with my family. My family didn’t know I enjoyed this job. I kept this little secret between me and Weed. I took a gardening class in high school and knew that was my thesis. However, during my undergraduate studies, I wandered through nine different majors and finally finished where I started and only got one degree shy of 200 credits (I only needed 120 to graduate).

Tell us about your previous work before joining NC State.

The good news is that just learning at MSU helped me become a high school horticultural teacher who can help my students with anything from history to geology to Spanish. She taught at Wakefield High School in North Raleigh for nearly 20 years. This was my only professional job and I never moved schools or classes, which is unheard of now. She has helped urban and suburban students learn about plant science and engage them in service learning through Future Farmers of America (FFA). It was a wild ride and I loved so much the first half of my career. I feel like I have finally graduated from high school and am now continuing my journey as a Wolfpack coach.

What will be the focus of your work?

I teach 100% and will work with students from the Agricultural Institute and our students for four years. I teach landscape maintenance, construction, design and construction, plant growth development, and vegetable/fruit production. I will also be a co-adviser to the gardening competition team. The change from high school to college has been such a smooth transition and I love that I’m learning and developing (personally and vegan) every day.

Dr. Melinda Knuth, Assistant Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Economics in the North Carolina State Department of Horticultural Science.

Why and when did you get into gardening?

I come from an agricultural background in South Dakota. I knew in high school that I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture but I wasn’t sure about the path. I joined an FFA class in my high school, and that’s how I discovered that I love gardening. I wanted to start my own horticultural business, so I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for horticultural entrepreneurship.

Tell us about your business focus.

Officially, the title of my research is “Horticulture Marketing and Economics”. My work is the intersection of human decision-making, preferences, attitudes, and the green industry. I investigate what consumers are looking for from plants and plant-related products, helping the supply chain as a whole with products that need to be supplied or that consumers demand; What traits of the plants they desire, which can provide information to plant breeders to aid in the selection of plant traits; What letters and words best assist in buying, which is critical to garden centers and retailers; Classifying and cataloging the various benefits that plants can provide and that enhance the green industry to consumers.

What drew you to your role with North Carolina State?

North Carolina has a reputation for horticulture, which is the first thing that caught my eye. I was drawn to the department and this role because of the commitment to collaboration and coherence of work among faculty members in both teaching and research. This position is flexible in the future view, which is great because my research and skills are somewhat unique in academia. This role gives me the freedom to create courses related to the marketing and business skills that our students need in their positions after graduation.

Hsuan ChenAssistant Professor

Dr. Hsuan Chen with a flowering hibiscus tree.
Dr. Hsuan Chen, associate professor of ornamental plant breeding and cytogenetics in the North Carolina Department of Horticultural Sciences.

Why and when did you get into gardening?

Growing up in suburban Taiwan, I had such an innate interest in science and biology that I built my own tissue culture cabinet.

During high school, I learned about orchid tissue culture and developed my passion for guppy farming. At some point, I realized that my plots were more specific to breeding and breeding for aesthetic or ornamental qualities.

Tell us about your research experience after graduation. Have you studied with any of the horticultural sciences graduates?

After I got my Master of Science in Agricultural Engineering from National Taiwan University, I started my Ph.D. Studies at the University of Oregon. It was Dr. Ryan Contreras, a NC State horticultural sciences graduate and former graduate student of Dr. Tom Raney, who advised me with my research into breeding hibiscus trees and rebellious lilacs by manipulating blueberries and selecting molecular markers.

What is the focus of your research program?

As an ornamental plant breeder and cytogeneticist, there are several key points to my research programme. I specialize in plant cytogenetics, polyploid manipulation, chromosomal labeling, fluorescence assays in situ hybridization (FISH), and genome labeling in situ hybridization (GISH) for breeding polyploid plants.

One of my goals is to continue Dennis Werner’s award-winning research into cercis redbud and ornamental peach species. We will continue to make cercis more productive and environmentally friendly for our growers, as well as create opportunities to expand different color combinations, leaves and flowers. The lab will also look for ways to make wisteria and mimosa trees less aggressive and/or less invasive. Our lab will also identify plants native to the southern region for ornamental breeding because our sophisticated audience is looking for plants that require fewer resources. Another priority is to provide the North Carolina scientific community with cytogenetics services. To date, we have established collaborative relationships with the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, as well as the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

What drew you to your role with North Carolina State?

North Carolina State is known for its ornamental plant breeding programs with faculty such as Dennis Werner and Tom Raney. It was a great opportunity to continue their legendary research programs for a fellow ornamental plant breeder. North Carolina also has great biodiversity with a wide range of temperatures and the ability to thrive during all seasons. Also, who doesn’t love barbecue in North Carolina? As a fan of chicken wings, I know that there are five different wing restaurants within walking distance of Kilgore Hall.

Want more leadership in horticultural science?

Horticultural science programs impact farmers, consumers, students, and the agricultural industry across North Carolina and beyond. Follow our monthly newsletter to see how we’re progressing with plants and people.

Interested in building your future with one of our undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs? Discover the diverse career paths of gardening and how you can make an impact with plants.

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