Our Research

Conducting work that helps the world.

We take pride in pioneering the science of plants and trees, and happily serve this community by conducting nationally recognized research, all while fostering the next generation of leaders in this space.  

Our staff has made great strides in improving our fundamental understanding of nature, and frequently publishes their work in respected journals such as Forest Pathology, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, and the American Journal of Botany, Diversity, and New Phytologist.  

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

Plant Breeding

Combining traditional plant breeding methods with modern evaluation tools, researchers at the Arboretum transfer 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.

Plant Physiology

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

After all, there are over 900 species of Rhododendrons, which live in habitats ranging from sub-tropical to sub-arctic, and they have a broad diversity of leaf types. This work has the potential to help plant life all over the world.

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.

Soil Ecology

Researchers and students at the Arboretum are learning which environmental factors affect soil fungi and bacteria, and how these soil organisms affect plant growth.  

Research studies examine how human-driven factors, like climate change and air pollution, can harm these beneficial soil organisms. After all, healthy soil and healthy soil food webs are important for conserving our natural areas and agricultural systems for future generations.

Evolutionary Ecology

Evolutionary Ecology at the Holden Arboretum examines the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that confer or constrain plant adaptation to rapid environmental change, through the lenses of ecology, genomics, and microbiome.  

Our projects leverage the rich collections of wild apples (or crabapples) and the natural populations of wild strawberries at Holden. We use interdisciplinary approaches that integrate functional ecology, community ecology, microbial ecology, population genomics, phylogenomics, and quantitative genetics.

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.

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