July 22, 2013

Floral breeder named Fulbright Scholar

Mark Bridgen
Bridgen

His cut flower cultivar creations have brightened many homes and gardens, and now a prestigious grant will allow horticulture professor Mark Bridgen to spend a semester studying Alstroemeria flowers in their native habitat.

Bridgen, director of Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, has been named a 2013 Fulbright Scholar.

He will take a sabbatical leave starting in September, to work at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC) in Santiago, Chile, where he will teach two classes and conduct research on breeding native Chilean plants and plant tissue culture.

Bridgen has been studying the plants of Chile since 1985 and has traveled there approximately 20 times, including two trips to Easter Island with students.

Much of his breeding work at Cornell has involved Alstroemeria flowers, including the development of two new varieties: “Mauve Majesty” and “Tangerine Tango.” His cultivar “Sweet Laura” is the only fragrant, commercial variety in the world.

The showy hybrids are commonly called lilies, although they grow from a cluster of tuberous rhizomes rather than bulbs. By crossing winter-growing species from Chile and summer-growing species from Brazil, breeders like Bridgen have been able to create hardy plants that flower for much of the year. They also can last up to two weeks in a vase, making them one of the most popular cut flowers in the United States.

In addition to plant breeding, Bridgen also conducts research into greenhouse crop production and field-grown cut flowers, as well as outreach and extension activities in Long Island and across the state.

“I’m excited by this opportunity to work with my friends in Chile,” Bridgen said. “There has been rain up in the Atacama Desert this month, so the desert will be flowering when I am there. I am looking forward to teaching the students in my classes about their beautiful, natural resources.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It operates in more than 155 countries worldwide and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

Stacey Shackford is staff writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.