Two popular hybrid species of dogwood, created by Elwin R. Orton, are formally—and finally—named after their breeder and Rutgers.
The world’s most commercially successful dogwood garden trees finally received their proper due—a mere 50 years after renowned Rutgers ornamental-tree breeder Elwin R. Orton created the two hybrid species. The big-bracted, or flowering, dogwoods, which feature cloud-like branches that blossom in early spring in white, and sometimes red or pink, received proper scientific names to honor Orton and Rutgers: Cornus × elwinortonii and Cornus × rutgersensis.
“Crucial to communication in all parts of our lives is the naming of objects and phenomena,” says Robert Mattera SEBS’13, a graduate student in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS), who was part of the Rutgers team to give the dogwoods their formal designation. “Humanity needs words to tell other people what we are talking about, and the words need to have uniform and clear meanings.”
Before their publication during the summer in PhytoKeys, a popular journal among horticulturists and gardeners worldwide seeking the latest in horticultural lexicon, the dogwood plants, which flourish in the United States, Europe, and Japan, existed in a taxonomic breach and could not easily be placed into horticultural databases.
The hybrid species Cornus × rutgersensis was created by the hand-crossing of an Asian species, the Kousa dogwood, with the common Florida dogwood. Most gardeners and horticulturists will recognize the pink-bracted cultivar Stellar Pink, the most successful Cornus × rutgersensis hybrid. The crosses made by Orton were the world’s first-known hybrid crosses between these two species. Orton, professor emeritus of plant biology and pathology at SEBS and well-known breeder of woody ornamentals, was inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame in 2012. He has earned more than 15 patents for new cultivars of dogwoods and holly that he developed during his more than 40-year career at Rutgers.