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Alden "Denny" Townsend

B.S. Forestry, 1964

Alden "Denny" Townsend graduated in 1964 with a B.S. in forestry and started work with the USDA Forest Service in Oregon that included looking for trees resistant to white pine blister rust. He developed an interest in tree genetics that led him to Yale School of Forestry where he completed an M.F. in forest genetics and ecology in 1966, and then to Michigan State University where he completed a Ph.D. in forest genetics and plant breeding in 1969.

In 1970 he began his career as a research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Ohio and later worked at the USDA’s National Arboretum facility in Maryland. His responsibilities have included the improvement of urban trees such as elm, red maple, spruce, and alder. His work in developing a disease-resistant elm captured national attention. He started by making scores of controlled pollinations between European and Asiatic elms, germinating the seed, growing hybrid saplings, and inoculating them with the disease-causing fungus for the further testing of tolerance or resistance. A long-term process of cloning and screening followed.

Townsend has developed and released nine of the ten elm cultivars resistant to Dutch elm disease, and six red maple cultivars that are more adaptive to urban environments. He has also conducted extensive research on resistance of trees to insects, air pollutants, deicing salts, and drought. He has published more than 100 scientific and popular articles and provided leadership in various professional organizations including the International Society of Arboriculture, the Central States Forest Tree Improvement Council, the Metropolitan Tree Improvement Alliance, the Save the Elms Task Force, and Elm Watch. Several of his elm cultivars have been planted at Penn State’s University Park campus.

Townsend is a member of Xi Sigma Pi (forestry honor society) and Gamma Sigma Delta (agricultural honor society), and has received the 1982 Award for Arboricultural Research from the International Society of Arboriculture, a 1996 Certificate of Merit from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, a 1997 Jackson Dawson Memorial Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and a 1999 Honor Award from the Secretary of Agriculture.

April 2004