Federal grant supports nursery plant research at Dominican

The National Ornamentals Research Site at Dominican University of California (NORS-DUC) has been awarded a $513,000 federal grant to continue studies focused on eliminating quarantined diseases of nursery plants in order to safeguard plant health and the environment.

NORS-DUC is the only federally funded research site in the United States dedicated to the study of pests and diseases affecting the health of horticultural plants, many of which can be purchased in local garden centers. The facility opened in 2009 and each year receives funding from the Farm Bill, administered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To date Dominican has received more than $4.2 million in funding in support of the NORS-DUC facility and research program.

Working at NORS-DUC, scientists from the national research community are advancing studies focused on controlling the spread of Phytophthora ramorum, the pathogen that causes sudden oak death in the wild and ramorum blight in nurseries. Research at NORS-DUC is conducted by a team of permanent staff, as well as by P. ramorum experts from other institutions who can apply for grants to work at NORS-DUC.

In recent years, NORS-DUC research has helped shape USDA protocols that nursery plant growers can implement in order to eliminate pathogens from soil. NORS-DUC studies also have helped identify and validate nursery grower best management practices for reducing the risk of introducing pathogens into wild lands.

Currently, scientists from Dominican, the USDA, Washington State University, Oregon State University, UC Berkeley, and Colorado State University have research underway at NORS-DUC.

Having NORS-DUC at Dominican fits well with the university’s research-intensive curriculum. Dominican professors train students to work independently on specific research topics early in their freshman year. This provides a unique experience for undergraduates contributing to the success of faculty research programs.

Since NORS-DUC opened, multiple undergraduate research projects associated with the facility have been presented by students at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Current projects include:

  • A survey of interstate wholesale and native plant nurseries to determine if Phytophthoras are moving between the nurseries and into the nursery supply chain.


  • A transmission experiment to explore the natural spread of P. ramorum from Bay trees to healthy Rhododendrons.


  • Host range studies examining Phytophthora tentaculata, a newly introduced pathogen in native plant nurseries.

The rapid emergence of sudden oak death in the mid-1990s spurred emergency regulatory actions designed to control the spread of the P. ramorum plant pathogen within ornamental nurseries and from infested nursery stock shipped interstate.

NORS-DUC researchers have made considerable progress in the development of P. ramorum “green” technology management options for nursery growers.  Findings have focused on the use of steam sterilization to remediate contaminated soil, the use of biological control agent Trichoderma asperellum in potting mixes to kill P. ramorum, and the use of solarization to eliminate P. ramorum from nursery beds.

Research results are shared through a variety of outreach programs, including scientific and technical publications, presentations, and site tours and field days. NORS-DUC researchers also provide one-on-one nursery pest risk assessments for native plant nurseries.


May 2, 2018