UW-River Falls professor debuts award-winning rose
February 25, 2015
UW-River Falls associate professor of horticulture David Zlesak has a new rose debuting this spring. The rose, Above and Beyond, is being released through Bailey Nurseries First Editions program and it is already an award winner.
Judges gave the rose one of the top pick awards at the New England Grows event in Boston, Massachusetts, earlier this month. The First Editions program is for exceptional plants that Bailey’s will market internationally. Zlesak is excited about this new release, noting that this is his most favorite seedling in all of his 30 years of rose breeding.
Zlesak made the original cross in 2000 with the goal of beginning a line to incorporate yellow flower color and strong repeat bloom from commercial roses with hardiness and health from species or wild roses. Surprisingly, this special hybrid was identified in the first generation rather than taking multiple generations to accomplish the goal.
What separates Above and Beyond from other roses is that it combines exceptional cane hardiness, large plant size, disease resistance and warm apricot colored blooms, a color difficult to achieve in hardy recurrent roses.
Above and Beyond, with the variety name of "ZleeltonStrack," is Zlesak’s tribute to his childhood mentor, Elton Strack. Zlesak grew up in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area and it was an article about Will Radler’s rose-breeding hobby in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal that inspired him to get into the field. Radler went on to develop the popular Knock Out series of shrub roses.
Zlesak wrote to Radler who connected him with the Rose Hybridizers Association (RHA) and Elton Strack, one of the founding members of RHA who lived near Zlesak. Each week Zlesak’s dad would drop him off so he could spend time with Strack, following him around and learning from him. Strack was like a grandfather to Zlesak and the two stayed in touch through letters and visits after he went off to college.
Above and Beyond is a descendant of a cross involving a Rosa virginiana seedling off a plant that Strack collected from the wild and had in his garden. Strack’s main goal was to develop a hardy red version of "Sea Foam" and hardy thorn-less roses and he dreamed of having a rose introduced to the market, unfortunately that didn’t happen in his lifetime. Above and Beyond is Zlesak’s tribute to Strack for all he taught him and inspired him to pursue.
“It’s not a thorn-less hardy rose or a red version of the ‘Sea Foam’ rose Elton was working towards, but it is hardy and I’m sure it is a rose Elton would have absolutely loved,” Zlesak said. “He had a large part in creating it, not only through his inspiration in my life, but also through the [Rose virginiana] he collected from the wild.”
In January, Zlesak was one the National Earth-Kind Rose Team members honored with the Texas A&M University AgriLife Vice Chancellors Award for Collaboration. He was selected to be one of the team members on stage for the ceremony in College Station, Texas, because of his help to expand the range of Earth-Kind efforts to the north. The team has designated 23 rose cultivars as Earth-Kind roses that perform well with little maintenance, minimal irrigation and limited use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Zlesak is also the breeder behind Proven Winners Oso Happy series of roses. Some of the Oso roses trace back to compact growing parent lines that Zlesak selected when he was working and living in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, after completing of his undergraduate degree at UWRF. The Oso Happy Petit Pink rose received the highest garden performance rating of all roses that came on the market in recent years in the Roses in Review evaluation survey conducted by members of the American Rose Society (ARS) and published in their magazine.
In October, Zlesak was also honored with the ARS Silver Honor Medal for his years of dedication to roses through not only his breeding and educational programs promoting landscape roses, but also collaborative research to characterize new rose viruses, understand rose blackspot disease, and service to the industry and the ARS.