Student Voice


June 16, 2024

Yanny honored as UW-River Falls 2016 Wisconsin Distinguished Agriculturist

May 6, 2016

Michael Yanny, owner of JN Plant Selections and Senior Horticulturalist at Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, was honored as the 2016 Wisconsin Distinguished Agriculturalist by the UW-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) at their 50th Annual Scholarship and Awards Banquet April 21.

His name may not be familiar but gardeners will likely know of his work. The Firebird Crabapple, Redwing Highbush Cranberry Viburnum and Pink-a-licious Spirea are some of the many plants Yanny has selected, named and introduced over the course of his career.

Yanny credits the late Herbert Trautman of Trautman Nurseries for teaching him the propagation and plant selection skills he has used throughout his career. Based primarily on Trautman’s recommendation, Yanny was hired by Johnson’s Nursery in 1980, at only 23 years of age, to start a propagation department. He spent 30 years as the head plant propagator at Johnson’s before transitioning to senior horticulturalist and starting his own company, JN Plant Selections, LLC. His focus is on developing commercially viable cultivars of native species or “nativars,” with wider adaptation, stronger growth rates and added ornamental characteristics.

At the banquet, Yanny spoke about the beginning of his passion for horticulture, noting that he couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t growing plants. From helping his grandparents grow food for his large extended family from the time he could walk, to being given his own garden space by his mother when he was a second grader.

“Horticulture is a wonderful profession,” said Yanny. “You get both exercise and mental stimulation. It’s a balanced lifestyle in the natural life system.”

Yanny is a frequent speaker traveling around the nation to give presentations at industry association conferences, and he incorporates his own poetry and photography into the presentations to better convey his messages. He concluded his comments at the banquet with one of his poems, “Plant People.” For youth groups, Yanny becomes “Seedman Superhero” and extols the benefits of seeds, plants and the environment.

He works with many nurseries and his plants are in different nationally branded plant programs. He is a key contributor to the Chicagoland Grows® plant introduction program and is working with the HGTV plant brand and their woody shrub lines. In 2014, he received the Invader Crusader Award from the Wisconsin Invasive Species Council for helping to build bridges between the nursery industry, regulators and the conservation community.

“Michael’s impact can be seen throughout Wisconsin and the nation through his well-adapted plants, advances he has made in plant propagation techniques, his service in organizations that promote the use of appropriate plants for environmental stewardship, and through the many students and colleagues he has mentored over the years,” said David Zlesak, associate professor of horticulture, who nominated Yanny for the award. “I am very excited to have this opportunity to honor Michael and celebrate his many accomplishments through this award.”

The Wisconsin Distinguished Agriculturalist Award was established in 1970 to recognize individuals who have provided leadership, service and other contributions to the broader agricultural community. A charcoal sketch of each honoree hangs in the Agricultural Hall of Fame in the Agricultural Science building on the UWRF campus.

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