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Faculty free time: Horticulture professor has passion for plants

March 11, 2020

The Student Voice is excited to welcome back the “Faculty Free Time” column where we take a look at what different faculty members enjoy doing outside of work. This column is written to show students a different side to the faculty at UW-River Falls to find commonalities between students and staff as well as provide faculty a chance to display their professional and personal accomplishments.

David Zlesak is a professor of horticulture at UW-River Falls and has been teaching plant science at the university for 11 years. Before teaching at UWRF, Zlesak was involved in some research at the University of Minnesota as an extension and worked with grower groups, industry members and master gardener volunteers. Zlesak is also an alumnus of UWRF and graduated with a degree in horticulture in 1993.

Plants have always been a passion of Zlesak’s.

David Zlesak
Professor David Zlesak with roses at a commercial production field. (Photo courtesy of David Zlesak)

“I’m grateful because the topic that I teach is what I love already. Working with plants is something I’ve done as a kid,” he said. Outside of teaching plant science and continuing to be involved in research, Zlesak enjoys breeding landscape roses. He said, “At home I breed hearty landscape roses, every spring I raise thousands of new rose seedlings.” Much of Zlesak’s free time is devoted to research and his passion for plant science.

Zlesak also enjoys making connections with new people, through his work he has met many people who also enjoy horticulture.

“The people that I’ve gotten to know through my work live in many other parts of the country so I try to keep in touch with phone calls and emails and sharing plants,” he said.

Working with plants and learning more and more about plants in general has always been a part of Zlesak’s life. Originally being from Milwaukee, he did not live in a rural area. However, his grandparents lived on a farm when he was young and they started to teach Zlesak about plants. He said, “After they sent me home with plants it was a way for me to feel connected to them.” His passion for plants has always made him feel connected to nature.

Aside from his free time spent with plants and research, Zlesak also enjoys ice skating. He learned to ice skate years ago and he has continuously enjoyed improving his skills.

“It’s fun to have good skating friends and it’s good exercise, and there’s always new challenges and skills to learn,” he said.

Zlesak also spends time in the Twin Cities on the weekends, whether it’s research related or to see friends.

“I collaborate with some good friends of mine on some research projects so I do a lot of work in the lab over there,” he said. “Beyond that, I used to live in St.Paul so I like to visit old friends, go out to eat, go shopping or go to concerts with them.”

Zlesak also serves as a part of a national advisory board that meets at least once a year. It’s called the National Clean Plant program.

“Our goal is to help make clean plant material that’s free of viruses available for industry to help keep our agriculture strong. I especially work with the roses, however, there’s also grapes and other fruits that are a part of this so it helps with food security,” he said.

Although much of Zlesak’s free time is spent working with plants and expanding his knowledge about the topics he is teaching, he enjoys being able to be surrounded by it everyday. Horticulture and plant science is Zlesak’s passion and learning more about these topics is something he looks forward to continuing to do in years to come.