Horticulture: A Dynamic Influence

David Himelrick  |  5/14/2005 3:27:00 AM

Those of us who have the privilege of being a professional horticulturist enjoy the reward of knowing that we directly touch the lives of every single citizen in Louisiana every day.

The word horticulture has its origins in the Latin words hortus and cultura, which mean garden and culture. Today its meaning goes far beyond the culture of gardens. Horticulture is that branch of agriculture concerned with the intense cultivation of high-value crops produced for food and medicine and for enjoyment, recreation, and general environmental improvement.

Horticulture is big business. It provides employment for people with a wide variety of skills and is supported by many service industries. When considered from both the science and business perspectives, horticulture can be more broadly defined as the science and art of cultivating, processing and marketing of fruits, vegetables, nuts and ornamental plants.

The horticulture industry is subdivided according to products and their uses. The production of edibles is represented by pomology (fruit crops) and olericulture (vegetable crops); the production of ornamentals is represented by floriculture, nursery crops and land-scape horticulture. These terms are not mutually exclusive. For example, many edible plants (apples) are used as ornamentals, and many plants often classed as ornamentals (poppy, pyrethrum) have pharmacological and industrial uses. Likewise, when pine trees are planted for pulp wood, we would consider it forestry, but when someone plants and intensively manages a Christmas tree plantation, we would classify it as a horticultural enterprise.

The esthetic use of plants distinguishes horticulture from other agricultural activities. In the United States, ornamental horticulture has undergone a renaissance brought about by an increased standard of living coincidental with the development of suburban living. This has expanded an industry that formerly had been confined to well-to-do fanciers.

Though an ancient art, horticulture has developed into a science, which has served not only to provide the methods and resources to explain the art but has also become the guiding force for its improvement and refinement.

It is difficult to ascertain the precise economic impact of horticulture on our economy. Horticulture involves not only the many facets of production, but the added increments of processing, service and maintenance. For example, orna-mentals such as woody perennials are not consumed but are invested in plantings, which increase in value with the passage of time. The value of this wealth is ordinarily not taken into consideration until we become painfully aware of it through the tolls taken by severe weather or the encroachment of concrete and steel.

With gardening being the No. 1 outdoor leisure time activity in America, the value of horticultural crops and horticulture-related products is enormous. People want to interact with plants. We find them to be esthetically therapeutic in our offices and homes as well as an effective mechanism for removing indoor air pollutants. For apartment dwellers, containerized gardening on a small balcony can be a focal point of beauty with a hanging basket or the source of a fresh tomato for a salad.

For homeowners the lawn is often a source of beauty and pride as well as a place for kids to play, the dog to run and families to gather for crawfish boils. LSU AgCenter turfgrass research and extension efforts serve not only homeowners, but golf courses, athletic fields, parks and cemeteries. The nursery, greenhouse, landscape and garden center industries have experienced notable economic success over the past several decades. Extension and research efforts have been expanded to meet the need for information in this branch of horticulture.

With the changing demographics of our state and the continuing shift from rural agriculture to urban agriculture, the LSU AgCenter will continue to serve the needs of its diverse clientele. The curious mixture of science, technology and esthetics makes horticulture a refreshing discipline that absorbs people’s interest and challenges their ingenuity. Indeed, the rise of the world environmental movement resulted in a virtual explosion of interest in plants and gardening, an interest that shows no sign of waning. The science of horticulture remains a dynamic influence on our lives.

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