Published on 09/22/05

UGA establishes Dirr horticulture professorship

By Jason Peevy
University of Georgia

The University of Georgia has established an endowed professorship in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences honoring legendary horticulturist and retired UGA professor Michael A. Dirr.

The Michael A. Dirr Professorship for Woody Plant Instruction and Introduction was approved by the University of System of Georgia Board of Regents at its September meeting. It's based in the CAES Department of Horticulture.

The professorship has been filled by David Knauft, former CAES associate dean for academic affairs. Knauft will maintain a woody plant breeding and development program that supports the interests of the horticulture industry.

CAES Dean and Director Scott Angle said Dirr is one of the foremost authorities in woody ornamentals.

“Dirr’s influence has left a mark on the horticulture industry and on the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences that will not soon be forgotten,” he said. “I'm very pleased that his love for plants will remain at UGA through this professorship and through Dr. Knauft.”

Now retired and living in North Carolina, Dirr ran a roadside fruit and vegetable stand as a child. That interest evolved into his passion for horticulture.

Dirr received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ornamental horticulture operation and management from Ohio State University in 1966 and 1971 and a Ph.D. in plant physiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1972.

In 1979, he became the director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, where he was instrumental in raising $3 million for the new Visitor's Center/Conservatory Complex and charted a course for a plant collections development. He returned to teaching and research at UGA in 1981 and was promoted to professor in '84.

Dirr has published more than 300 scientific and popular publications and has authored or coauthored seven books. His "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" is the most widely adopted teaching and reference text in the country and has sold more than 250,000 copies.

With Charles Heuser, professor of horticultural physiology at Penn State University, Dirr also produced "The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation," which has become the standard reference for plant propagators.

Dirr’s "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" was honored by the American Horticultural Society as one of the great garden books of the past 75 years.

(Jason Peevy is the capital campaign communications coordinator with the University of Georgia.)

Jason Peevy is the capital campaign communications coordinator with the University of Georgia.