Published on 07/28/11

UGA's Ruter named to endowed horticulture professorship

By Stephanie Schupska

When University of Georgia horticulture professor Allan Armitage retired in November 2010, he left big shoes to fill. Earlier this month, John Ruter was tapped to continue Armitage’s work as part of the Allan M. Armitage Endowed Professorship for Herbaceous Plant Instruction and Introduction.

Armitage helped establish UGA's horticulture department as one of the top in the country. His commitment to introduce new and improved plants translated into profits for growers and knowledge for students. As a tribute to his contributions, the UGA horticulture department and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences established the Armitage professorship.

Nursery crop researcher

For the past two decades, Ruter has been a UGA horticulture professor at the CAES campus in Tifton, Ga., where he was the nursery crop researcher and UGA Cooperative Extension specialist. In the Armitage professorship, Ruter will move his research and graduate programs to UGA’s main campus in Athens.

“I really haven’t had much of an opportunity to be involved with undergraduates,” Ruter said. “I’m looking forward to bringing practical experience to the classroom and sharing that with students.”

“Dr. Ruter has also had tremendous success with graduate students,” said Doug Bailey, UGA horticulture department head. “It will boost our graduate program by having him here in Athens.”

Looking forward to teaching undergraduates

The professorship is a “great opportunity to get to know people of the Athens community as well,” Ruter said, “through outreach and perennials classes as well. I hope to take students to a lot of local gardens. I’m looking forward to having that involvement.”

Ruter specializes in breeding and selecting new ornamental trees and shrubs for the green, or plant, industry. In the new professorship, he will evaluate and develop new breeds of flowers, direct the Trial Gardens at UGA and teach in Athens.

“Dr. Ruter has already established himself with his plant breeding and plant introduction programs,” Bailey said. “He has a keen eye. It takes a knack to know what’s needed in the green industry, and he has the gift to marry industry needs and plant materials.

Breeding herbaceous plants

Since 2005, Ruter has released or co-released eight plants through the UGA Research Foundation. Four of the first five were herbaceous species that have been promoted through the Athens Select program in cooperation with Armitage. Athens Select plants are developed at UGA and are tolerant to heat and humidity.

Ruter’s latest work is on an agapanthus known as Lily of the Nile. He bred the plant for fuller foliage, a more compact design and a shorter flower stem, all things the ornamental plant industry asked him to do.

Ruter will keep his large test plots in Tifton, which will allow him to continue his research into camellia as a new edible oil crop suited for Georgia. He’ll also keep working on cold hardy hibiscus.

Ruter is currently writing a book about conifers for the Southeast. And he co-authored a leading textbook for high school and junior colleges called an “Introduction to Horticulture.” His research has led to more than 390 publications. Over the past 20 years while serving as a commercial nursery specialist for UGA Extension, he’s given 190 state, regional and national presentations and made more than 900 visits to nurseries and botanical gardens both in Georgia and the U.S.

Armitage will work for another year on a partially retired basis at UGA.

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.

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