Locations and Laboratories
Placerville - Institute of Forest Genetics
James G. Eddy, founder of the Institute of Forest Genetics
James G. Eddy, an enterprising lumberman from the Pacific Northwest,
founded what would become the Institute of Forest Genetics in 1925.
Mr. Eddy realized that the country's forests were being depleted
much more rapidly than they were being replenished. He liked to
recall that one of his grandfathers was a logger and the other was
a scientist and this planted the seed for his dream of improving
forest growth through breeding. Mr. Eddy had observed differences
within coniferous species in the rate of growth, resistance to disease,
and the ability to withstand the rigors of climate. Although pines
are difficult to breed because of long generation times and inbreeding
depression, Eddy was convinced that by developing new breeding techniques
and utilizing genetics, these difficulties would be overcome. Eddy
was inspired by the work of Luther Burbank, the famous horticulturist
who bred improved fruit and nut trees. In consultation with Mr.
Burbank, he decided that forest trees also could be improved by
the application of genetics. Together, Eddy and Burbank outlined
a project to breed the world's first hybrid pine.
The Institute was initially established under the name "Eddy
Tree Breeding Institute"
After Mr. Eddy unsuccessfully tried to convince the U.S.Senate to
finance a station for forest research, he financed the project as
a private enterprise using his own money. Thus, the first institute
dedicated to forest genetics was born. The
first employee was a young scientist from UC Davis, Lloyd Austin,
who was assigned to find a site for the new station. Placerville,
California was selected because of its ideal climate for growing
virtually all the temperate tree species of the world. Sixty-five
acres were purchased for $8,500. The location is mid-way between
the top of the Sierra Nevada and the valley floor, in timber-producing
country. With elevations from sea level to 10,000 ft, within easy
access of the station, a long breeding-season is available as Springtime
moves up the elevational gradient.
The world's largest collection of pines
Work began with nursery plantings in the spring of 1926. A total of 58 separate
kinds of pines were planted: 49 species and nine varieties.
Seed was acquired from 40 different seed companies, botanical gardens, and
horticultural societies. Seedlings of two- or three-years old were purchased
to expedite the breeding experiments. It was necessary to establish an arboretum
to make the world's many different species of pine available for breeding
operations. By 1931, this was the most complete arboretum of pine in the
In 1932, the name was changed to "Institute of Forest Genetics"
and became a non-profit organization run by a distinguished Board of Trustees
and financed by private donations. In 1935, Mr.Eddy and the Board donated
the Institute to the United States Forest Service so that forest genetics
studies would continue with stable funding. His gift to the people of the
United States was not only all the property of the Institute, but also the
scientific staff that he had recruited and a wealth of experiments in tree
Dr. Nicholas T. Mirov
Dr. Nicholas Mirov was a Russian emigrant,
and was the first plant physiologist appointed by the U.S. Forest
Service. Until then, most of the Institute's work had been based
on traditional breeding experiments to achieve better pine trees.
Dr. Mirov was interested in geographical distribution and variation
of species and he demonstrated the importance of chemical compounds
in determining relationships among plants. His approach to genetics
and taxonomy is still used by scientists throughout the world.
In the early twenties, the Institute had offices located on Main
Street Placerville CA.
Between 1926-1929, an administration
and nursery building was constructed on the site. From 1936-1938,
the U.S. government utilized Depression-era program such as the
Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration
to construct the present buildings at the Institute. Decorative
architectural details, slate walkways, and extensive rock retaining
walls are results of those program.
In 1987, the Institute was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places. The Institute is renowned for many
achievements during its long history including:
Institute research continues to be in the forefront of forest genetics.
- The first conifer pollen extraction, storage, and testing
procedures that resulted in successful controlled pollination
- Breeding techniques that guided tree improvement efforts
around the world.
- The world's first controlled hybridization of pines - 66
different hybrid combinations have been produced at the Institute.
- Hybridization studies that contributed to taxonomy and enhanced
understanding of pine evolution.
- Biochemical studies on the chemical composition of oleoresins
that gave birth to the field of chemotaxonomy.
- Elevational seed source studies that demonstrated the importance
of seed zones for planting, resulting in a strict policy for
managing seed zones on National Forests.
- Guidelines for nursery production that improved seedling
survival after transplanting, resulting in millions of dollars
in savings annually.
- A system to test sugar pines for resistance to white pine
blister rust, now used by the National Forests to screen trees
for the sugar pine improvement EcolOfWesternForests.
- Development of isozyme techniques for conifers, an accomplishment
that received a USDA award
- First genetic transformation of a forest tree.
The world-renowned facility
is regularly visited by scientists to learn the newest
techniques or merely make a pilgrimage to the mecca of forest
genetics. We welcome you to come visit our historic site.