USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Placerville - Institute of Forest Genetics

About this location:

USDA, Forest Service
Pacific Southwest Research Station

Institute of Forest Genetics
2480 Carson Road
Placerville, CA 95667
Ph: (530) 622-1225
Fx: (530) 622-2633

History of the Institute of Forest Genetics

James G. Eddy, founder of the Institute of Forest Genetics

James G. EddyJames 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"

Lloyd AustinAfter 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

Staff in 1926Work 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 world. Read about the Eddy Arboretum

Trustees 1932 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 breeding.

Dr. Nicholas T. Mirov

Dr. Nicholas T. MirovDr. 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.

From Main Street to National Register

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 Corps 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 including:
  • The first conifer pollen extraction, storage, and testing procedures that resulted in successful controlled pollination of pines.
  • 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 program.
  • Development of isozyme techniques for conifers, an accomplishment that received a USDA award
  • First genetic transformation of a forest tree.