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Teaching “inner health” of trees earns IPM award

Contact: Jennifer Grant 315 787 2209;

by Mary Woodsen

Teaching “inner health” of trees earns IPM award

Canandaigua, NY: When Daniel Marion looks at a tree in trouble, he sees the usual things: cankers, browning leaves, dead branches. But he also tests for the hidden signs that indicate its potential for renewed health. Then he teaches others to find them too.

Marion, professor of plant health at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York, has brought over 500 students to the forefront of scientific research and practice in developing innovative, environmentally sound ways to care for landscape trees and shrubs—and this with entry-level students.

Now Marion has earned an “Excellence in IPM Award” from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program at Cornell University. He receives the award on November 15 at the Empire State Green Industry Show in Rochester, New York.

“Dan’s career has been built around the quest for discovering and teaching least-risk solutions to landscape problems, which is at the heart of IPM,” says Jennifer Grant, community coordinator for the New York State IPM Program.

Indeed, emphasizing and restoring plant health are core tenets of IPM and can reduce pesticide use by 70 percent or more, Marion notes.

Among the first things Marion’s students learn is how to take root samples, then examine them under a microscope. They are looking for pathogens, but are also assessing microbial, environmental, and nutritional components of soil health.

“It’s hard to grow a healthy tree in an unhealthy environment,” Marion says. “Students look at soil oxygen levels, nutrient deficiencies or overabundance, how acid or alkaline the soil is, and the soil microbial organisms that sometimes have such a beneficial influence on plant health.”

Students also learn that symptom and cause are two very different things. Marion notes that dozens of possible factors can explain yellowing leaves or dying branches.

To address those factors, Marion shows students how to “build inner tree and shrub health,” according to recent graduate Justin Paolicelli. “He took us into the field often for hands-on demonstrations,” Paolicelli says. “I would find myself torn between participating and writing down everything Dr. Dan had to say.”

Many of Marion’s students have coauthored papers with him on their discoveries in journals such as the Journal of Arboriculture, American Nurseryman, and the Journal of Environmental Horticulture. “I was treated as a colleague of Dr. Dan’s,” Paolicelli says.

Marion’s students have won the International Society of Arboriculture scholarship for four out of the past six years.

Jana Lamboy, professor of plant pathology at Finger Lakes Community College, points to Marion’s contagious enthusiasm and deep love of trees. “Dan teaches classic IPM

techniques such as monitoring and biological controls that can steeply reduce pesticide use,” she says. “And he stresses one of the most important factors for plant health—understanding the human, environmental element. He inspires people to care about IPM.”

Marion developed his program—the first IPM-focused courses in New York State—in 1974. About 16 students graduate each year. “I try to encourage many more students to enter this essential field because it’s important to plant health and ultimately to our health,” Marion says.