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NC State Plant Breeder Wins Prestigious Scott Medal

Man standing by pink hydrangea bush
Tom Ranney, the J.C. Raulston Distinguished Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science, with the Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea.

For his passion in creating landscape plants that enhance the environment, the economy and gardens across the country, NC State’s Tom Ranney recently won the Scott Medal, a coveted award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the science and art of gardening.

Ranney, the JC Raulston Professor with the Department of Horticultural Science, received the medal from Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum on Sunday, March 17. Since 2004, the plant breeder and his colleagues with the Mountain Crop Improvement Lab (MCIP) in Mills River have introduced 50 new cultivars of landscape plants, ranging from trees and shrubs to flowers.

A particular point of pride is the team’s InvincibelleTM hydrangea, which have raised over $1 million for breast cancer research. Ranney considers the hydrangea one of his five favorite cultivars from the MCIL.

Ranney estimates that the team’s entire collection of new cultivars has a total retail value of more than $100 million – and more are under development.

“Many of these are recent introductions and just picking up steam,” Ranney said. They “should generate sales for the next 20 to 30 years. Moreover, much of our best material is still in the pipeline and yet to be released.”

‘Tom sees the world more than most’

Irene Palmer, a former student who’s now a plant breeder at NC State, commented on Ranney’s “tireless dedication to high-quality plants, publications, and success for his students.”

[pullquote align=”right” color=”red”]Ranney is one of the preeminent plant breeders of our time.[/pullquote]

“Tom sees the world more than most. He shows his students how to study the invisible universe hidden in our plant communities,” she said. “His brilliant understanding of the mechanisms at play in plant improvement is his quiet way of improving the world and I believe he is doing it: one plant and one student at a time.”

Others in the gardening world also praised Ranney’s work:

  • Ranney is “one of the … preeminent plant breeders of our time.” – Todd Lasseigne, president and chief executive officer of the Tulsa Botanic Garden
  • “Years from now we will be looking back at perhaps one of the most groundbreaking breeding programs,” Jon Roethling, curator for the Mariana H. Qubein Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
  • “Tom is a first-class researcher and educator bar none. But in addition to that, he is a natural born friend to the ornamental horticulture industry and does not hesitate to help, consult, advise and encourage without reservation, whether it is a student, a colleague, fellow researcher, or just plain folk such as me.” — Bill Barnes, owner of Barnes Horticultural Services
  • “His students and colleagues respect him not only for his professional accomplishments and guidance, but also for his gentle spirit and the ‘human touch’ that is so evident in his day-to-day interactions with them.” – NC State Professor Emeritus Dennis J. Werner

In addition to his horticultural contributions, Tom has served as the major advisor or committee member for over 35 graduate students, as well as supervising numerous postdoctoral associates, research scholars, and interns.

The Scott Medal isn’t Ranney’s first prestigious award. He’s also been named Outstanding Graduate Educator, Fellow, and Outstanding Researcher by the American Society for Horticultural Science, and he won the H. Marc Cathey Award and Luther Burbank Award from the American Horticultural Society.

Ranney’s Five Favs

Among 50 cultivars developed by the Mountain Crop Improvement Lab at NC State, here are Tom Ranney’s five favorites:


red flower against green foliage
Sweetshrubs with spectacular, magnolia-like flowers including Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’, US PP24,014.

Scorpio Star Flower Shrub

star-shaped red flowers with green pointy foliage
Native, broadleaved evergreen shrubs with red or white flowers that are highly resistant to deer, including Scorpio Star Flower Shrub.

Double Take Scarlet™

Showy flowering quince that are thornless with large double flowers in a range of colors, including Double Take Scarlet™ Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Scarlet Storm’, USPP 20,951).

Bandwidth Maiden Grass

Tall green and yellow grass in a container
Seedless ornamental maiden grass, including Bandwidth Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘NCMS2B’, PPAF), bred specifically to prevent weediness.

Invincibelle® Spirit II

Adaptable, native hydrangeas, such as Invincibelle® Spirit II Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA2’, USPP 28,316), in a range of sizes and flower colors that reliably bloom every year.


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