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2017 Rising Star Honoree: David Zlesak

Dr. Zlesak, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, has an exemplary history of supporting and promoting rose horticulture in the United States and abroad. His work with roses began when he was 13 years old and he is recognized around the world as one of the top experts on roses.

It is simply amazing to look at all of Dr. Zlesak’s accomplishments in connection with rosa and consider that he is so young. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he is a member of the Twin Cities Rose Club (St. Paul, Minnesota), a member of the both the Rose Hybridizers Association and the American Rose Society. Dr. Zlesak is also a member of the National Clean Plant Network-Rose (a group of scientists and nurserymen committed to having virus-indexed rose germplasm available for breeders and nurserymen) and also the Rose Rosette Task Force (a group of 37 scientists from around the world doing cutting edge research on rose rosette virus). He has an infectious passion for discovery, learning, plants and people. His horticulture specializations are: woody plant identification and culture, plant pathology, plant genetics, propagation and plant breeding.

He maintains the largest known collection of blackspot races in the world so that he and his students can identify in a laboratory setting, races of blackspot that a cultivar may be resistant or susceptible to. In addition, his work with Dr. Ben Lockhart and Dimitri Mollov (University of Minnesota) have identified six new viruses of cultivated roses, along with much research on rose breeding for disease resistance.

Dr. Zlesak coordinates the Northern Earth-Kind® Rose Trials that identify well-adapted, low maintenance landscape roses for the northern Midwest region of the country. He also is a director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability®, a two-year trialing program that help breeders identify regional adaptability of rose cultivars new to market or soon to be introduced.

A well-respected scientist in the field of roses, Dr. Zlesak has given invited presentations at the following national and international conferences:

• International Society of Horticulture Scientists Conference, 2017, Angers, France;

• International Society of Horticulture Scientists Conference, 2015, Hanover, Germany;

• International Plant Trials Conference, 2014, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (paper presented);

• Great Rosarians of the World Conference, 2012, Bronx, New York;

In his words, “My niche is developing plants that are extra hardy, and that’s a value to me and others in our [northern] climate.” In that regard, he has introduced a number of disease resistant, winter hardy roses and other plants to the U.S. market, including: First Editions® Little Devil™ (American Nursery Landscape Association’s best plant of the year award), Ageratum L, John Eustace™, Ageratum L., Monarch Mediano™, Ageratum L., Monarch Grande™, Tuscan Sun™ heliopsis.

He has also had the following roses introduced: Oso Happy™ Smoothie Rose, Oso Happy™ Petit Pink Rose (Winner of the American Rose Society’s Award of Excellence for miniature roses in 2012), Oso Happy™ Candy Oh! Rose, Gaye Hammond™, Above & Beyond™.



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