Dr. Zhanao Deng

Research: Breeding and Genetics of Ornamental and Landscape Plants

The primary goal of Dr. Deng's research program is to develop new cultivars for the Florida environmental horticulture industry and to satisfy the need of plant materials for Florida-friendly landscaping.

Florida’s environmental horticulture industry is a very important contributor to the state’s economy, employment, and rural development. Florida growers in this dynamic industry and consumers both face significant challenges, including devastating diseases, environmental stresses, and biological invasion.

In response to industry and consumers' needs, the focus of Dr. Deng's research program has been to develop new cultivars with novel colors or coloration patterns, enhance container/landscape performance, improve disease resistance and stress tolerance, genetic sterility (or non-invasiveness), or other characteristics of interest to the industry and consumers.

To increase breeding efficiency and expedite cultivar development, the research team studies the pattern of inheritance for important horticultural or aesthetic traits, investigates the genetic bases of these traits, and develops new genetic, genomic, and molecular tools that can be applied to ornamental plants.

Below are some of our accomplishments in these research areas:

  • Discovered Sources of Disease Resistance and Stress Tolerance:
    We have discovered sources of resistance to Pythium root rot, Fusarium tuber rot and Xanthomonas leaf spot in caladium, resistance to powdery mildew in gerbera and Coreopsis, and tolerance to low temperatures in caladium.
  • Developed and Released New Cultivars:  
    We have developed and released 27 new cultivars in caladium (13), gerbera (12), and lantana (2). Many elite breeding lines have been developed, and some of them have shown very good potential to be released in the next few years.
  • Understand the Genetics or Inheritance of Important Characteristics:  
    We have elucidated the inheritance of leaf shape, main vein color, color spots, and blotches (four important characteristics) in caladium and the inheritance of burgundy spots on Coreopsis flowers. We have uncovered the main genetic causes of male and female sterility in lantana and assessed pollen-mediated gene flow from Coreopsis tinctoria to Coreopsis leavenworthii, which are two important species of the Florida state wildflower. 
  • Developed and Applied Biotechnological Tools to Improve Breeding Efficiency:
    We have developed molecular markers for use in caladium, Coreopsis, gerbera, lantana, and petunia. Using these molecular markers, we have tagged two QTL's responsible for powdery mildew resistance in gerbera, identified key germplasm for caladium breeding, detected multiple forms in Coreopsis leavenworthii natural populations in Florida, and discovered the existence of multiple reproductive pathways in invasive lantana. 
Dr. Zhanao Deng

Professor, Ornamental Plant Breeding and Genetics