UF/IFAS Professor Ed Gilman: A legacy of tree growth
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Among his legacies, Ed Gilman wants to make sure trees don’t snap in Florida’s tropical storm-force winds.
When Gilman retires this month from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, he can point at several crowning achievements in his career.
Now, at age 62, Gilman will spend more time with family, of course, and do more woodworking, “working with dead trees instead of live trees,” he deadpanned.
Gilman, without sounding immodest, listed a few other proud accomplishments:
- The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), landscape architects and urban tree experts started sharing ideas with each other more readily.
- The Florida Chapter of the ISA has set up a fund for tree research and a license plate, the funds from which go to arboriculture research. Those tags raised $380,000. Gilman also is helping to set up a $100,000-a-year UF fund for arboriculture research.
- After Florida’s active tropical storm season of 2004, Gilman started studying how to make sure trees don’t fall over in high winds. He and his colleagues discovered fewer trees snap in strong winds if they’re pruned regularly.
The environmental horticulture professor said he’ll miss writing and revising articles for scientific journals. “As painful as it is to write these things, I’m going to miss the process because it’s an intellectual challenge,” Gilman said.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Gilman earned his bachelor’s, masters and doctoral degrees at Rutgers University. One day in his youth, Gilman saw a couple of trees being planted outside his house, he saw them eventually grow and that was it: He decided to study trees for a living. He came to UF/IFAS in 1986, based on Florida’s climate. But it had more to do with how quickly trees can grow here. The faster the growth, the faster he could conduct his research.
Gilman teaches one course every two years: It’s an online course in arboriculture. But it’s atypical from most online courses in that he asks students to spend considerable time justifying why they would plant trees in certain places and how well those trees would grow. In other words, they’re not just sitting in their living rooms and logging onto their computers.
Gilman loves to see and hear how he’s changed the way people think and approach their tree issues after he gives a presentation or after he simply sits down to chat with them.
Apparently, he’s influenced many people.
Take former doctoral student Jake Miesbauer, Gilman’s most recent Ph.D. student (2008-13), who now works for the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.
“He challenged me to question everything and validate every assumption…the arboriculture and nursery industries will undoubtedly have a void to fill,” Miesbauer said.
Mike Marshall, co-owner of Marshall Tree Farm in Morriston, Florida, said Gilman has made “outstanding contributions in the field of hurricane tree research, tree root management, tree pruning and landscape water management.”
Gilman’s research has helped growers produce healthier, stronger trees, Marshall said. An example can be found in tree root management. One of the most important problems in container-grown trees is the development of root defects. Gilman is finding practical solutions to these problems, Marshall said.
Colleague Andrew Koeser, an assistant professor of environmental horticulture at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida, wrote a letter to the ISA, supporting Gilman’s nomination for an Award of Merit.
“By all accounts, Ed has had a long career of outstanding and meritorious service to the industry,” Koeser wrote. “Through his untiring research and education efforts, Ed has created or refined many of the principles, ideals and practices currently embraced by professionals in our field. In particular, Ed has significantly influenced how mature trees are pruned and how nursery materials are produced.”
But maybe Maria Paz, a biological scientist in Gilman’s lab for the past 12 years, summed it up best. Paz, originally from Honduras, recently was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. But that application process took several letters.
“Thanks to our unique research program, I was able to prove to the U.S. government that our research was of ‘national interest,’ and thus I became a U.S. resident,” Paz said. As part of her application packet, she had to obtain 12 letters from experts in their field attesting to their work and its national importance. “We had no issues getting these letters.”