“Newsmaker: A Flowering Creation,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 68
“I don’t know what I’ll find, or if I’ll find anything, or where I’ll find it,” says plant breeder Ronald Parker as he departs on another field trip among the flora of southern Utah. “I must be prepared to be disillusioned and disappointed. Or I might be on top of the world because I’ve found a new possibility.”
While most of his counterparts work with species already under cultivation, Brother Parker seeks to interbreed wildflowers. He is especially known for his twelve-year project of breeding vibrant new colors and shapes into the genus Catharanthus, which was previously an insignificant flower available in two or three dull colors. Brother Parker’s work has won him several All-America Selections awards, the most prestigious award in horticulture, and Greenhouse Grower magazine named him one of floriculture’s “Guiding Stars.”
His work with flowers involves the scientific disciplines of taxonomy, botany, genetics, plant breeding, and floriculture. He tracks down collectors who possess rare seeds, researches taxonomy for promising species he might work with, and hunts for wild specimens in the field. Every summer he hand transplants and hand hoes tens of thousands of seedlings, most of which are eventually discarded in his quest for new varieties of garden flowers.
“I have a great appreciation and respect for the beauty and workings of Heavenly Father’s creation,” says Brother Parker. “What I do is simply mimic or manipulate some of the basic natural laws that Heavenly Father has implemented. I act as an agent for bringing elements of his creation together a little faster than might naturally occur.”
After spending his childhood on an Illinois dairy farm, Brother Parker earned his degree in horticulture at the University of Illinois. He served a mission to Germany, and later he received a doctorate in botany from Brigham Young University. He taught genetics and botany at Virginia Commonwealth University for seven years, and in June of this year he retired from the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He and his wife now live in St. George, Utah, where they are members of the Bloomington Hills Sixth Ward, Bloomington Hills Utah Stake.