Dr. Frank E. Gardner (1901-1979)

Inducted 2020


Dr. Frank Easter Gardner was born in Washington, D.C. to Frank D. Gardner and Ellen P. Crum on April 7, 1901, which was Easter Day that year – hence his middle name.

He grew up in Pennsylvania where his father was head of the Agronomy Department at Penn State and graduated from this University with a B.S. degree in Horticulture in 1923 before moving on to the University of California to obtain his M.S. in Pomology the following year. From 1923 -27, he was on a Plant Nutrition Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his doctorate in 1927.

His first employment was at the University of Maryland where he taught and did research in the Department of Horticulture for three years before joining the United States Department of Agriculture in 1930 to direct the Plant Industry Station at Beltsville, Md. For the next 10 years he was in charge of the research on rootstocks and propagation of deciduous fruits, pioneering research with plant growth substances and was the Bureau Representative for CWA and PWA works in Maryland. It was during this time that he made one of the outstanding horticultural discoveries of the century by finding that hormone sprays prevented the preharvest shedding of fruit. He also made important contributions in the field of propagation of plants by root and stem cuttings.

He was sent from Washington, D.C. in 1940 to head up the USDA Subtropical Fruit Station in Orlando, Fla. As such, he expanded the citrus research activities there and spent 29 years conducting research work in the areas of breeding, rootstocks, nutrition and diseases. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Citrus Research Foundation Farm, which housed a wide variety of propagation material and was among the first to establish large scale systematic rootstock trials. In addition, he was a sought-after speaker at grower functions, as he was able to communicate his findings and give real world applications to citrus growers. He held this post for 18 years until, in 1958, he asked to be relieved of administrative duties in order to devote more time to research. After that, he carried out studies on citrus rootstocks and related lines of work, such as water relations and cold tolerance. He traveled throughout the nation presenting papers on the results of his research and wrote articles for national science publications.

Gardner was a member of numerous national scientific societies, including the American Society of Horticultural Science, of which he was the General Program Chair in 1940, was elected as a “Fellow” for the American Association for Advancement of Science, a member of Who’s Who in America and the Soil and Crop Science Society of Florida, and was past president of the Florida State Horticultural Society, to name just a few. He was a member of the Editorial Committee of Annual Review of Plant Physiology from 1957 to 1961 and represented the Citrus Production Section of ARS for ten years at meetings of the National Citrus Advisory Committee from its inception. In addition, he was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, as well as the honor societies Sigma Xi, Phi Kappa Phi, and Gamma Sigma Delta.

Gardner authored numerous papers on rootstocks, hormones, fertilization and breeding, presenting 22 papers to the Florida State Horticultural Society alone, which awarded its highest honor to him by electing him to Honorary Membership in the Society in 1967.

In his personal life, he was Vice Chairman of the Civic Advisory Council to Florida Sanitarium and Hospital, Chairman of the Cuban Refugee Action Committee and a member of the Orlando Rotary Club.  He and his wife, Merle, had one son – Neil – and two grandsons.

Dr. Gardner passed away on May 25, 1979 in Orlando at the age of 79, but the leadership and direction he gave during his lifetime resulted in a considerable amount of citrus research that has been the bedrock for research that continues to benefit the entire industry today.

Therefore, we are honored to add Dr. Frank E. Gardner to the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!