Perspectives Online

Cathey is outstanding horticultural science alumnus

Marc Cathey receives his Outstanding Alumnus award from Dr. Julia Kornegay, head of the Department of Horticultural Science.
Photo by Mark Dearmon

Henry Marc Cathey, emeritus director of the National Arboretum and its director from 1980 to 1993, was recently named the 2004 Outstanding Alumnus of the Department of Horticulture, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Cathey, a 1950 graduate of the department, was honored during 2004 fall graduation ceremonies at the Ruby McSwain Education Center, JC Raulston Arboretum, and later at a reception at Kilgore Hall, hosted by Dr. Julia Kornegay, head of the Department of Horticultural Science.

"We had a wonderful time with Dr. Cathey," said Kornegay. "He continues to be passionate about scientific advances in horticulture and gave a very stimulating talk to the department, complete with unusual props that he would pull out of large boxes to emphasize a point he was making.

"We all went home with a box of crayons, as his newest area of research is on flower color. We are very honored that Dr. Cathey's long and distinguished career in horticultural research and public outreach started right here in our department."

Cathey, born in Davidson, was a 4-H'er who inherited an enduring interest in plants from his grandmother. His enthusiasm led him to his bachelor's degree from N.C. State, and to master's and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell. He studied in Europe as a Fulbright Scholar and joined the USDA as a research horticulturalist in 1956. His studies of light, chemical and temperature interrelations led to industry and consumer guidelines on how to use light and chemicals to control the size, shape, color and flowering of a large number of ornamental plants, such as the poinsettia.

In 1981, Cathey became the fourth director of the U.S. National Arboretum. During his tenure, he was instrumental in the development of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, one of the most valuable tools available to gardeners today.

Cathey was president of the American Horticultural Society from 1974 to 1978 and from 1993 to 1997. In his honor, the society created the H. Marc Cathey Medal for research in horticulture. Two member of the College's horticultural sciences faculty have won the award.

Cathey believes in a "New American Landscape" that encompasses sound environmental practices. "That means gardening with hardy plants; it means composting, building your own recycling center rather than using garbage disposals; it means containment to halt erosion of soil and seepage of fertilizers into the ground," he said in an interview with N.C. State's alumni magazine in 1990, when he was named a distinguished alumnus of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Spreading the New American Landscape's message, he appeared often on NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America" and CBS's "Morning Break" shows, has received many industry awards and is one of the industry's most widely published authors. In 1990, he co-authored The National Arboretum Book of Outstanding Garden Plants, which received a favorable New York Times review. He is also co-editor of the 2004 edition of The AHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and The AHS Garden Plants and Flowers.

- Art Latham