A University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) startup founded more than a decade ago to help develop and market disease resistant dogwood trees continues to thrive. Creative Agricultural Technologies, LLC (CAT) licenses patented and unpatented disease-resistant dogwood trees for production and sale to wholesale growers.

To address the growing problem of exotic pathogens attacking dogwoods, CAT was formed in 2005 by a team of University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), Entomology and Plant Pathology researchers including:

  • Robert N. Trigiano
  • Mark T. Windham
  • Alan S. Windham
  • Willard T. Witte (retired from the Department of Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design)
  • Effin T. Graham (deceased)

In the late 1980s to mid-1990s, two fungal diseases wreaked havoc on dogwood trees in Tennessee. Dogwood anthracnose and powdery mildew were infecting and decimating the number of dogwoods raised and sold by nurseries. The resulting costs to control these diseases were crippling the nursery industry in Tennessee and forcing smaller nurseries out of business.

UTIA researchers recognized the need to bring disease-resistant flowering dogwood trees to the nursery industry. They started looking for specimens with previously demonstrated resilience to one or both diseases. They located one such species in Maryland, brought a specimen back to Tennessee, and cloned it. This cultivar, known as Appalachian Spring, is still the single cultivar scientifically proven to be highly tolerant to dogwood anthracnose and resistant to powdery mildew. These researchers also developed five other flowering dogwood cultivars, each with different characteristics, that were resistant to powdery mildew.  They also have developed three Chinese dogwood cultivars that are available to nurseries.

In partnership with UTRF, these researchers created CAT to raise awareness within the nursery industry about these new disease-resistant trees. UTRF has exclusively licensed all the intellectual property and patent rights to these trees to CAT, and CAT is now a vehicle for marketing these dogwood cultivars. In turn, these researchers can focus their energies on marketing and licensing their trees to wholesale growers.

“Our collaboration with UTRF is a true partnership,” says Dr. Robert Trigiano, CAT co-founder and Institute Professor, Ornamental Plant Biotechnology and Plant Pathology, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at UTIA. “When CAT started in 2005, few university entities were taking the initiative to advance technologies and products to market. UTRF was different. They gave us assistance in the commercialization process.”

Since its start in 2005, CAT has focused most of its marketing efforts on nurseries in Tennessee. For each new cultivar that is released by CAT, Tennessee nurseries receive a three-year exclusive right to produce and sell that cultivar. This exclusive right gives them a competitive advantage in the market. In addition to Tennessee nurseries, CAT has licensed dogwood cultivars to growers in North Carolina, Oregon, and Japan. Eight cultivars are currently marketed through CAT. In addition to disease resistance, each cultivar has been selected for specific traits, such as flowering pattern, flower shape, size, quantity, and tree shape.

“It’s satisfying to see this startup, one of UTRF’s first, doing so well for over 13 years,” says Dr. Maha Krishnamurthy, UTRF Vice President. “CAT’s work to market and license disease-resistant dogwood trees to nurseries is helping the nursery industry provide new disease resistant dogwoods with different traits.”

The UTIA researchers behind CAT continue to study and seek out new and beneficial traits for dogwood trees. They anticipate releasing two new dogwood cultivars within the next two years: a red dogwood that appears to be resistant to powdery mildew and a Chinese dogwood with an inverted base (wide at the bottom and skinny on top) and fused bracts, which gives the tree a fuller, more colorful look.