Texas Tech University

Research Highlight: Cynthia McKenney

Research Focus

Dr. Cynthia McKenney's research includes primarily working with native plants, focusing on wildflower enhancement to increase drought tolerance, plant architecture, and length and intensity of floral display.  Working with native plants over the past 25 years, Dr. McKenney naturally began conducting research with water-conserving landscapes.   McKenney currently researches wildflowers on 2.5 acres at the Plant and Soil Science Quaker Farm, several research plots and indoor bench space at the Plant and Soil ScienceGreenhouse.

POMEGRANATES
This delicious and nutritious crop is credited with anti-oxidant benefits that help fight cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and assist in the fight against diabetes. While there are many other beneficial claims, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has listed them as helping to fight cholesterol (Aviram and Rosenblat, 2012) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pmc/articles/PMC3514854/). Consumption of the plant flavonoids help with the reduce coronary heart disease (Hertog et al., 1995) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7848021).
We have established a pomegranate orchard at the Quaker Research Farm on the Texas Tech University campus. This orchard is designed to trial 12 accessions of pomegranates for potential production in this region. Stay tuned to find out which ones will be best for this region.

WILDFLOWERS
With increasing concerns due to diminishing water levels in our aquifer and water quality due to soluble salts in our drinking water, a search for landscape ornamentals tolerant of drought and salinity has been a focus for this research group for many years. The results of these efforts have become the Raider Wildflower Collectiontm of durable Texas native plants. We have 8 releases over the past 15 years which are available from Turner Seed in Breckenridge, TX. Seed is available at https://www.turnerseed.com/wildflower-seed.html. Currently we are continuing to identify new salinity and drought tolerant plants.

ORNAMENTAL INDUSTRY TRIALS
Large horticultural companies, many which are internationally based, require regional trials so they are able to recommend specific products for the various demanding environments. Texas Tech University has been identified as a heat, drought, wind and cold tolerance trialing location. Each fall and spring, companies submit their materials to be grown off in the demanding climate of Lubbock and compared to other industry options. Swing by the University Garden and Greenhouse to see these trials so you can select tough but attractive plants for your own landscape. Plants are labeled for your convenience. Watch for our consumer preference survey results to see which plants were the most popular.

SUSTAINABLE VEGETABLE DEMONSTRATION GARDEN
This hay bale garden has followed many of the desirable practices of sustainable vegetable production. The use of weed barrier, mulching, planting in hay bales, and drip irrigation has made this a useful demonstration for gardeners ready to jump into sustainable production. The garden is located on the Quaker Farm of the Texas Tech University campus.

Importance of Graduate Students

McKenney's research team meets weekly to discuss projects and collaborate.  “Graduate students are an integral part of academic research,” says McKenney.  Each graduate student in her lab is given a project of their own from start to finish, but everyone works together, supporting one another's research.  McKenney believes this allows students to acquire research skills through learning activities. 
Most gratifying to McKenney is watching graduate students mature and thrive through the process of becoming autonomous researchers while striving for research publication.  In addition, McKenney is excited to see her students advance in their careers, post-graduation.

Research Future

McKenney's research is ever-evolving in that she and her team always try to modify existing equipment to mechanize harvesting, planting, counting, and treating of wildlflowers and their unique inflorescence and small seed size.  Her future includes continuing her wildflower and native plant research interests as well as continuing collaborations with neutraceutical interests, synthetic fuels, and distance education.

 Cynthia McKenney, Ed.D. - Associate Chair and Rockwell Endowed Professor of Horticulture - Plant and Soil Science; 
PSS Distance Program Leader

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Department of Plant and Soil Science