Profile: Richard Harkess
A professor of plant and soil sciences, Richard Harkess is a horticulturist whose professional and personal interests collide. Whether at home or work, Harkess loves caring for plants of all types. But flowers are his specialty.
A native of Minnesota, Harkess was the middle of nine children. His family tended a large garden, and he took to it naturally. Harkess said he remembers his mother making all types of jams and jellies from the various fruits and berries they grew, as well as canning and freezing a bounty of vegetables.
"Food and horticulture go hand in hand," said Harkess, who once wanted to be a chef.
Instead, he studied horticulture at the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate and went on to earn a master's degree at Colorado State and a doctoral degree from Virginia Tech, where he also did post-doctoral work.
January will mark his 19th year at MSU, where he has been advising the Horticulture Club for nearly as long. He also serves as undergraduate program coordinator for the department and as advisor for students concentrating in floriculture and ornamental horticulture. Additionally, he devotes half his time as a Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station researcher.
Each year, students in the Horticulture Club grow poinsettias for Christmastime, and the sales benefit student trips to regional and national horticulture conferences. Harkess said MSU students have been very successful over the years at earning top honors in plant identification and commodity evaluation competitions during these trips.
In August, the students receive poinsettia cuttings and work throughout the fall semester to encourage proper growth in preparation for showy plants in time for the holidays. Pink, red and white poinsettias are among the most prevalent, but marble varieties have been added, and this year a new "ice punch" variety was offered by the club.
Harkess said the poinsettias will thrive best if they are kept away from heating vents and cold drafts. They do well in a cooler inside location with bright light, such as near a window. He suggested keeping soil moist — not too wet or dry.
While poinsettias are tops for the Christmas holidays, he said every time of year offers something new to enjoy. Among his personal favorites are Iris in the spring and Black-Eyed Susan in the summer. He has turned his own yard into an oasis of ornamental variety, complete with a pomegranate tree.
In addition to growing plants, Harkess has found success at growing future professionals in his field. He has been recognized with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences teaching awards and by regional and national levels of the American Society for Horticultural Science as an outstanding undergraduate educator.Writer: Allison Matthews | Photo: Beth Wynn
Next week … Summer Smith !