Students Learn About Floral Industry

May 3, 2024

Imagine a fashion week for the horticultural and floricultural industries, with plant breeders parading their newest and best-looking flowers for all to see.

That’s what Cal Poly Pomona plant science students witnessed during the Home Depot California Spring Trials at AGRIscapes.

During the event, which was held March 5-7, plant breeders presented buyers from the home improvement company with the latest varieties of plants for potential sale stores throughout the chain.

But the event also gave students the opportunity to interact with industry professionals and observe what they do and learn about potential careers and internships.

Denise Mullins, director of product innovation at Smith Gardens Inc., and Tom Wheeler, director of growing operations at Bell Nursery USA, spoke to students about careers in the industry.

Plant science classes also visited the showcase and got a tour from Jennifer McComish, a live goods merchant for Home Depot.

McComish spoke to students about how plants are bred to better disease resistance, increased yield, and adaptability to specific geographic regions. She also talked about how retailers market and merchandise the plants for consumers.

Carla Carter, a junior plant science student and aspiring plant breeder, thought the work with plant genetics was fascinating.

“Even though the genetics part is so broad, there are little niches where you can come in and find your own that you like,” Carter said. “I guess there’s a lot of trial and error, but you can see that the payoff is very rewarding when you can come to these shows and have breeders come and select what you’ve worked on for so many years.”

Angelina Valencia, a second-year food science and technology student who is switching to agricultural science, found McComish’s discussion of plant breeding and advertising informative.

“She was talking about how they need to think about what the consumer wants, how easy it is to plant, does it smell good, does it look good, is it their favorite color,” she said. “There are a lot of factors that I didn’t consider before.”

Valenica appreciated the breeders’ work blending traits of flowering plants. She hopes to work one day in a similar role working with fruits and vegetables.  

Students also could come on their own time during the event to ask questions of the industry professionals on site.

One student, Susares Downing, was hired to work in the garden department of the Home Depot in Pomona.

After the event, the samples were donated to the Huntley College of Agriculture and sold at a special March 9 sale at AGRIscapes.

AGRIscapes has hosted plant breeders and Home Depot for several years since 2017.