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September 24, 2003

Wright Center to house forest research and natural retreat

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Forestry research at Purdue University is ready to grow to new heights, thanks to the opening of the $4 million John S. Wright Forestry Center at Martell Forest.

Wright Forestry Center
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A dedication ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at the center, located nine miles west of Purdue's campus. Tours of the facility begin at 2 p.m.

Named for John Shepherd Wright, Purdue benefactor and member of the class of 1892, the center includes teaching and research laboratories, office space for faculty and students, two greenhouses, two walk-in coolers for storing large plant specimens and a 120-person conference facility. The 17,000-square-foot center will be used as a field lab, teaching resource and meeting place for faculty, staff and students in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources as well as other departments on campus.

"The John S. Wright Forestry Center is a much needed facility," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "It is an ideal environment for student learning in an outdoor setting, and it provides faculty with state-of-the art facilities for studying the health of Indiana forests."

Victor Lechtenberg, dean of the School of Agriculture, said the facility will help do more than aid in research and student learning.

"The Wright Forestry Center also provides a place where the public can learn about forestry and wildlife issues," Lechtenberg said. "Creating public understanding of environmental issues is crucial in developing public support for our research and learning missions and for economic growth across the state."

The center was built with income generated from the John S. Wright Fund for the Promotion of Forestry in Indiana. Established in 1964, this endowment was granted to the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources on behalf of Wright, a Purdue alumnus and Eli Lilly and Co. executive. Construction on the facility began in April 2002, and the first undergraduate courses were held there at the beginning of this fall semester.

"The Wright Forestry Center is a microcosm of a land-grant university," said Dennis LeMaster, head of the forestry and natural resources department. "It is a research facility for testing theoretical questions, it is an instructional laboratory for teaching, and its conference facility provides an outreach capability. We have research, teaching and extension all happening in this beautiful, highly functional space out there."

The center and adjacent grounds showcase Indiana's native flora. Surrounded by 425 acres of hardwood forest typical of central Indiana, the center itself includes white oak doors and white oak plywood paneling trimmed with red oak. The grounds will be landscaped with flowers, trees and shrubs native to Indiana as part of a class project in landscape architecture. The grounds also include the Van Camp Arboretum, a collection of 100 trees native to Indiana provided to the department as a gift from the family of a former Purdue faculty member, John L. Van Camp.

The concentration of forested land encircling the Wright Forestry Center is a valuable component of the central Indiana landscape, said George Parker, professor of forestry.

"The remaining forests in Indiana, like the one at Martell, are storehouses of biological diversity," he said. "They add to the aesthetic quality of the landscape and are major areas for public outdoor recreation."

The center's wooded location makes it ideal for research and teaching in which many faculty are involved, LeMaster said.

"What makes our department unique in the field of forestry and natural resources is our emphasis on basic science in ecology and genetics," he said. "This facility provides an opportunity for our faculty to do field research in these sciences in a way that's just not possible on campus because the forest is right next to the laboratories and greenhouses. The conference facility adds the benefit that faculty can meet with their colleagues from across the state and region and show them their research plots right out the front door."

Parker said some of the most significant research the Wright Forestry Center will involve improving the quality of hardwood trees native to Indiana. One such tree is the black walnut, which Purdue scientists have been studying at the Martell forest since the 1960s. That work continues today through the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC), a collaborative effort among the university, private organizations, and state and federal agencies.

"This facility provides better opportunities for our United States Forestry Service partners to expand their ongoing hardwood tree research," Lechtenberg said. "The Wright Center benefits our total program."

Black walnut is one of a number of trees called fine hardwoods.

"Black walnut is one of the most valuable tree species in furniture production," Parker said. "It produces a high-quality wood, and its color and grain pattern are very visually pleasing."

HTIRC researchers will use the Wright Center facilities to propagate black walnut seedlings from adult trees that exhibit ideal characteristics, such as rapid growth rate, straight trunks and disease resistance, said Paula Pijut, a plant physiologist with the HTIRC. She and her colleagues will then grow those seedlings to adulthood in plantations at the Wright Center and other locations across the state.

Another tree of special concern is the butternut. Butternuts were once found across much of eastern North America, but populations have been decimated because of a fungal pathogen called butternut canker, said Keith Woeste, a molecular geneticist with the HTIRC. He and his colleagues are in the midst of a breeding program at the Wright Center designed to develop canker-resistant butternut, with the ultimate goal of restoring the species throughout its historic range.

Some healthy butternut trees do exist at Martell Forest, Woeste said, but they present a challenge to forest biologists. Butternuts can hybridize with a tree called the Japanese walnut, which has natural immunity to the canker.

"When we find these healthy trees, a question we have to ask is, 'Is it really a butternut, or are we looking at a hybrid?'" Woeste said.

The hybrid trees look nearly identical to purebred butternuts, so Woeste and his colleagues rely on a DNA test to tell them apart. They sample the DNA by removing it from leaf tissue, then they look for patterns in the DNA characteristic of either butternut, Japanese walnut or the hybrid.

"A real advantage of the Wright Center is that it allows us to extract that DNA right after we remove the leaves from the tree," Woeste said. "DNA quality is affected by time, so it's important that we are able to process the leaves right away."

People interested in reserving the Wright Forestry Center conference facility for meetings or other events can contact Rita McKenzie at (765) 496-3625,

Writer: Jennifer Cutraro, 765-496-2050,

Sources: Martin Jischke, (765) 494-9708

Victor Lechtenberg, (765) 494-8391,

Dennis LeMaster, (765) 494-3590,

George Parker, (765) 494-3602,

Paula Pijut, (765) 496-2162,

Keith Woeste, (765) 496-6808,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

The 12,000-square-foot John S. Wright Forestry Center is nestled in the woods just west of Purdue's West Lafayette campus. The $4 million facility will be dedicated during a 4 p.m. ceremony on Friday, Oct. 3. (Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

A publication-quality photograph is available at