Monday, February 14, 2022

Remembering our Daffodil Friend and Mentor

Dave Niswonger remembered as hospital leader, renowned iris, daylily, and daffodil breeder.

O. D. (Dave) Niswonger (1925 – 2022)

By Jim Morris with input from Charles Pickett and Jason Delaney

Dave Niswonger, 96, passed away February 2, 2022 of natural causes surrounded by his family at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  I knew Dave for over 60 years and he more than fit the description of a great person.  He intended to impress no one and impressed everyone.

The “son of a preacher man,” Dave was born December 6, 1925 at Patton, Missouri, on his grandparents’ farm.  His father was a Methodist minister, and the family moved all over central and southeast Missouri in Dave’s youth.  His interest in gardening was stirred by helping his grandparents raise chickens, onion sets, sweet potatoes, etc.  He began raising his own tomatoes at age six, and by age twelve he had “branched out” to grafting cherry, walnut and pecan trees.  The stately English walnuts and pecans which grace his property today are a testament to his years of work.  Perhaps this is where he developed the patience to wait the required five to seven years to see his daffodils bloom from seed.

Prior to WWII Dave began pre-med training at age 16 at Central Methodist University.  Two years later he was a medical corpsman in the U. S. Navy stationed at a hospital in New York state.  After the war he returned to Missouri, attended and graduated from South East Missouri State University (SEMO) with a BS in Biology and a minor in chemistry.  He began employment for the Missouri Division of Health as a County Sanitarian inspecting milk dairies for adherence to state sanitation requirements.  

He applied for and was awarded a scholarship to the University of North Carolina where he received his MS in Public Health.  Later he worked for the American Heart Association (AHA) as a regional consultant over 25 Missouri counties.  Next, because of his medical background of working with cardiac doctors in the AHA, Dave joined the SEMO Hospital in Cape Girardeau.  He was the hospital administrator there for 30 years, retiring in 1991.  His stellar career at the hospital included building an open-heart surgery program.  When he retired the hospital’s leadership created the O. D. Niswonger Spirit of Southeast Award in his honor.  Karen Hendrickson served as chief nursing officer during Niswonger’s tenure, working alongside him for more than two decades.  She said the Spirit of Southeast Award resonated within the hospital community.

“That became a very coveted award, and when people were deemed worthy of receiving it, it was one of the highest honors any employee would receive,” said Hendrickson.  “It didn’t matter if you were a physician, a housekeeper, a nurse, someone who worked in the support services – anyone was eligible to receive that award, and they accepted it with great pride.”

A past president of the American Iris Society (1996-1998), Dave is noteworthy for receiving two Dykes Medals (the highest award in iris hybridizing), and the premier award from the British Iris Society, the Sir Michael Foster Memorial Plaque in 2000.   He won many other awards for his iris hybridizing and was internationally known as “Missouri’s Mr. Hybridizer.”   His decade’s long hobby enriched his life.  “I’ve developed a lot of friendships around the world while developing iris,” he said.  “This iris has gone a long way from when they were discovered as wild flags in the mountains of Europe.  They are now 25 to 30 generations away from the original species, and friendships in the United States, Russia, Germany and many other countries have been cemented because of them.”

Niswonger focused many of his efforts on creating specifically colored flowers and giving many of them names of good things to eat. 

Encouraged by wife Marie’s love of daffodils – and with advice from his long-time friend and fellow hybridizer Sid DuBose, and daffodil giant Grant Mitsch – Dave began hybridizing daffodils in the late 1970s, with his ultimate goal being a brilliant yellow-pink daffodil that would perform in the Midwest, manifesting the same richness of color and plant stamina found in cultivars originating in the Pacific Northwest – many of which often failed to withstand our climate extremes.  Though this goal was not fully realized, the byproducts of such endeavors created a wealth of truly “weatherproof” decorative large-cupped daffodils with stamina, colors, and ruffles to spare, predominately pinks, and always “favorites of the ladies.”

His large-cupped pink daffodils are flamboyant and die-hard exhibitors and even many breeders of exhibition daffodils have overlooked Dave’s hybridizing work. While his ‘Traveling On’ (2000,  2YYW-WWO) is probably his best exhibition daffodil, the bouquet of pinks shown here in the photo are stunning in the garden.  He used a Mitsch seedling #7 in the beginning along with ‘Ice Follies’ (1953, 2W-W), notably an older variety although a Classic and Wister Award winner.  Every true gardener who grows any of his daffodils immediately notices Dave’s fine contribution to the daffodil world through his vigorous clumps of varieties that perennialize beautifully, returning year after year.  And for those who like ruffles, hooks, knobs, teeth and flecks – akin to those found on modern daylilies, another of Dave’s hybridizing successes – his early work with ‘Ice Follies’ unlocked some of the “toothiest” genetics yet seen, manifesting ruffles like barracuda or shark’s teeth on corona edges in the second and third generations, all on plants with the same vigor and robustness of ‘Ice Follies’.  Dave’s ‘Dangerous Dentures’ (2011, 2W-Y) and a seedling, under the moniker “With Teeth,” are a testament to the success of a plant breeder who paves his own path.  In total Dave registered 30 daffodils from 1993 to 2018, and several more are being bulked for future introduction.  His daffodil seedlings are now being grown by Jason Delaney in Flora, Illinois.

Dave and his late wife Marie had two sons, David III and John, and a daughter Mary Dee.  They were at his side when he passed.  Dave’s good nature and hearty encouragement will be missed by many.  Yet he will always be remembered each spring when his flowers bloom.  Our gardens are all the richer thanks to Dave Niswonger’s many fine accomplishments.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Trees and more trees!

Trees have public health and social benefits, environmental benefits, and economic benefits in communities and business districts. Join us on Sunday, February 23, in the CBEC Building, at 1:30pm when Mike Rood from Pea Ridge Forest tells us about 'Trees and more trees'!

Mike Rood is president and co-owner of Pea Ridge Forest, a wholesale tree nursery and Christmas tree farm, in Hermann, Missouri. He came home from college at the University of Missouri-Columbia armed with his degree and a vision to begin the evolution of Pea Ridge. Mike availed himself of every educational opportunity that came along. As the in-house arborist, he is the consummate tree geek and salesman. Mike has never met a stranger, and because of this, he thrives when handling the business interactions of the farm.

Members of the Greater St Louis Daffodil Society are thrilled that Mike has found time in his busy schedule to address Trees, one of the most important resources on planet earth.

Biography for Mike Rood
February 2020 Speaker

Mike Rood is president and co-owner of Pea Ridge Forest. He came home from college at the University of Missouri-Columbia armed with his degree and a vision to begin the evolution of Pea Ridge. Mike availed himself of every educational opportunity that came along. As the in-house arborist, he is the consummate tree geek and salesman. Mike has never met a stranger, and because of this, he thrives when handling the business interactions of the farm.

Pea Ridge Forest is a family owned and operated tree farm. Growing quality trees has always been their mission, whether its Christmas trees from their choose and cut operation or balled and burlapped trees for their wholesale nursery. Pride in their work has been the cornerstone of the business. As such, Pea Ridge Forest has remained a source of quality trees since 1972.

Nestled in the hills along the Missouri River in eastern Missouri, Pea Ridge Forest started as a Christmas tree farm when Myron Gwinner, the previous owner, planted the first trees in 1955. Naive and overly optimistic about what it takes to produce quality trees, LeRoy and Mary Rood bought the farm, literally, in 1972 and subsequently fell in love with the place. LeRoy and Mary instilled their love for the land and their work in their sons, Mike and Scott. Pea Ridge Forest is now a family run business with a shared business philosophy, strong work ethic and commitment to quality trees.

Learn more about Pea Ridge Forest on their extensive website at

Thursday, May 16, 2019

New Miniature and Standard Daffodils

'Shaws Legacy' Daffodil
Join us on July 21, 2019 when our good friend Larry Force tells us about his experiences hybridizing new miniature and standard daffodils!

GSLDS members know Larry from his interest in the Shaw Nature Reserve Poeticus daffodils and he has also been on several Daffodil Digs with us. Larry is a nationally known speaker and grows his miniature and standard daffodils at his home in Mississippi. He has won many ADS ribbons around the country through the years, but is always trying to do better with each entry.

In his presentation Larry will expand on his talk given during the 2016 World Daffodil Convention. His presentation will focus on the miniature and standard daffodils that have evolved from his hybridizing efforts, as well as a few photos of his seedlings and daffodil bed preparation.

Be sure to mark your calendars and invite your friends. Larry is never boring and has learned through trial and error the things that all of us as daffodil growers should learn before making them ourselves.

Larry Force presenting placque at Shaw Nature Reserve
Biography for Larry Force
July 2019 Speaker

Larry has had a long time interest in horticulture that covers gardening annuals, perennials, hostas, lilies, native trees and wildflowers. He grows a number of host and nectar plants for native butterflies, nectar producing plants, as well as providing feeders for the hummingbirds in the summer.

Larry became more interested in daffodils after attending a program at the Memphis Horticulture Society given by Brent Heath. He joined the American Daffodil Society soon after and began to grow more daffodils. His interest in miniature daffodils grew through an acquaintance with Martha Anderson, a long time grower and exhibitor of miniatures. Larry began hybridizing in 2000 because few new and different miniatures were available from commercial sources. Larry also does intermediate, standard, and poet daffodil hybridizing.

Members of the Greater St Louis Daffodil Society are thrilled that Larry has found time in his schedule to help us learn from his experiences while hybridizing and growing daffodils.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Orchids: Lore and Legend

Orchids are one of the largest families of plant families comprising over 30,000 species found from the equator to both poles. Tales of the magic and beauty of orchids have found their way through history from Confucius through Greek and Roman mythology. Wealthy Europeans from the 17th through 19th centuries paid fortunes for exotic tropical specimens.

Join us on February 24, at 1:30pm, when Carol Gravens, Advanced Level Master Gardener, will address the role that Orchids have played in history and the beauty they have brought us for centuries.

Biography for Carol Gravens
February 2019 Speaker

Carol Gravens will be our February 2019 guest speaker and will give a program entitled Orchids: Lore and Legend.

Carol Gravens gives talks and teaches classes on orchids to various groups in the community and at the Missouri Botanical Garden as part of the Master Gardener Speakers' Bureau. She volunteers one day a week in the orchid greenhouses at the Garden and grows orchids at her home in Glendale, Missouri. She also is a Kemper Center Plant Doctor volunteer. She loves everything about horticulture and has a passion for orchids.

Ms. Gravens, retired from a professional career as a microbiologist, and is currently an Advanced Level St. Louis Master Gardener. She became a Master Naturalist in 2007 and has an AAS in Horticulture from St Louis Community College, Meramec.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Memories from Oregon and New Iris Introductions

'Judy Smiles' Iris
Join us on July 15 at 1:30pm, when our good friend Bob Skaggs tells us about his memories from the 2018 National Iris Convention held in Oregon and photos of new Iris introductions in his garden!

In his presentation Bob will show us the exciting Sights and Iris he encountered at the 2018 National Iris Convention in Oregon. He will also focus on the new iris introductions currently growing in his garden and the direction for his hybridizing program.

There will be plenty of time for questions and answers so be sure to mark your calendars and invite your friends. Bob always has wonderful photos and delivers tremendous presentations. We are delighted to see what he is working on and what is on the horizon for his Iris.

Bob & Judy Skaggs grow over 600 varieties of daffodils, but Bob’s true passion are irises. Bob has been hybridizing iris for 12 years. In their garden they presently grow 1,300 named iris varieties, and plant over 3,000 iris seedlings each year from their own hybridizing efforts. Bob has currently introduced 3 Iris cultivars, ‘Marilyn’s Skirt’, ‘Golden Snitches’ and ‘Judy’s Smile’.

Bob has generously donated his new iris introductions to our annual Daffodil Bulb Exchange auction, and they have been highly sought after by our membership. Bob & Judy’s garden was on the 2015 Iris Region 18 Convention tour and Bob grew over 100 guest plants for that event from hybridizers throughout the states. Bob and Judy grow approximately 1,000 named daylilies and also hybridizes daylilies.

Members of the Greater St Louis Daffodil Society are thrilled that Bob has found time for a presentation about his memories from the 2018 National Iris Convention held in Oregon and photos of new iris introductions from his garden.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Enriching the Gerald Community with Daffodils

On March 03, 2018 the MoDOT Growing Together project update took place just outside the community of Gerald, MO where we continue to plant daffodil bulbs along the highway’s right-of-way.  Our long-range goal is to fully plant the right-of-way to greet travelers with drifts of spring-flowering daffodils as they enter the community of Gerald.

The daffodil bulbs were donated by Dr. John Reed of Oakwood Daffodils of Niles, MI and the Greater St.Louis Daffodil Society.   Sponsors and support came from the Gasconade County Master Gardeners, the Greater St. Louis Daffodil Society, and Gerald’s Boy Scout troop.

In total, nine energetic volunteers planted the bulbs on a bright and sunny day, which made for a pleasant event.

The Greater St. Louis Daffodil Society’s by-laws require community outreach, and this project provided a perfect opportunity.  The Gasconade Master Gardeners, also have a yearly requirement for community outreach; those attending were able to earn some quality service hours for their effort.

Be sure to visit the site this spring, to see all of the color, and each spring thereafter.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Bees - Natural Pollination

Insect pollinators are needed for the reproduction of many flowering plants and one third of human food crops. Bees are just one of the many animal pollinators found in nature, but they play in important role. Each of us depends on pollinators in a practical way to provide us with the wide range of foods we eat.

Pollinators are part of the intricate web that supports the biological diversity in natural ecosystems that helps sustain our quality of life. Abundant and healthy populations of pollinators can improve fruit set and quality, and increase fruit size. In the wild, biodiversity increases and wildlife food sources increase.

Join members of the Greater St Louis Daffodil Society on February 25, at 1:30pm, when Peter McAdams will address the important role that Bees play in nature, and how you can attract bees to the flowering plants in your garden.

Peter and Jan McAdams have been Beekeeper's for a number of years and are the owners of McAdams Apiary, located in Brighton, IL. Their bees produce, and they sell local honey bottled or comb. They build and sell many styles and sizes of Observation Bee Hives, and regular hives assembled with or without bees. They are also a nationally known Apitherapy location using honey bee products and Bee Venom Therapy (BVT).

During Spring visit the McAdam's Daffodil Farm, an American Daffodil Society Display Garden, to view the thousands of daffodils throughout their property. In Summer, they specialize in vine ripened home grown tomatoes, sweet peppers, and many varities of hot peppers. They are known for the many varieties that they grow.