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History of the ARS Pollen Bank

Marthaann Mayer started the Pollen Bank in 1975 as a New York Chapter project in an effort to assist the hybridizers who were supplying much of the seed for our chapter seed exchange. Marthaann was chapter seed chairman at the time and felt that since hybridizers did so much for the seed exchange she wanted to do something for them in return.  It soon become apparent that members of other chapters wanted to participate and that the Pollen Bank would be much more useful to everyone as a national function; so, at the request of August Kehr, who was then president of the American Rhododendron Society, the New York Chapter pollen bank became the ARS Pollen Bank.

There was a national committee consisting of Kendall Gambrill, Dick Murcott, George Miller, Jim Todd, Carl Deul, and Marthaann Mayer.  In addition to these "regional consultants" each chapter was been asked to appoint a member to serve as a liaison between interested chapter members and the Pollen Bank.  These liaisons served in an educational capacity and encouraged contributions of pollen from members of their chapters.

The purpose of the pollen bank was to facilitate the distribution of pollen from selected plants, both species and hybrids, particularly those varieties not commonly available, such as a hybridizer's own new plants.  All members were invited to contribute pollen.  Instructions for deposit appeared in the Quarterly.

In 1983, Marthaann Mayer reported that the ARS Pollen Bank had grown slowly but surely.  The supply of pollen kept pace with the demand with the exception of some very choice things which nearly everybody wanted and which were in short supply.  Collecting, storing and distributing pollen was a time consuming process so she worked with the hybridizers in the society.  All ARS members, however, were invited to participate in the program.  Before 1983, all ARS members were permitted to receive unlimited amounts of pollen.  That became impossible.  In 1983, any member who had not previously received pollen could order pollen once.  After that a donation was required before obtaining additional pollen.  This created a pollen bank membership system.  A donation allowed a member to receive pollen for two years.  After that time membership expired and another donation was required.  Members had priority in the distribution of pollen from lists to which they contributed.  Each year the list of available pollen was automatically sent to all members who had contributed pollen to that year's list.

Pollen contributions fell into three main categories: a) species - selected or named forms; b) named or registered hybrids; and c) new or unregistered hybrids (including those still in the working stages but considered to have good potential as parents).

In 1995, in his message "From the President" [4], Dick Brooks wrote: "Contributors of seed often make use of the ARS Pollen Bank, a service that has been operated single-handedly for nearly 25 years by Marthaann Mayer.  Marty is about to begin a well-deserved retirement from the Pollen Bank."  Ronald Rabideau succeeded Marthaann Mayeras Pollen Bank chair.

Ron Rabideau pointed out that the ARS Pollen Bank is a service for members of the Society to obtain pollen for their hybridizing ventures.  Rhododendron pollen is very durable when properly handled and thus can be stored for years and mailed anywhere in the world. 

In 2001, Jim Barlup published a JARS article on the value of pollen and the Pollen Bank. [7]  Jim pointed out that pollen from other hybridizers as well as his own gave him the opportunity to make unbelievable crosses.  His rhododendron hybrids are a collection from all over the world since many of his hybrids are the product of using pollen collected in distant lands.  Gathering full seedpods is a "dream come true."  Without pollen, nothing can be accomplished.  Understanding pollen and the parents of the plants being used provides insight into what can be achieved.  Hybridizers are thankful for the availability and the sharing of pollen, an incredible resource.  Pollen contributors have first choice of all pollen before it is released to other members.  Collecting and processing pollen is a time consuming job, but the pollen is the hybridizer's most precious resource.

To supplement the efforts of the Pollen Bank, in 2007, the ARS Seed Exchange introduced a Pollen-to-Seed program.  The ARS Seed Exchange would pay up to $100 (USD) to reimburse contributors of seed to the Exchange for purchase of pollen from plants they deem desirable to use in their breeding programs from pollen sources of their choosing.  The Exchange then expected to receive seed produced from crosses made using this pollen within 2-4 years of receiving the pollen.  The Exchange acknowledged that seed may not be produced in some cases and, if so, no problem.  Seed contributors from 2004 through 2007 catalog were eligible.


  1. "New ARS Pollen Bank"; by Marthaann Mayer; QBARS V29, N4; October 1975.
  2. "A Pollen Bank Update"; by Marthaann Mayer; JARS V37, N4; Fall 1983.
  3. "From the President"; by Dick Brooks; JARS V 49, N2; Spring 1995.
  4. "Pollen Bank"; by Ron Rabideau; JARS V49, N3; Summer 1995.
  5. "ARS Pollen Bank"; by Ron R. Rabideau, Chairman, Pollen Bank; JARS V51,N1; January 1997.
  6. "Pollen: The Incredible Resource"; by Jim Barlup; JARS V55, N1; Winter 2001
  7. "Seed Exchange Committee: 2007 Pollen-to-Seed Program"; (no author); JARS V61, N1; Winter 2007.

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