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NMSU’s patented maple tree glows with Aggie crimson pride

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Rolston St. Hilaire must have known he was destined for a place in New Mexico State University history.

The maple tree St. Hilaire began developing at New Mexico State University in the late 1990s is both resilient and resplendent – and its leaves turn a brilliant (Aggie) crimson in the fall.

“It’s a great tree,” said St. Hilaire, a drought physiologist, regents professor and head of both the Extension Plant Sciences and Plant and Environmental Sciences departments in the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

“I am very optimistic it’s going to be a very good product,” he said.

Through a licensing and marketing agreement developed by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center with J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., a wholesale grower in Boring, Oregon, the tree is sold in 20 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. It’s also being tested in China, and St. Hilaire is hopeful it will one day be commercially available worldwide.

St. Hilaire began studying maple trees while exploring projects for his doctoral research at Iowa State University. He wanted to duplicate the rich autumn colors that some maple varieties show on the East Coast in trees that would thrive in more arid climates in the West and Southwest.

After St. Hilaire moved to NMSU in 1998, he and his students spent the next 15 years gathering maple seeds from throughout the Southwest and growing trees at NMSU “under the worst possible conditions,” he said, to propagate a maple designed for “stressful, managed environments” for homeowners and professional landscapers

In 2007, NMSU became the first institution to develop a micropropagation method (cloning plants in a laboratory setting) that made it easier to grow the bigtooth maple variety for commercial production, which, in turn, made it easier to micro-propagate maple trees in general.

The tree St. Hilaire eventually patented in 2017 has deep crimson fall foliage, is drought tolerant and cold resistant. It also has the uniquely shaped leaves that clearly define a maple tree as a maple tree.

“We are very proud of it,” he said.

 The tree is officially known as JFS (for J. Frank Schmidt) NuMex 3 and marketed under the name Mesa Glow, which St. Hilaire and the team at J. Frank Schmidt came up with after learning that their first choice, Crimson Glow, was already taken.

At NMSU, “I am employed to teach, conduct research, mentor students, think and write and be creative,” St. Hilaire said.

With 40 faculty and eight staff and program managers under him, his job is also guiding the success of two departments and “cheerleading for my faculty, staff and students,” St. Hilaire said.

“I love to see them all succeed. I know what those many ideas can turn out to be,” he said. “I’m always on the lookout for new things they want to try.”

In his spare time, St. Hilaire enjoys gardening. That includes taking care of the Mesa Glow that’s planted in the yard of his Las Cruces home.

St. Hilaire is a native of the island of Dominica, off the coast of Venezuela, in the eastern Caribbean Sea. He has a bachelor’s of science degree and a master’s degree, both in horticulture from the University of Puerto Rico; a Ph.D. in horticulture with a specialization in plant physiology from Iowa State; and a certificate in vegetable production from the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute in Taipei.

Contact St. Hilaire at 575-646-3406 and rsthilai@nmsu.edu.

Visit www.jfschmidt.com and www.jfschmidt.com/introductions/mesaglow/index.html.