Mengmeng Gu is New HLA Department Head

By Lyn Dean, writer and editor, ALCC and CNGA

Mengmeng Gu, professor and head of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Colorado State University (CSU) welcomes Mengmeng Gu, Ph.D., as the new Horticulture and Landscape Architecture (HLA) department head in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Professor Gu’s official start date was July 1, 2022 and she is “looking forward to working side-by-side with new colleagues at CSU, the local community, and getting to know green industry partners.”

Chimaphila umbellate

Health and wellbeing are about plants

Gu and her family—husband and four children—arrived in Colorado mid-June and visited some sites including Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and Twin Silo Park in Fort Collins. This introduction to Colorado reinforced her love for plants and their diversity, and her appreciation of the value of plants in our lives, whether they occur naturally, such as the wildflowers (i.e., Chimaphila umbellata and Nuphar lutea) in the national park, or are planted in a community park, such as Twin Silo.

Digging in more deeply to the value of plants, consider that a cancer prevention lab has been an important part of Gu’s department for 20 years. Why might that be so? She says that plants serve two important functions for well-being and that’s why we grow things “One function is food for the body—fruits and vegetables—and the second is food for the soul, meaning ornamental plants in our living environment.”

So why shouldn’t plant research include the connection between horticulture and cancer? Gu says it helps gives horticulture research an elevated meaning since it can be tied back to human physical and mental health.

Texas to Colorado means change in research priorities

Before coming to Colorado, Gu was a professor at Texas A&M University where her research focused on biochar—a sustainable charcoal-like substance from agricultural waste—a topic she hopes to continue, and on management of crapemyrtle bark scale.

“There’re not a lot of crapemyrtles in Colorado,” Gu admits. “So, I transferred the majority of that research to a collaborator. I want to look at the needs in Colorado!” To do so, Gu is meeting with green industry stakeholders to learn more.

As a professor and department head, her goal is to actively find the horticulture research needs for Colorado. “Everyone has their passion within horticulture and mine is ornamental,” Gu says. “Now as department head, I need to broaden my service to the university, community and industry, to identify and involve more stakeholders to help identify needs, and to support and celebrate HLA faculty.”

Nuphar lutea Mengmeng Gu


“Sustainability is a broad concept. Climate change also needs to be included under its umbrella,” Gu reminds us. “It’s possible that what we see as unusual now, will become the usual. But I don’t see it as too big to do anything about. I don’t throw my hands up and quit. I do what I can.”

With regard to horticulture research, “the more we can do to protect a plant, the more we help the environment.” This includes, for example, alternative strategies for managing insects, which some of Gu’s research has focused on. She applauds programs such as Plant Select® that promote ‘right plant, right place.’ Gu would add “right management.”

In our lives and in research, “we have to be mindful about what we do so we are contributing to the solution and not the problem, or at least minimizing the negative impact,” she cautions.

Turn the lemons into lemonade

Gu believes all challenges are really opportunities. It’s how we deal with them that determine the outcome. In the third year of her Ph.D. research, the birch trees she was studying became heavily infested with Japanese beetles, an insect causing damage on many plants in the rose family. She embraced the challenge as an opportunity to evaluate Japanese beetle feeding preference on multiple taxa of birch.

In her new leadership position as department head, Gu intends to apply the same pragmatic approach. “I expect challenges to arise and my goal is to turn them into opportunities and learn from them.”

“I am looking forward to identifying stakeholder needs and finding viable research topics.”