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March 21, 2005

Sidney Waxman, Dwarf Conifers Expert, Dies

Sidney Waxman, 81, professor emeritus of plant science, died at his home in Storrs on Feb. 10, of cancer.

Waxman was born in Providence, R.I. He served in the U.S. Navy as an aircraft mechanic during World War II, then entered the University of Rhode Island. Although he originally intended to study liberal arts, the classes were already filled so he signed up for horticulture, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Waxman joined the UConn faculty in 1957. He founded the University Nursery, a property of about 10 acres south of the Storrs campus. He retired in 1991.

Waxman’s research interests were in plant photoperiodism, the study of the effects of different periods of exposure to light; tissue culture; and the study of a plant abnormality named Witches’ Brooms. Waxman selected 34 distinctive cultivars, which he named and introduced to the nursery trade. He also worked with Japanese umbrella pines, larches, the cinnamon bark maple, hemlocks, and azaleas.

“Sid was a dedicated horticulturalist, who devoted his life to the creation and release of improved plant cultivars,” says Derek Allinson, emeritus professor of plant science.

His Witches’ Brooms cultivars have garnered international attention among nurserymen and botanical gardens.

“Sid’s intent was to find plants that would fit into the urban landscape,” says Allinson. “He realized that many people wanted plants to fit small pieces of property, that would look good for a protracted period of time but wouldn’t require a lot of work.”

Allinson says Waxman used to shoot down seed-bearing cones of trees with Witches’ Brooms from woods around New England. Later, he hired tree climbers to harvest the cones. He then grew the seedlings for several years to discover their properties, before making his selections for propagation.

Specimens of his dwarf pine varieties are planted all over the Storrs campus, and a garden planted beside the W.B. Young Building in honor of his research has a collection of his famous introductions, including “Varied Directions,” a European larch that grows mostly horizontally, and “Cinnamon Flake,” a hybrid paperbark maple.

In October 2004, the New York Botanical Garden dedicated the Sidney Waxman Plant Collection, featuring his dwarf conifer introductions.

He was awarded the Jackson Dawson Medal by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the International Plant Propagators Society’s Award of Merit, and other honors.

Waxman leaves his wife of 57 years, Florence, two sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be announced later this spring.Donations in his memory may be sent to the UConn Foundation, Waxman Fund, 2390 Alumni Drive, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269-3206. For online condolences, visit