As I built my class schedule for my first semester at Texas A&M University in the spring of 2021, I asked a fellow Aggie what course I should take to fulfill my plant science elective. Without hesitation, I was advised to take Horticultural Science and Practices — HORT 201.

The class is a staple lecture course in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Horticultural Sciences, covering topics on plant growth, genetics, pruning, grafting and more. Knowing little about plants, I signed up for the course hoping to learn some tips on keeping a house plant alive. 

As I sat down for the first lecture, David Reed, Ph.D., who at the time was associate dean for graduate programs and faculty development in the College, entered the classroom, tugging a cart filled with various plant paraphernalia behind him.

A man, David Reed, Ph.D., pulls a cart behind him that is filled with items including a globe. He is wearing a brown shirt with khaki pants and he has a long green bamboo pole over his right shoulder. There are flowers and plants in the foreground and background
David Reed, Ph.D., tugging his cart filled with various plant paraphernalia behind him. Reed, who is retiring after 46 years of teaching HORT 201, uses the items in the cart to make every lesson dynamic and captivating. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Within the first five minutes of the lecture, I realized that Reed was not the typical professor. From smacking bamboo shoots on a table to teaching about fibers in plants to throwing batteries and strings around the classroom to demonstrate photosynthesis, he made every lesson a dynamic, captivating presentation.

“Every semester, I ask my students how old they would guess I am if they just heard my voice in class,” Reed said. “Without fail, students say it feels like a freshly graduated professor teaching the course.”

“That’s always been my goal: to prove that there is no generation gap in the classroom when you love what you’re teaching.”

David Reed, Ph.D.

Passion for plants and the classroom

A “few” years before me, Reed also entered his first Introduction to Horticulture class at the University of Southwestern Louisiana with limited knowledge about the subject. Fifty minutes later, he was enamored by his professor, Ellis Fletcher, Ph.D., who taught with such enthusiasm and passion that Reed couldn’t help but want to learn more.

And learn more he did.

After that first course, Reed decided to major in horticulture. With the help of Fletcher, he applied to graduate programs across the country and was accepted into Cornell University, where he earned his doctorate in floriculture and ornamental horticulture.

David Reed, Ph.D., prunes a tree while wearing a tan, short sleeve button down shirt.
David Reed, Ph.D., has taught Horticultural Science and Practices at Texas A&M University for 46 years. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Influenced by Fletcher’s hands-on teaching philosophy, a newly graduated Reed began searching for a place to start educating students about horticulture to spark the same passion Fletcher had instilled in him. After several successful interviews and a job offer at another school, Reed had one more interview left: Texas A&M.

“After receiving an offer from another school, I debated whether I should even do the interview at Texas A&M,” Reed said. “Luckily, I did the interview, and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.”

During his first visit to Aggieland, Reed fell in love with the campus and its people.

“There’s something so friendly about the people in agriculture,” he said. “The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences felt like a family. Everyone knew each other, and there was never a second from the moment I came here where I didn’t feel like I was a part of that.”

A professor of generations

In the spring of 1979, Reed taught his first semester of HORT 201 and has done so every semester for the last 45 years. After that first semester, Reed knew he would teach the course for as long as he possibly could. He has taught the course to upwards of 30,000 students over his career.

While famous for his long tenure teaching HORT 201, Reed has taught several other courses over the past four-plus decades. As a faculty member, Reed played a pivotal role in making the Department of Horticultural Sciences a top-tier program in the country.

His legacy of quirky, entertaining lectures and iconic “HORT201” license plate will endure long after his final class is dismissed on April 23, 2024.

David Reed, Ph.D. wears a light blue, short sleeve button-up shirt while lecturing for Horticultural Science and Practices with his right hand in the air.
David Reed, Ph.D., lectures during a recent Horticultural Science and Practices class. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

As an Aggie who can now say I know more than enough to keep house plants alive as well as which side of the house to plant flowers to receive the ideal sunlight, thank you, Dr. Reed, for making your classroom a place for passion to sprout for 45 years.

“When students walk into my class, most of them are like how you and I were with little to no experience in horticulture,” Reed said. “By the end of the semester, it’s special to see how students will walk around campus, send me pictures of plants we learned about and ask questions they didn’t even know they had before the course. That’s why I teach … to spark that curiosity for horticulture that was sparked in me during my first horticulture class.”

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