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Weed Scientist Lym Retirement Announced

North Dakota State University weed scientist Dr. Rodney Lym retired December 31, 2018. Lym served as a weed scientist in the Department of Plant Sciences, specializing in leafy spurge, for over 39 years. His career conducting research to control leafy spurge in North Dakota led to effective methods to reduce the infestation in the state. Throughout his career, Lym received numerous awards and honors, was active in many professional organizations, saw over 100 papers and reports published, and mentored 20 graduate students.
Weed Scientist Lym Retirement Announced

Dr. Rodney Lym

January 2, 2019

What began for Rodney Lym in 1979 as a two-year postdoctoral research fellow appointment in the leafy spurge control program grew into a successful 39-year career as a North Dakota State University weed scientist. The span of time in between represents many roles in the NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, as well as important research and discoveries in invasive weed control in North Dakota.

Lym’s post-secondary education began at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He then attended the University of Wyoming at Laramie, where he graduated with a B.S. in Microbiology and later earned a Ph.D. in Agronomy with Weed Science specialty.

Following his postdoctoral position, in 1981 Lym was made an assistant professor in weed science research. He moved up in rank to associate professor in 1987 and achieved the rank of professor in 1993. Additionally, he served at various times in the Department of Plant Sciences as the assistant or associate chair and took on a short stint as acting chair in 2008. He also served two years (2005-2007) as interim chair of the Department of Soil Science.

Lym was hired on at NDSU during the leafy spurge crisis in North Dakota. Leafy spurge acreage in the state was doubling every 10 years and reached a peak of about 1.8 million acres in the mid-1990’s. Lym joined a research team assembled by then Dean of the College of Agriculture, H. Roald Lund, to address the rapid spread of leafy spurge in the state. The team, led by weed scientist Cal Messersmith, was comprised of Lym, entomologist Bob Carlson, plant pathologist Bob Hosford, range scientist Don Kirby, botanist Don Galitz, and agricultural economist Jay Leitch. They joined forces with other experts from North Dakota, surrounding states and federal agencies.

When their work began, there were only three herbicides used for leafy spurge control, Banvel, Tordon and 2,4-D, which were too expensive or not effective. Now, Lym reports, there are over 16 herbicide treatments available for leafy spurge control in a variety of environments. In addition to herbicides, 11 biocontrol methods have been introduced, with the Aphthona flea beetles being the most successful. Grazing by sheep and goats is another tool used to control leafy spurge in some areas of the state. Today, the acreage affected by leafy spurge has been cut to 750,000 acres and the infestation continues to decline. “Leafy spurge is no longer the most feared or costly weed in the state,” says Lym. “I was very fortunate to be part of this successful program.”

“Rod’s career in conducting research to control leafy spurge and other perennial weeds led to effective methods to reduce the acreage infested with these weeds in North Dakota. This body of work will be long remembered as a success story in combatting invasive weeds,” said Richard Horsley, head of the Department of Plant Sciences.

Lym also conducted weed control research for other troublesome weeds including purple loosestrife, spotted knapweed and Canada thistle. His research covered methods from herbicide applications to grazing with goats, integrated pest management with fire and reseeding, and biological control agents.

Lym’s research led to numerous publications over the span of his career. He wrote and saw published 117 peer reviewed journal articles, over 200 Western Society of Weed Science Research Progress Reports, several book chapters, and presented over 160 abstracts and papers at international, national, and regional scientific society meetings. He is the author or co-author of 21 Extension circulars, most notably, Identification and Control of Invasive and Troublesome Weeds in North Dakota, and A Guide to North Dakota Noxious and Troublesome Weeds. These publications were revised and reprinted in 2018 by the NDSU Agricultural Experiment Station and NDSU Extension in cooperation with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service. They have a combined 52,000 copies printed to date. Lym co-authored The Thistles of North Dakota with Department of Plant Sciences research specialist Kathy Christianson, which also was revised and reprinted in 2018 by NDSU Extension. He is most proud of this publication, because he and Christianson had to locate and take photos of the thistles, including flowers, seeds, and plant leaves. “Just finding some of the native thistle species was a challenge,” says Lym.

Lym has been a member of and served in a variety of roles in professional associations. He was the 2012-13 president of the Weed Science Society of America and a member of the Herbicide Handbook Committee from 1982-89, serving as the associate editor for the publication’s 7th Edition. He was the 1998-99 president of the Western Society of Weed Science (WSWS) and editor for the WSWS Proceedings from 1989-97. He was the 1986-1987 Executive Committee chair of the Great Plains Agricultural Council, and served on the Board of Directors for the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. He also was involved in the North Central Weed Science Society and the Society for Range Management.

Throughout his career, Lym received many honors, awards and recognitions for his research and publications.

  • 2018, Weed Control Partner Award, North Dakota Department of Agriculture
  • 2018, Lifetime Achievement Award, North Dakota Weed Control Association
  • 2014, A Guide to North Dakota Noxious and Troublesome Weeds publication nominated for Notable Government Documents list by North Dakota Library Association Government Documents Roundtable
  • 2008, Recognized by Director of National Park Service, Midwest Region, for his work in controlling invasive weeds in natural environments
  • 2007, Outstanding Weed Scientist, Public Sector, Western Society of Weed Science
  • 2006, Fellow, Weed Science Society of America
  • 2004, Communicator of the Year Award, North Dakota Association for Communication Excellence
  • 2001, Outstanding Achievement Award, TEAM Leafy Spurge
  • 2000, Fellow, Western Society of Weed Science
  • 2000, Weed Control Supporter of the Year, North Dakota Weed Control Association
  • 1998, Outstanding Achievement Award, Society for Range Management, North Great Plains Section
  • 1994, Presidential Award of Merit, Western Society of Weed Science

In addition to his research, Lym taught the Laboratory Methods in Weed Science course and mentored 18 master’s and two doctoral degree students through their graduate studies. He viewed his work with and training of graduate students as his number one priority. His students have gone on to careers as university professors, wildland ecologists, water specialists, company leaders, and government administrators. “Watching them grow from college students to successful professionals has been very rewarding,” says Lym. “Even though they have graduated, I still refer to them as my students and follow their careers.”

Lym retired December 31, 2018. In retirement, he plans to enjoy more time pursuing his interests, which include gardening – he has over 65 different rose varieties in his yard and plans to expand the collection; running model trains – he still has the original Lionel trains that were a Christmas gift to him as a boy; training for running races; and vacationing in the South. Something many may not know about Lym is that he is a certified official for USA Track and Field (USATF). He officiates National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and USATF events and has passed the national exams that will allow him to officiate anywhere in the U.S. “Who knows? Maybe someday you will see me [officiating] at the Olympic Trials or even the Olympics!” he says.

Wherever his future endeavors take him, we wish Dr. Rodney Lym a long and enjoyable retirement!

Author: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123,
Editor: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384,

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