Photo of Theodor D. Leininger

Theodor D. Leininger

Project Leader/Research Plant Pathologist
P.O. Box 227
Stoneville, MS 38776-0227
Phone: 662-336-4801

Current Research

I lead a team of scientists expanding our knowledge of pondberry biology, ecology, physiology, and dispersal mechanisms. Pondberry (Lindera melissifolia) is a federally endangered shrub that grows in seasonally flooded wetlands, and on the edges of sinks and ponds. Approximately thirty-six populations are known in seven southeastern states. The species has been affected by habitat destruction and alteration, especially timber cutting, clearing of land, and drainage or flooding of wetlands. Our most recent reported findings reveal the differential effects of light and flooding gradients, and their interactions, on sexual and asexual reproduction and on biomass accumulation.

Leininger, Theodor D.; Gardiner, Emile S.; Lockhart, Brian Roy; Schiff, Nathan M.; Wilson, Alphus Dan; Devall, Margaret S.; Hamel, Paul B.; Connor, Kristina F. 2021. Intensity and mode of Lindera melissifolia reproduction are affected by flooding and light availability. Ecology and Evolution. 22(1): 40-.

Lockhart, Brian Roy; Gardiner, Emile S; Leininger, Theodor D; Hamel, Paul B; Wilson, A Dan; Devall, Margaret S; Schiff, Nathan M; Connor, Kristina F. 2018. Biomass accumulation in the endangered shrub Lindera melissifolia as affected by gradients of light availability and soil flooding. Forest Science. 64(6) 631-640. 10 p.

I co-lead a team of scientists improving afforestation and forest restoration methods in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley (LMAV). More than 1 million acres of farms and fields have been converted to forests across the seven-state region of the LMAV over the past 30 or more years. Many stands of planted hardwoods are at developmental stages where they need to be managed to optimize their economic potential. In 2021, our team published a guide to silvicultural options for young bottomland, oak-dominated plantations that offers methods for optimizing production of timber, wildlife, or a combination of both. Field trials comparing thinning methods are being evaluated. Existing studies are being used to advance climate-smart farm and forest goals of increasing landowner participation in afforestation and carbon sequestration.

Meadows, James S.; Gardiner, Emile S.; Leininger, Theodor D.; Ezell, Andrew W. 2021. Silvicultural options for young bottomland oak-dominated plantations on former agricultural lands. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-263. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 69 p.


I co-lead a team of scientists developing the resistance of American sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) to Bacterial Leaf Scorch (BLS) disease caused by Xylella fastidiosa. American sycamore is a fast-growing hardwood that can be grown in plantations to sequester carbon, as well as produce pulp, biofuel feedstock, and sawtimber. American sycamore grown in plantations are especially susceptible to BLS disease. Growth, symptom expression, and mortality data are being analyzed for American sycamore families that are resistant and susceptible to BLS.

Past Research

I have studied the production, protection, and sustainable management of bottomland hardwoods for more than 30 years. In addition to my research and development of biofuels feedstock crop production systems for eastern cottonwood and black willow, I and my cooperators are developing disease resistance in American sycamore to be grown in plantations for pulpwood, biofuels feedstocks, and other natural products. I helped refine and promote the use of an eastern cottonwood-oak interplanting method developed by the Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research to the point where the method has been used from 2007 to present to plant 16 million hardwood trees on 26,000 acres of formerly unproductive agricultural land in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley.


Ph.D. in Plant Pathology, Plant Physiology, 1988
Virginia Tech.
M.F. in Forestry, Plant Pathology, 1981
Duke University
B.S. in Biology, Forestry, 1980
Albright College

Professional Organizations

  • Mississippi State University, College of Forest Resources, Adjunct Faculty (2008—Current)

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Estimating impacts of extreme rainfall events for local watersheds (2018)
SRS-2018-45 Many future climate scenarios project impacts of climate variability on water quantity and quality. However, these scenarios may not be accurate and do not have flexibility for local and small watershed analyses. They are not able to answer questions such as: what will happen to stream flow, water quality, and water availability for a given local watershed if extreme rainfall events such as very dry summers and wet winters occur in the next ten years? This information is crucial to state and local water resource managers and stakeholders for implementing adaptive management practices on crop and forest lands.   

New research sheds light on fate of the imperiled pondberry plant (2017)
SRS-2017-144 Some consider pondberry to be the rarest shrub in the southeastern U.S. as it is found in only 36 populations distributed in six states. Forest Service researchers discovered that pondberry prefers to grow in partial sunlight rather than the heavy shade characteristic of dense forests. Active forest management practices that provide suitable light availability could help pondberry thrive and perhaps even resist other environmental stresses such as soil flooding.