Dr. Victor Guzman worked as a horticulturalist at the research center for more than six decades, breeding notable varieties of lettuce, including his own Romaine varieties that he named “Paul Guzmaine” and “Short Guzmaine.”
Guzman retired in 1987, but continued to show up at his office to conduct research on his leafy vegetables every day. Guzman began working at the Everglades Research Center in 1952 on chemical weed control in sugar cane and vegetable crops. Throughout his time at the center, he worked in agronomy, pest control, disease management and breeding. It was his niche work with breeding lettuce and other leafy vegetables that earned him the title “Lettuce King.”
“Florida isn’t the best climate in terms of growing conditions for lettuce,” says Richard Raid, professor at the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade. Raid says of the crop that prefers colder weather areas. “So a lot of the work Vic did was breeding his lettuce for a warmer climate.”
Working in Florida’s warm climate with a cool weather crop, Guzman developed lettuce varieties that were slow to go to seed and resistant to the soil disease corky root rot. He also created varieties that were culturally acceptable to the area, or in other words, looked and tasted good.
“Vic really charted the course for future researchers in this field. He set the standard.”
Celebrating 100 Years
Guzman accomplished another feat in 2014 when he celebrated his 100th birthday among family, friends and colleagues.
“In the field, he was task master who led by example, and he got down and dirty with his troops and earned their respect because of it,” Raid says of his friend, colleague and mentor.