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Xunzhong Zhang

Research Associate Professor
Xunzhong Zhang
367 Smyth Hall
185 Ag Quad Lane
Blacksburg, VA 24061


I lead the plant and turfgrass stress physiology and bioproduct research program in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and collaborate in basic and applied research with my turf team colleagues from all disciplines. My research area has also expanded to include stress physiology of forage and bioenergy grasses, row crops, and vegetables.  Although currently I have no appointment in the areas of extension and teaching I have supported my colleagues, our students, and the turfgrass industry with a portion of my time in the classroom and at conferences, field days, and short courses. The goal of my research program is to understand the mechanisms of plant tolerance to abiotic stress and modes of action of bioproducts for sustainable turf management and crop production in a changing environment.


  • Plant/Turfgrass Stress Physiology
  • Bioproducts for Sustainable Agriculture  


  • Ph.D. Plant Physiology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 
  • M.S. Crop Physiology, Hebei Agricultural University
  • B.A. Agronomy, Hebei Agricultural University, China

Research focus of my program includes investigation of mechanisms of plant tolerance to abiotic stresses (drought, extreme temperatures, salt, UV-B) using physiological, metabolic, and genomic approaches, phenotyping of perennial grasses and transgenic lines (turf, forage, bioenergy grass) for abiotic stress tolerance, assessment of  effects and modes of action of bioproducts (primarily biostimulants, biosolids, and small molecules) for improving environmental sustainability and crop productivity, especially for turfgrass (golf course, sports field, and home lawn) and other crops. Among the on-going projects, my research group is exploring integrated approaches to improve soil health and plant physiological fitness that will enhance turf quality and crop productivity.

  • CSES 4344: Crop Physiology and Ecology
  • CSES 5344: Advanced Crop Physiology
  • CSES 5984: Turf/Crop Physiology Practicum

Research Assistant Professor | 2009 – present
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 

Research Scientist | 2003-2008
Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Research Associate | 1998-2002
Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • Outstanding Research and A/P Faculty Award. CSES Dept., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2017

Total 112 refereed journal articles, 2 books, 8 book chapters
  1. Zhang, X., M. Goatley, J. Conner, M. Wilkins, I. Teshler, J. Liu, M. Fefer, and W. Ckurshumova. 2019. Copper Chlorophyllin Impacts on Growth and Drought Stress Tolerance of Tomato Plants. HortScience, 54, 2195-2201. doi:10.21273/HORTSCI14434-19
  2. Zhang, X., J. Goatley, W., Wu, E. Ervin, and C. Shang. 2019. Drought-induced injury is associated with hormonal alteration in Kentucky bluegrass.. Plant Signaling and Behavior., 14. doi:10.1080/15592324.2019.1651607
  3. Zhang, X., W. Wu, E. H. Ervin, C. Shang, and K. Harich. 2018. Salt-induced injury is associated with hormonal alteration in Kentucky bluegrass. HortScience 53:97-101.
  4. Hu, G., Y. Liu, T. Duo, B. Zhao, G. Cui, J. Ji, X. Kuang, E. Ervin, and X. Zhang. 2018. Antioxidant metabolism variations associated with alkali-salt tolerance in thirty switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) lines. PLoS ONE 13(6): e199681.
  5. Wu, W., Q. Zhang, E. H. Ervin, Z. Yang, and X. Zhang. 2017. Physiological mechanisms of enhancing salt stress tolerance of perennial ryegrass by 24-epibrassinolide. Frontiers Plant Sci. 8:1-11. Doi:10.3389/fpls.2017.01017.
  6. Zhang, X., C. Shang, Y. Liu, G. Hu, K. Harich, and E.H. Ervin. 2017. Hormone and dehydrin expression responses to cold acclimation in two zoysiagrass cultivars with contrasting freezing tolerance. Intl. Turfgrass Soc. Res. J. 13:1-9. Doi: 10.2134/itsrj2016.05.0428.
  7. Zhang, X., E.H. Ervin, W. Wu, N. Sharma, and A. Hamill. 2017. Auxin and trinexapac-ethyl impact on root viability and hormone metabolism of creeping bentgrass under water deficit. Crop Sci. 57:s130-137.
  8. Zhang, J. Y. Shi, X. Zhang, H. Du, B. Xu, and B. Huang. 2017. Melatonin suppression of heat-induced leaf senescence involves changes in abscisic acid and cytokinin biosynthesis and signaling pathways in perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). Environ. Exp. Bot. 138:36-45. Doi:10.1016/j.envexpbot.2017.02.012.
  9. Liu, Y., J. Miao, S. Traore, D. Kong, Y. Liu, X. Zhang, Z. L. Nimchuk, Z. Liu, and B. Zhao. 2016. SacB-SacR gene cassette as the negative selection marker to suppress agrobacterium overgrowth in agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation. Frontier in Molecular Biosciences. 26 Oct.
  10. Kim, J. Y. Liu, X. Zhang, B. Zhao, and K. Childs. 2016. Analysis of salt-induced physiological and proline changes in 46 switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) lines indicates multiple response modes. J Physiol. Biochem. 105:202-212.
  11. Liu, Y. X. Zhang, H. Tran, L. Shan, J. Kim, K. Childs, E.H. Ervin, T. Frazier, and B. Zhao. 2015. Assessment of drought tolerance of 49 switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) genotypes using physiological and morphological parameters. Biotech. Biofuels  8:152-169. DOI:10.1186/s13068-015-0342-8.
  12. Zhang, X., E. H. Ervin, Y. Liu, G. Hu, C. Shang, T. Fukao, and Jasper Alpuerto. 2015. Differential responses of antioxidants, abscisic acid, and auxin to deficit irrigation in two perennial ryegrass cultivars contrasting in drought tolerance. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 140:562-572
  13. Hu, G., Y. Liu, X. Zhang, F. Yao, Y. Huang, E. H. Ervin, and B. Zhao. 2015. Physiological evaluation of alkali-salt stress tolerance in 30 switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) line. Plos One. DOI:10.1371/journal.pome.0125305 (July 6).
  14. Wang, K., X. Zhang, M. Goatley, and E. Ervin. 2014. Heat shock proteins in relations to heat stress tolerance of creeping bentgrass at different N levels. Plos One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102914 (22 July).
  15. Liu, Y., X. Zhang, J. Miao, L. Huang, T. Frazier, and B. Zhao. 2014. Evaluation of salt tolerance and genetic diversity of thirty-three switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) populations. Bioenergy Res. DOI 10.1007/s12155-014-9466-0 (17 May).
  16. Zhang, X., E.H. Ervin, G. K. Evanylo, J. LI, and K. Harich. 2013. Antioxidant and hormone metabolism associated with drought tolerance in corn and soybean amended with biosolids under two cropping systems. Crop Sci. 53:2079-2089.
  17. Wang, K., X. Zhang, and E.H. Ervin. 2013. Effects of nitrate and cytokinin on creeping bentgrass under supraoptimal temperatures. J. Plant Nutr. 36:1549-1564.  
  18. Zhang, X., E.H. Ervin, and R.E. Schmidt. 2013. Antioxidant enzyme and photosynthesis response to cold acclimation in two zoysiagrass cultivars. Intl. Turfgrass Soc. Res. J. 12:437-444.
  19. Zhang, X., D. Zhou, E.H. Ervin, G. Evanylo, D. Cataldi, and J. Li. 2012. Biosolids impact on antioxidant metabolism associated with drought tolerance in tall fescue. HortScience 47:1550-1555. 
  20. Wang, K., X. Zhang, M. Goatley, and E.H. Ervin. 2012. Antioxidative responses in root s and shoots of creeping bentgrass under high temperature: effects of nitrogen and cytokinin. J. Plant Physiol. 169:492-500.
  21. Zhang, X., K, Wang, E.H. Ervin, C.T Waltz, and T. Murphy. 2011. Metabolic changes of bermudagrass during cold acclimation and deacclimation. I. Proline, protein, amino acid, and dehydrin expression. Crop Sci. 51:838-846.
  22. Zhang, X., E.H. Ervin, C.T Waltz, and T. Murphy. 2011. Metabolic changes of bermudagrass during cold acclimation and deacclimation. II. Abscisic acid and cytokinin. Crop Sci. 51:847-853.
  23. Wang, K. S. Okumoto, X. Zhang, and E. Ervin. 2011. Circadian patterns of the major nitrogen metabolism--related enzymes and metabolites in creeping bentgrass and the influence of cytokinin and nitrate. Crop Sci. 51:2145-2154.