Monday, February 21, 2011

Witchazels in bloom

Did you know that the Arboretum has fabulous color and fragrance even in the middle of winter? With remnants of snow still on the ground it is easy to think that we have to wait until spring for flowers to start blooming to see colorful life.  But that is not true!   
During the month of February, we focus our eyes on one of the harbingers of spring: the witchazel.  Witchazels at Morris Arboretum are blooming right now throughout the garden and come in a spectrum of colors and smells.  The pictures on this post are from Bob Gutowski, our Director of Public Programs.  You can see more of his wonderful photos on his Flickr site here:

To help you explore the witchhazels at the Arboretum, we have created a treasure hunt map distributed at the Visitor's Center (also available online here: This map highlights the location of several different varieties of witchazels throughout the garden and also has space on the back to record your findings.  Grab a map and go see if you can find these witchazels in bloom - this is a fun activity for the whole family!

On Sunday, February 27, 12-2pm, grab your family and head over to the Arboretum for a day of fun and exploration. Follow the treasure hunt to discover the many varieties of witchhazels growing at the Arboretum and then stop by the Visitor Center to make a fun craft. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stir crazy? Plan a walk on Morris Arboretum's paved paths for benefits to both mind and body

New York Times Science section cites mental benefits of walking, to add to its physical benefits.
Fitness: A Walk to Remember? Study Says Yes


Published: February 7, 2011

In healthy adults, the hippocampus — a part of the brain important to the formation of memories — begins to atrophy around 55 or 60. Now psychologists are suggesting that the hippocampus can be modestly expanded, and memory improved, by nothing more than regular walking.

In a study published on Jan. 31 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers randomly assigned 120 healthy but sedentary men and women (average age mid-60s) to one of two exercise groups. One group walked around a track three times a week, building up to 40 minutes at a stretch; the other did a variety of less aerobic exercises, including yoga and resistance training with bands.

After a year, brain scans showed that among the walkers, the hippocampus had increased in volume by about 2 percent on average; in the others, it had declined by about 1.4 percent. Since such a decline is normal in older adults, “a 2 percent increase is fairly significant,” said the lead author, Kirk Erickson, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh. Both groups also improved on a test of spatial memory, but the walkers improved more.

While it is hard to generalize from this study to other populations, the researchers were delighted to learn that the hippocampus might expand with exercise. “And not that much exercise,” Dr. Erickson pointed out.
People don’t even have to join a gym, he noted. They just need shoes.

Morris Arboretum offers guided Wellness Walks every Saturday morning at 10:30 AM, free with regular garden admission. Meet at the Visitors Center wearing appropriate clothing for the weather and comfortable shoes, and be prepared for a brisk walk of approximately 2 miles on the Arboretum's paved paths .

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

There's a new botanist in town at Morris Arboretum

Springfield Sun writer, Nicole Jenet reports on Morris Arboretum's new botanist.

Botanist Michael Burgess joined the staff of Morris Arboretum, Chestnut Hill, Jan. 4.

Since the beginning of January, Michael Burgess has been settling in as the Morris Arboretum’s newest research botanist.

Burgess, a New Hampshire native, relocated to Chestnut Hill with his wife, Susannah Burgess, and 9-month-old daughter, Ada, for what he called a “wonderful opportunity” with the arboretum, where he would have the opportunity to work with a team of “exceptional” botanists.
In his new position, Burgess said Tuesday that he will be responsible for updating and redesigning the Pennsylvania Flora Project website as well as getting involved in field work and research and possibly assisting in teaching the arboretum’s field botany and plant systematics classes.

While acquiring his master’s from the Antioch University of New England, Burgess said he was inspired to go into botany from a professor and botanist.

“I was walking in the woods and he was pointing out a number of plants and naming them. I was awestruck by his knowledge,” he said of the field he soon became “consumed with.”

Burgess debated between going to law school or working for his Ph.D. He said he had a strong passion to teach on the college level, and he needed a Ph.D. for that.
“I was weighing those two options, and I landed on the side of science,” he said.
So he studied plant systematics.
He received his doctorate from the University of Maine, where he completed his dissertation research on the genus Amelanchier — also known as the serviceberry.

“I’ve always been attached to the outdoors, and I guess it was just a natural outgrowth from that,” Burgess said.

At the arboretum, Burgess will be able to focus on things he can continue to expand upon and develop a different skill set and continue to enhance it as a field botanist, he said.

“I tend to just love the idea of being outside,” Burgess said of being a field botanist, rather than a botanist who works in a lab.
In four years of graduate school, Burgess said, you “lose touch with the world because you’re so focused on your work,” but “everyone has been very warm and genuine, opening up their culture and welcoming” him at the arboretum.

“Everyone here is generally interested not just with what they do, but where they are,” Burgess said of his co-workers, who, he said, tend to have more of a “family feel, not just a work culture.”
For more information about Morris Arboretum's botany research, Botanical Research at Morris Arboretum