Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bluebird Monitoring Program at Morris Arboretum

Tracy Beerley, McCausland Natural Lands Horticulturist

Do you enjoy spending time outdoors and have a passion for birds? Perhaps you would be interested in joining our Bluebird Monitoring Program at Morris Arboretum.  This volunteer project has been organized to monitor the eastern bluebird and the nest boxes which have been mounted throughout the Arboretum.

The eastern bluebird is a migratory songbird in the Thrush Family which includes the American robin.  However, the bluebird is much smaller in size compared to this relative.  Male bluebirds are royal blue with warm red-brown breasts.  The females are much drabber in appearance yet maintain the similar elegance and shape of their counterpart.  This energetic bird is a medium-distance migrant, following patterns of north-south migration remaining in North America, and occupying the area east of the Rocky Mountains.  Bluebirds rely on insects for food.  Diving from a perch they hover over the ground to pluck beetles, caterpillars, spiders and other insects and small invertebrates.  When insect food becomes scarce in the fall and winter the birds seek fruiting trees and gulp down their juicy berries.  Bluebirds perch on wires, posts, and low branches, occupying meadows and openings surrounded by trees that offer suitable nest holes. They are cavity-nesting, building loose cup-like nests with fine grasses in cavities of trees, old woodpecker holes and man-made nest boxes which are mounted in suitable locations.  
photo by Susan Marshall
Bluebird populations are making a come-back from decline in the early twentieth century.  Contributing factors of decline included lack of suitable nesting cavities from increasing urbanization, pesticide use, and severe weather conditions.  Bluebirds also face competition for nesting cavities from the introduced European starling and house sparrow. Conservation efforts, such as the introduction of nest boxes, have been successful.  The eastern bluebird is becoming a more common sight on farmland, fence-lines, open woods, swamps and gardens. They are fairly present and a delight to see in the Natural Areas and Bloomfield Farm sections of the Arboretum.   

The Bluebird Monitoring Program was initiated this year at Morris Arboretum as a conservation effort to monitor the activity of nest boxes.  From March through July, volunteers assisted in monitoring over forty nest boxes within the Arboretum. Our findings were contributed to a citizen science based program, Nest Watch, through Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The volunteers and I quickly learned of the immense nesting competition bluebirds face from house sparrows and natural predators. The results for this season are in; five nest boxes were used by the bluebird and a total of sixteen eggs were laid and assumed to have fledged.  We also enjoyed the experience of observing nesting swallows and Carolina chickadees.  Thanks to volunteer effort, the Arboretum was able to provide and monitor nesting habitat for the eastern bluebird. 
photo by Gretchen Dowling

For more information about bluebird volunteer opportunities please contact              
Tracy Beerley,

Learn more about birds seen at Morris Arboretum at                                    

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Unwanted Garden Invader

Phytolacca americana
Over the past couple months you may have noticed a large, shrubby plant with reddish stems and beautiful purple-black berries. What you are seeing is Common Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana. Although I often find it attractive, pokeweed is generally considered an unwanted garden invader.
Pokeweed is a native herbaceous perennial. It can grow one to three meters tall and resembles a small tree. The large, thick stems are smooth and upright, while the leaves are alternate, egg-shaped and pale green. Pokeweed is supported by a large fleshy taproot that persists through the winter after the succulent stems have died back.  Pokeweed flowers are small and white and give way to conspicuous green berries that ripen to a deep purple-black color. Even though the fruit may look tempting, don’t eat it! All parts of the pokeweed plant are poisonous, including the berries.
In natural areas, pokeweed is an important wildlife plant. Berry-eating birds, such as Northern Mockingbirds, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings, load up on pokeweed berries. Many mammals including gray fox, raccoons, and white-footed mice enjoy the fall fruit as well. Both birds and mammals are directly responsible for the spread of pokeweed seeds. Despite pokeweed’s wildlife benefits, it is generally considered a weed in the cultivated landscape. Pokeweed grows very quickly and will shade out desirable bedding plants if it is allowed to grow. In many cases, pokeweed is not an aesthetically pleasing addition to a garden bed.
Pokeweed is fairly easy to control once you have identified it. The plant can be destroyed simply by digging up the taproot with a spade or soil knife. If possible, try to remove plants before they form fruit. Otherwise, the animals in your area will help spread this weed throughout your yard. Although it is probably too late to stop the spread of seeds this year, keep an eye out for new plants in the spring. In the meantime, happy weeding!

Photos by Emma Erler

Thursday, August 22, 2013

5 Reasons new moms need this popular class..

Stroller Strides®! This class is a total fitness program that moms can do with their babies - it includes power walking, strength-training intervals, and a unique blend of Pilates, barre, yoga, and stroller-based exercises designed to help moms build strength and muscle tone and improve posture. Taught by certified instructor (and fellow mom), Jacqueline Walsh, it is a great workout for any level of exerciser. Jacqueline will weave songs and activities into the routine designed to entertain and engage baby, while moms are led through a series of exercises specific to her role as mom.

Top 5 Reasons new moms need to sign up for Stroller Strides:
  1. To get out of the house and experience the unique natural surroundings of Morris Arboretum
  2. To exercise and engage with baby
  3. To form new friendships and future playdates with other moms
  4. To improve your health and well being
  5. To get back that pre-baby body (or better)!
Spots are limited, register today!

In the case of inclement weather, class will be modified in order to be comfortably held indoors. You must be at least six weeks post-partum to participate in this series. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gloomy garden days, the best kept secret

Most people think of visiting a public garden or park on a picturesque sunny day, right?

Of course, we think every day is the best day to visit! But in particular, overcast days can be a great, yet often overlooked, time to visit the garden. In case you're skeptical, here are a few reasons why a seemingly gloomy, gray day is a visitor's best kept secret:

Beat the Crowds
Because the typical response to a cloudy day is to shy away from outdoor excursions, it often means less crowds in our gardens. Take this opportunity to stroll through the grounds like it's your own secret garden!

Cooler Temps
Generally speaking, clouds act as a "heat shield". Much of the incoming solar radiation from the sun is reflected or absorbed by the clouds, resulting in slightly cooler temperatures.

Optimum Photography Conditions
The even white light of an overcast day is great for outdoor photography. Sunlight is gently diffused by the clouds, eliminating harsh shadows and extreme highlights. If shooting with a standard digital camera, use the "Portrait" setting for great outdoor images.

When is your favorite time to visit the garden? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What to do with all that summer energy?

Summer's here: It's hot, the days are long, and the kids are full of energy!
Camp and swim clubs provide daytime relief for many during these school-free days, but what to do when the sun starts to set and the kids are still searching for something to do?

Thursdays to the rescue!
Morris Arboretum is open late (until 8:30pm) every Thursday during the summer months. It's a unique opportunity to pack a picnic dinner, bring a blanket, and enjoy the garden in a light that's not typically available to visitors. Kids will love catching fireflies too!

If you're looking for something a bit more high energy, be sure to come down this Thursday, July 18 for Let's Move! Garden Dance Party. The Let's Move! initiative was launched by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, to help solve the challenge of childhood obesity and promote a healthy future. Sounds by Shelly Disc Jockey Services will be on hand to lead the party in fun and engaging games and choreography. Free with admission. 

Love live music? Back by popular demand is our XPN Kids' Corner Concert Series! This year's line-up includes the amazing sounds of Alex & the Kaleidoscope Band, Trout Fishing in America, and The Suzi Shelton Band. For the first time, we are offering advanced online ticketing. Purchasing tickets early saves money and time at the gate on the night of the event. Don't forget your lawn chairs and blankets, although we're sure the family will be too busy dancing to use them!

Click here for more family fun events.
Below: A video clip from our latest Summer Solstice Salsa Party! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

School's out, new interns are in!

Welcome, Morris Arboretum Intern Class of 2014!

On June 17 a new group of nine interns joined Morris Arboretum to participate in our year-long internship program. Welcome, Class of 2014!

Each of the interns will work in a specific area of study at the Arboretum:
Arboriculture, Education, Flora of Pennsylvania, Horticulture, Natural Lands, Plant Protection, Propagation, Rose and Flower, and Urban Forestry.

In addition to their regular duties, interns participate in weekly afternoon seminars, field trips to other gardens and natural areas, as well as staffing the Arboretum Plant Clinic. During the year-long program, the interns are also enrolled and will receive graduate level course credit for “Issues in Arboretum Management I and II” through the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

This marks the 35th year of the Morris Arboretum Internship Program. The program provides hands on experience and education that prepares interns for careers in public gardens and related fields. To learn more about the Morris Arboretum Internship Program click here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring 'Yard Work'

by Jessamine Finch, Hay Honey Farm Endowed Natural Lands Intern

About once a month or so, the horticulture staff unites for a morning to undertake a large job made much more manageable - and enjoyable - when tackled as a group. This past Tuesday was a “project day” in the natural lands area, under the guidance of Natural Lands Horticulturist, Tracy Beerley. Having labored diligently over the winter months to remove invasive plants from Penn’s Woods and along Paper Mill Run, Tracy was able to select native tree and shrub species to fill these newly emptied spaces. The planting list included sugar maple, red maple, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and winterberry holly. The beautiful weather made for a wonderful day, and we look forward to seeing these plantings thrive and mature in the years to come.  

All work...

....and some fun, too!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pausing for the little things:
One member's insight into birding.

Most people can watch birds from the comfort of their homes.  In fact, according to a 2003 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service birding report, 88% of birders are backyard birders while 22%, or 18 million Americans, take trips away from home for the sole purpose of observing birds. Though birding has been a popular activity for a couple decades, some people are hesitant to go on birding trips due to lack of knowledge about the field. Fortunately, Susan Marshall, birding enthusiast and Morris Arboretum member, agreed to share her insights and tips on birding with us.

Q1. Hi Susan, how did you become interested in birding? Have you been birding for quite a while?
Birding has always been something on the back of my mind. My husband and I would hike, but not stop and take a look at the little things. After we retired, we looked for activities that we could enjoy doing together, so we signed up for birding classes with Ruth Pfeffer, whom I now consider a friend. I really enjoyed it and wanted to continue learning more.  Ruth has been a great teacher and influence. 
Birding has now become a large part of our lives and we incorporate it into our travels.  For example, when in Florida, we visited the Everglades, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. 
We recently caught sight of the Least Bittern – birding is a great hobby, it’s one of those things you don’t learn completely so it never gets boring.

Q2. What steps do you take to improve your knowledge and recognition of birds?  How do you know when it is the best time to spot birds?

You can approach birding from multiple ways – audio experience, make a life list (though it is not our focus), observe bird behavior, or enjoy birds when out in the woods.
One of the things I enjoy about birding is that it is an excuse to be outside. My husband and I used to have jobs that kept us indoors a lot, and now we can spend much of our time outdoors. It’s helpful when guides point things out and talk about bird behavior.  A friend and I were recently talking about birding as a way of living in the moment while enjoying nature. 
You can catch birds at any location best during migration. Also, after the sun comes up, the insects are buzzing around, attracting birds.

Q3. What have been some of your favorite Morris Arboretum birding trips?  Do you ever submit your photographs to online publications?

My husband and I have shared a few trips; Costa Rica, in particular, was a fabulous experience. We’ve visited three times already. It’s perfect because there are a variety of birds to see and there isn’t a large time zone difference. Magee Marsh in Ohio, with its large concentration of spring warblers, is a wonderful regional spot. Birding has allowed me to visit places I might never have explored otherwise!
Q4. What advice can you provide to a novice birder or someone who is intimidated by lack of bird knowledge?
A good way to learn more about birding is to register for birding trips and walks, get a basic birding field guide, and learn from your guides. Birders are usually very nice and will help you if you have questions. Also, you definitely need a decent pair of binoculars – they make such a difference! Audubon Magazine and the Nature Conservancy have lots of information on birding as well. 
Now that you’ve gained a bit of insight on birding, you might want to explore some of the Morris Arboretum’s birding trip offerings  this spring!
Great blue heron pair, building a nest in Florida.

A resplendent quetzal in Costa Rica, flying to its nest with an avocado in its beak for its chicks.
(Morris Arboretum trip)

Prothonotory warbler at Magee Marsh in northern Ohio, a premier birding spot for spring warblers.
(Morris Arboretum trip)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Deep in the Weeds, Photography by Rob Cardillo

If you haven't stopped by the Visitor Center in a while, there is a striking new addition to the Upper Gallery you won't want to miss. Deep in the Weeds is a colorful, vibrant exhibit from Philadelphia photographer, Rob Cardillo.

Like people, plants are prone to mingling. Reaching for the sun, embracing tendrils, crossing stems, they're woven into tapestries of shifting textures and colors. In roadside weed patches, native plant communities and even well-tended garden beds, Rob Cardillo has framed nuanced gestures between twig and leaf, petal and pod, creating layered images with a photosynthetic pulse. Through his lens, we see abstract beauty in the interplay of shapes, color and light, yet the images remain fully grounded and invite us to commune with nature's silent social network.

Rob Cardillo has professionally photographed plants, gardens and the people that tend them for over twenty years.  His work appears regularly in Horticulture, Country Gardens, Organic Gardening, The New York Times and many other magazines, books and advertisements. To see Rob Cardillo’s work visit

Deep in the Weeds, photography by Rob Cardillo
On display beginning February 3 -  Opening Reception March 17, 1:00 - 3:00pm
Located in the Upper Gallery at Widener Visitor Center
Free with admission.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Philly Bees' Stake in Pollination

by Stephanie Wilson, Endowed Plant Protection Intern

This past fall, I have been running around Philadelphia with an insect net in hand, surveying the wild bees (non-honey bees) in Philadelphia. The very fact that you can grow many vegetables and flowers in the city is because wild bees are present and pollinating. But very little is known about these city slickers and how they survive such a rough habitat: pavement instead of bare ground (which they dig nests in), patches of flowers instead of rolling meadows, and competition from non-native bee species that are slipping in through our shipping ports. This is exactly what I am researching as part of a survey of the flora and fauna that the USGS is conducting.

Stephanie Wilson (L) and Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumblebee) pollinating a gentian Gentiana sp. (R)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Summer Adventure Like No Other

It may be winter now, but any experienced parent knows summer will be here before we know it. That means sunshine, warm weather, and the kids constantly asking "What are we doing today!?" Summer camp to the rescue!

We know there are many choices out there for parents to select from, but we've got a few good reasons why Morris Arboretum's Summer Adventure Camp is like no other:
  1. We've got bugs... BIG BUGS! This summer 11 huge bug sculptures are invading our garden and we've got some pretty exciting activities planned around them that will keep campers hopping (grasshopping that is!).
  2. An Elevated Experience! One of our most popular garden features, Out on a Limb Tree Adventure becomes a place for campers to take part in yoga, storytelling, and more all among the tree canopy.
  3. Delightful Discounts! Register before March 1 and receive 10% off camp tuition. Discounts are also given to siblings.
  4. Something for Everyone! Our camp provides a beautiful, natural setting with diverse programming that includes wetland discovery, arts & crafts, cooking, journal writing, critter collecting, and even treasure hunts!

Dates & Details:

Four Sessions to Chose from: June 24-28, July 8-12, July 15-19, and/or July 22-26
Time: Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm
Cost: $265 for Morris Arboretum members; $285 for non-members 
2013 Registration is now open, sign up today:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wonderful Witchhazels!

It's about this time of year when most of us have had quite enough of bleak winter weather and are longing for the vibrancy of spring. It seems nature has a way of knowing this and provides a mid-winter reprieve: colorful, sweetly-scented witchhazels!

Join us Sunday, February 17 from 1:00 - 3:00pm for our annual Witchhazel is Your Favorite family event, a day of outdoor fun and garden exploration! Follow the prepared scavenger hunt map to discover the many varieties of witchhazels growing at the Morris Arboretum. Ranging in color from yellow and orange to pink and red, witchhazels are some of the first harbingers of spring, and the Arboretum’s witchhazel collection is unparalleled in the area. The scavenger hunt invites visitors to compare the different varieties’ beautiful flowers and take in their heady scent. After the hunt, visitors can stop back at the Visitor Center to make a fun craft. This event is free with regular admission and registration is not required.

Download the scavenger hunt map (also available at the Visitor Center):

Don't Forget: Kids under 17 visit Free in February!

Can't get enough of witchhazels? Register for an exclusive, inside look at the collection with Morris Arboretum Director of Horticulture, Anthony Aiello.

An Inside Look at the Witchhazel Collection 
March 2, 1:00 - 3:00pm Register Today

Monday, February 11, 2013

Jump-Start Your Spring Planting

"And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see

An early Spring for you and me." -Punxsutawney Phil

What better way to jump-start your garden plans than by attending one of our many Spring course offerings. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or an eager novice, there's something for everyone! Below are a few course highlights.  Click here to see our full offering of classes.

Planting Design for the Home Landscape  
with John Shandra, Registered Landscape Architect
Five Wednesdays: March 20, 27, April 3, 10, 17 
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Register Now

Topics include: site analysis, developing functional diagrams, and considerations of color, form, and texture in the garden.

American Idols: Native Plants to Love
with Catherine Renzi, Owner, Yellow Springs Farm Native Plant Nursery
Saturday, March 16 
10:00a.m. - 12:00 noon 
Register Now

Learn about great native plants for your garden. They require less maintenance, do not need watering (except during establishment), chemical pesticides and fertilizers, or frequent cutting back.

Three Seasons of Outrageous Color from Perennials
with Kerry Ann Mendez, Garden Designer and Owner of Perennially Yours

Friday, March 22 
• 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. 
Register Now

Discover spectacular perennials for sun and shade that will brighten your landscape from spring through fall.

Great Hardy Native Ferns

with Gregg Tepper, Director of Horticulture, Mt. Cuba Center
Wednesday, March 27
 • 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Register Now

Gregg will discuss native fern identification, growth habits, as well as culture, and point out the many redeeming qualities that make ferns a pleasure to grow and show in the garden.

Rhododendrons for Your Landscape
with Karel Bernady, American Rhododendron Society 
Saturday, May 18 
• 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.
Register Now

In this class you will learn what a rhododendron is and how to choose plants that will do well in our area and how to care for them once they are planted.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Longtime Botanist Retires From Morris Arboretum

Today, in a world that revolves around technology, one of Ann Rhoads’ greatest pleasures is taking her grandchildren for woodland walks. As someone whose career has involved spending a significant amount of time outdoors, Ann has always encouraged people of all ages to appreciate and take pleasure in the natural world. In January, Ann retired from a long and prolific career at the Morris Arboretum. Ann served as Director of Botany at the Arboretum from 1976 to 2000, at which time she stepped back to the position of Senior Botanist in order to allow now Director Tim Block to assume the position.

An expert in the flora of Pennsylvania, Ann and former Arboretum Director, Bill Klein, built on work initiated in the 1930s by Edgar T. Wherry by creating the Flora of PA database. Today the database holds approximately 400,000 specimen records from the major Pennsylvania herbaria. During her tenure, the botany department at the Morris Arboretum also produced several important books.  In 1993, The Vascular Flora of PA, Annotated Checklist and Atlas by Rhoads and Klein was published by the American Philosophical Society.  The Plants of Pennsylvania, An Illustrated Manual by Rhoads and Block, first published in 2000 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, has proven to be a valuable resource both within and outside the state. A second edition, incorporating recent taxonomic changes, was published in 2007. Trees of Pennsylvania appeared in 2005, and Aquatic Plants of Pennsylvania was released in 2011.

Ann has also taught and mentored students through the years both at the Morris Arboretum--supervising or co-supervising the Plant Protection and Pennsylvania flora interns, and as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she taught Plant Systematics and Field Botany.  An active spokesperson for environmental issues, Ann was instrumental in drawing attention to the issue of deer overabundance and its severe impact on the structure and composition of Pennsylvania’s forests and natural areas. She has served on statewide committees and developed reports to help educate the public about the importance of this issue.

Even though she is retiring from the Arboretum, Ann says she will continue to expand her knowledge of plants, and will still be involved at the Arboretum, helping out in botany and maybe even writing another book.  In the meantime, her message not only for her grandchildren, but for all of us is a simple one- “Get out into the woods!”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Checking on our young ones...

by Jamie Berlin, Alice & J. Liddon Pennock, Jr. Endowed Horticulture Intern

After trees have shed their leaves and the cold weather moves in, the Arboretum begins to move at a slower pace. During these months, the Arboretum staff has time to check on younger plantings and newer transplants. By visiting these plants individually, staff can evaluate health and initiate proper management practices. Younger trees are more vulnerable to the elements, so checking on them annually can help reduce problems in the future.

After checking that all accessioned plants are alive and accounted for, staff can focus on:
  • Minor pruning - cutting off branches that are rubbing one another or that might be a problem in the future.
  • Staking - protecting the young plants from buck rub (the practice of male deer rubbing their antlers on the stems of small trees to remove the velvet from their antlers).
  • Trunk protection - using netting around the base of the trunk to stop animals, such as groundhogs, from eating the bark.
  • Insect damage - taking note of the insect causing the damage, evaluating if it will cause a major problem to the plant, and taking the necessary management steps, such as pruning or spraying.
  • Labeling issues - accessioned plants within the Arboretum are assigned a specific number so they can be tracked over the years. If tags fall off, or are missing, this needs to be dealt with right away.

Deer damage

Staking around young trees

Trunk protection

Click here to learn more about Arboriculture at Morris Arboretum.