Sunday, May 31, 2015

Park vs. Arboretum: What’s the Difference?

Many people refer erroneously to Morris Arboretum as a ‘park’. In fact, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is not a park; it is an arboretum which is a botanical garden specializing in trees.

Here are 5 differences between a park and arboreta/botanical garden:

  1. Parks are intended mostly for recreation vs. arboreta/botanical gardens which focus on Plant Science Research, Education, Conservation and Horticultural Display.
  2. Parks have functional landscapes and plantings such as playing fields and picnic groves, vs. arboreta/botanical gardens’ curated labeled living collections, interpreted exhibits, and managed habitat areas.
  3. Parks are typically publicly funded by taxes vs. arboreta/botanical gardens which are typically community supported by gifts, memberships and use fees.
  4. Parks encourage sports and dog walking vs. arboreta/botanical gardens where sports and pets are not permitted.
  5. Parks typically trend toward monoculture with little biodiversity (with exceptions for managed natural areas) vs. arboreta/botanical gardens, which are typically high in biodiversity.
So now you know the difference! Share your knowledge with friends.

Article contributed by Susan Crane, Director of Marketing, Morris Arboretum

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Ways Retreating Outdoors is Good for Your Well-Being

I remember being a kid standing at the entrance of the Morris Arboretum, and having the distinct feeling of stepping through the gates into a sanctuary. I stepped away from parked cars and the busy street into a softer world that smelled of boxwoods, roses, and jasmine.
This nature was a sanctuary: a retreat and place to pretend I was a princess, a lion, or a swan whisperer. As an adult, a retreat into the Morris Arboretum taps the same child-like sanctuary of wonder and well-being.

As adults we stand at the gates of our well-being and ask:
How many hours do I sit at a desk or inside?
When will I have time to exercise?
Where can I go to enjoy myself and rejuvenate?

Here are five ways retreating locally into nature can enhances your well-being:

  1. Induce a meditative mindset. In a yoga practice, this is called Pratyahara. We withdraw from our busy habitual behaviors and mainstream outer listening and turn our focus to inner listening and attention. We restore our respect for our needs. Accompanied by a tall tree, a gentle breeze or bird song, we return home to our skin, the present moment, and the restorative beauty of silence.
  2. Slow down, relax, restore and rejuvenate the body. The constant flux and changes in nature give us a wise backdrop and context to enjoy the body. The body seeks harmony, fluidity, flexibility, and balance just like nature. Gentle, mindful yoga, reintroduces us to the flux, flow and wisdom of our well-being.
  3. Disconnect from the addiction of stress, technology, and business. Let go of the addictive reliance on email, cell phones, and technology, in exchange for a pure sky, a sunset, and a canopy of elms. A hawk flies overhead, a bunny darts behind the holly branches, and the light sparkles over our face. We unplug and return to our senses.
  4. Enjoy the flow of nature and beauty. Emerson wrote, “A nobler want of man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty.” Slow steady breaths. Even with the daily pressures of life, we can make time to enjoy ourselves -  our bodies, our minds and to share the time with others in the beauty of nature.
  5. The fun of self-reflection and self-awareness. Natural meditative environments draw our minds and hearts towards an acceptance of what is. Whether by meditation, meeting new people, conversation with others, journaling or walking, nature can be an immense catalyst for personal happiness, creativity, wholeness, and embracing change.
At the core of our mental, physical and emotional wellness Mother Nature’s meditative beauty restores our sanity and preserves our sense of wonder and ease.

Will you slow down to enjoy your health?
The challenge is for us to practice being a culture that supports true well-being. We can support one another in a deliberate process and practice of mindfully re-connecting to all that sustains us - the fluidity of body and mind. The pure blue sky.

Join Jennifer Schelter, for the Mini-Radiant Retreat - Yoga Retreat at the Morris Arboretum on June 13, 10:00am - 2:00pm. Register Now

Article contributed by Jennifer Schelter, Founder, Radiant Retreats, Co-Founder, Yoga On The Steps

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Weekend Picks: The Ticket to Fun!

 The Garden Railway Returns!

This year’s theme is  "Art & Architecture"

Morris Arboretum has just the ticket to kick off summer – the Grand Opening of the Garden Railway display on Memorial Day weekend, celebrating its 18th year!  This year’s theme "Art & Architecture" will feature miniatures of iconic Philadelphia sculptures and famous lighthouses, to buildings from the last World’s Fair in 1964 and more!

Visitors will experience art such as Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ to Oldenburg’s ‘Clothes Pin’; marvel at daring architecture including Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Waters’ to Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Monticello’;  and delight in the whimsical architecture of roadside attractions such as ‘Randy’s Donuts’ and the ‘Giant Teapot’.  This year’s display will again, surely delight visitors both young and old.

Grand Opening activities will take place on Saturday, May 23, 2015 from 1:00 - 3:00pm.  Take part in a kids craft and enjoy free ice cream (while supplies last) and various hard pretzels with which guests can create their own delicious art & architecture.

The Garden Railway is open daily May 23 - September 7; weekends only through October 12. Free with regular garden admission.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Snakes: Friend Them or Fear Them?

The tongue of this Garter Snake is picking up air-born microscopic particles to deposit on the Jacobson organ in its mouth.  The snake senses food, enemies and mates with this organ.

Snakes at Morris Arboretum
are a natural component of many sustainable landscapes where they serve important ecological functions. Snakes excite interest and occasional fear at the Morris Arboretum. They live here on land and in the waterways, occupying the diverse habitats of our gardens and managed Wissahickon Valley landscape. They should be respected, enjoyed and left alone.    

Visitors will most often see two snake species (Eastern Garter Snake and Northern Water Snake) from March to November as the reptiles search for prey, try to escape to cover or bask in the warm sun. Other snakes are more likely to be seen by staff and volunteers while gardening.

None of the serpents typically found here are seriously venomous. Garter Snake does have mildly venomous saliva that may cause a rash or swelling in humans. Northern Water Snake has a reputation for a bad disposition and can give severe repeated bites if threatened. Its saliva contains an anticoagulant to promote blood loss. All our snakes do have numerous teeth to hold their prey, but they don’t chew their food. They swallow it whole. Many local snakes emit a foul smelling secretion as a defense.

Snake Watching Tips
  • Observe. Enjoy their company but let them go their own way. 
  • Do not disturb the snakes. They provide valuable services in the garden, consuming many pests. Snakes, in turn, are snacks for other creatures such as hawks, fox, raccoon and other snakes. 
  • There is a lot of scientific information and folklore available about snakes that you can research to enhance your nature encounters and amaze your companions.
Look for these four locally native snakes at the Morris Arboretum:
  1. Eastern Garter SnakeThamnophis sirtalisMay be seen almost anywhere in the garden.  They eat a lot of earthworms and other small prey.  It is easily recognized by the three, pale-colored stripes along its body.  The stripes resemble patterns on the garters once commonly worn by men.
  2. Northern Water SnakeNerodia sipedonis commonly seen basking on the rocks at the Swan Pond and near other water bodies. It can grow four feet long eating fish and small animals. They defend themselves viciously. 
  3. Northern Brown SnakeStoreria dekayi, is a secretive snake rarely seen by visitors, but often  observed by staff working at earth level in the moist understory where it hunts slugs, larvae  and soft-bodied insects.
  4. Northern Ringneck SnakeDiadophis punctatus, is rarely seen as it is most active at night.  It has a distinctive yellow or orange band around its neck.  
Local snakes that have been reported but not seen recently at the Morris Arboretum include the Eastern Rat Snake, Elapheobsoleta, Northern Black RacerColuber constrictor and Eastern Milk SnakeLampropeltis triangulumThere are a few other snakes that we might yet document here.  

Robert R. Gutowski, Director of Public Programs, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. 
 The blue eyes of this Garter Snake are a temporary result of shedding its skin.
The Northern Brown Snake is a small snake of secretive habits. This one was disturbed while I was weeding a perennial border.
Northern Water Snakes are commonly seen basking at the Swan Pond and are often confused with the venomous Copperhead or Water Moccasin. In either case, it is best not to disturb them.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tree of the Year

From time to time, a tree will flower with extraordinary abundance. This year, the three dovetrees (Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana) at the Arboretum, growing near the Mercury Loggia and the Log Cabin, flowered with an intensity that surpassed any year prior.

The dovetree is rich in lore and history. It was first discovered in China in 1869 by the French missionary Armand David. Though known by reputation, the tree remained rare in the western world. In 1899, Sir Harry Vietch of the famed English Vietch Nursery, commissioned a young recent Kew graduate, Ernest Henry Wilson, to go to China to collect seeds of the dovetree. After much effort, Wilson not only succeeded in collecting seeds, but also went on to become a famed plant explorer, collecting and documenting more than 1,000 Chinese species, (some of which he shared with the Morrises’ fledgling arboretum). It was the search for the fabled dovetree, however, that first inspired his efforts in China.

The Arboretum’s largest dovetree is a multi-stem specimen just above the Mercury Loggia. This tree was acquired in 1954 as a cutting from Clement E. Newbold’s estate, Crosswicks, in Jenkintown. It “died” and was cut to the ground in 1984 and a young replacement was planted nearby. Amazingly, the dead plant re-sprouted vigorously the following year, rejoining the newly planted specimen in a cluster.

Dovetrees can take more than 10 years to reach flowering maturity, and many more years to flower heavily and reliably. The trees at the Arboretum usually bloom around the time of the Plant Sale in early May. In recent years, the dovetrees have all flowered reliably, but this past spring produced the heaviest flower set previously seen at the Arboretum on a dovetree.

 In his 1929 book, China – Mother of Gardens, Wilson wrote, “To my mind Davidia involucrata is the most interesting and beautiful of all trees in the north temperate flora.” After observing this year’s Davidia display, it is easy to understand his enthusiasm!

Article and photos contributed by Paul Meyer, The F. Otto Haas Executive Director, Morris Arboretum

Article and photos contributed by Paul Meyer, The F. Otto Haas Executive Director, Morris Arboretum

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

3 Ways to Celebrate Summer!

The first calendar day of summer is June 21, but we like to celebrate as soon as the average daily temperature is over 75. Isn't that something to celebrate, especially after a brutal winter?! We think so. So, here are our favorite ways to kick off this sunshine-filled season:
  1. Kickin' Off Summer Concert - Thursday, May 28
    Kick up your heels in the Azalea Meadow and celebrate the coming of summer with the best little Philly band you don’t know yet. With their infectious beats and electrifying 70s-era showmanship, You Do You is a funky feast for your eyes and ears. Get your tickets now
  2. Summer Garden Railway Grand Opening - Saturday, May 23
    All aboard the Summer Express! Catch the Grand Opening of the Garden Railway display on Memorial Day weekend. This year’s theme "Art & Architecture" will feature miniatures of iconic Philadelphia sculptures and famous lighthouses, to buildings from the last World’s Fair in 1964 and more! Take part in a kids craft and enjoy free ice cream (while supplies last). Learn More
  3. Late [Date] Night Wednesdays - Starting Wednesday, June 3
    Back by popular demand - the garden is open until 8pm on Wednesdays, June through August. Make it a date. Pack a picnic or grab bite at Compton Cafe, then take a stroll through the garden at sunset. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why Dead Trees Make Great Homes

This morning, the staff working hard down at the Horticulture Center on Bloomfield Farm were lucky to be joined by a pileated woodpecker, who was also working hard at a stump twenty feet from our window.

At the Morris Arboretum, dead trees are usually completely removed to reduce the hazards they pose to passersby.  However, dead wood can serve as food and habitat for all sorts of organisms – from insects and fungi, to squirrels and birdsThe Morris Arboretum Urban Forestry Consultants advocate leaving standing deadwood as “wildlife trees”, where it is safe and appropriate, because they add enormous ecological value to a landscape.  Because this stump outside of the Horticulture Center was purposefully cut to a safe height, it can be enjoyed by this handsome pileated woodpecker.

Contributed by Corey Bassett, the Martha S. Miller Urban Forestry Intern,
Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Weekend Picks: Mom Edition

Photo: Ryan Estes Photography


Our Guide to Mother's Day Weekend

This weekend is Mother's Day (aren't you glad we reminded you?) and the garden has much to offer - whether it's a special outing or picking up a gift. Or, maybe mom just needs an afternoon of peace and quiet - in which case we've got the best place to bring the kiddos!

For Moms Who Want to Leisurely Stroll:
  • Use our guide to What's in Bloom this May to lead your walk. Stop and smell the abundance of gorgeous flowers and their sweet scents. Get the Bloom Guide
  • Our self-guided Sculpture Tour will take you off the beaten path, with a delightful surprise of a brand new sculpture along the way... Get the Tour Guide
 For the Perfect Last-Minute Gift
  • You can't go wrong with flowers. Take it up a notch with a live, blooming plant that mom will enjoy for months or years. Shop the Plant Sale
  • Did you know our Gift Shop stocks one-of-a-kind, artisan jewelry? And even more locally-made items that are sure to please. Stop by the Gift Shop
What To Do With the Kiddos
  • Our new Sculpture Scavenger Hunt is sure to keep them busy all around the garden. Bonus: Kids who complete the activity get a free prize!  Get the Clue Sheet
  • Out on a Limb is always a hit, but did you know there's a whole new Adventure Guide that can be completed as part of this garden feature? Check it out or pick up a passport at the Visitor Center

Happy Mother's Day! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Turtle Tips

Eastern box turtle, photo by Paul Meyer
Eastern painted turtle and red-eared slider
Red-eared slider
Snapping turtle

Turtles at the Morris Arboretum
What lives at the Arboretum, leaves its shell and never leaves its shell? Not nut trees. Turtles of course. Like many reptiles, turtles hatch from eggs. Unlike their fellow reptilians - snakes and lizards - turtles have a distinct shell to protect and support their body.
Four turtle species are known to make their home at Morris Arboretum. All of them can be seen in and around the Arboretum’s Wetland, Paper Mill Run and the Wissahickon Creek. Other species may yet be found. All turtles, including aquatic species, lay their eggs on land, usually above the flood line.

Turtle Watching Tips
If you visit the Wetland during April-October you may see a dozen turtles basking on a log. These are the easiest to observe but who are you looking at? The most likely is a mix of Red-eared Sliders and Eastern Painted Turtles. The sliders are more common. Turtles near water usually dive before you are close enough to identify them, so binoculars are useful. With a little practice - and some identification guide research - you can be checking scute patterns, carapace profiles and head markings to share your herpetological observations. The common Snapping Turtle is most often seen as a snout and pair of eyes just above the surface. You might think it is just a bit of stump. Once you recognize it, you will begin to see it more frequently. The only land turtle we have is the Eastern Box Turtle. This may be the rarest to see as it likes to burrow into cool moist retreats or under logs. Eastern Box Turtle is a species of special concern in Pennsylvania. The survival of many reptile species is threatened by habitat loss. Leave all the turtles be and protect their habitats. Look and learn, but don’t touch – and remember the powerful snapping turtle has a long neck and a short temper.    

Look for these four turtles at the Morris Arboretum:
  1. Red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans – aquatic invasive
  2. Eastern painted turtle, Chrysemys picta picta – aquatic native
  3. Common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentine serpentine – aquatic native
  4. Eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina – terrestrial native species of special concern

Article and photos (unless otherwise stated) contributed by Robert R. Gutowski, Director of Public Programs, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Right Plant in the Right Place

Hostas (several varieties pictured behind bench) thrive in partial shade.

Does all the fresh new growth and color of spring have you inspired to plant something?

Whether you are creating a new garden or want to add additional plants to an existing one keep in mind if the place is right for the plant. We all have our favorites and want them in our gardens, however we can be very disappointed in the results if not planted in the proper environment it requires. Most of us know about full sun, part shade or full shade, but many plants love hot dry conditions or kept cool and moist or hate wet feet. When shopping for plants know where you plan to plant them and the conditions of the area.

Color for Shade
Colorful plants in shady spots are always difficult. Try hosta, which comes in blues, greens and stripes. Coleus is a wonderful plant for color in a shady spot and lots of variety. Try the large Kong coleus for a dramatic effect. Astilbe is an old favorite that thrives in partial shade and packs a colorful punch.

The Right Plant in the Right Place will help you have the garden you dream of become a reality. Happy planting!

Pick up the perfect plants for your backyard at our Annual Plant Sale, May 8 (Members Only) and 9 (Public). Our knowledgeable staff will be on hand to answer all your garden questions!

Article contributed by Susan J. Choma, Certified Master Gardener

Friday, May 1, 2015

Weekend Picks: Early Bird Perks

Garden gates at sunrise.


Rise and shine, we've got a great Saturday filled with exploration for you!

Saturday, May 2:
  • Early-Bird Hours: Garden opens at 8am! Every Saturday in May the garden opens early a 8am. It's the perfect time for some great bird-watching, unobstructed photography, or garden meditation.
  • Birding in the Wetlands and Tree Canopy (8:00 - 11:00am) Join our experienced instructor as you explore some of the hotspots for birds at the Morris Arboretum. Registration required
  • Garden Discovery Series Guess how old? Discover Dendrochronology (11:00am - 3:00pm)
    Guess the correct age of the tree cookie by counting the rings. Afterwards, decorate a tree cookie of your own! Free with garden admission. Takes place at 'Out on a Limb'.
  •  Sculpture Scavenger Hunt (All day)
    Pick up a clue sheet and map at the Visitor’s Center or download one here. Solve the riddles to find the sculptures, each with a secret code. Guests who decipher the message will receive a complimentary pack of Play Doh® to create their own work of art!