See the Signs!

The next time you venture over to the Washington Park Arboretum, you’ll probably notice more than 30 new signs now spread throughout the park to provide way-finding and other educational information to visitors!

Bald Cypress

This “Bald Cypress” sign is one of several additions you’ll find along the new “Pinetum Loop” trail in the Arboretum.

Part of a three-year project involving Seattle Parks and Recreation, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum Foundation, the signage effort coincides with the opening of two new interpretive trails at the 230-acre Arboretum: the half-mile “Pinetum Loop,” and the one-mile “Lookout Loop.”

These additions address a common suggestion from visitor surveys about providing more information and interpretation of the Arboretum’s collections. Planners took special care during installation, though, to make sure the new signs were as unobtrusive as possible, providing a wealth of educational context without affecting the aesthetic enjoyment of the park.

Of course, we can talk about the new signs and trails all day, but the best way to explore the changes is to head over and see for yourself! To direct your journey, the UW Botanic Gardens has created new trail maps that are available online (in PDF) or in print at the Graham Visitors Center.

For more information about the new signage and trails, contact UW Botanic Gardens Director Sarah Reichard.

Azalea Way

Explore the Gardens of Cuba with SEFS!

After two very successful years of the program, the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in association with the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, is excited to offer another study tour to Cuba this winter from February 20 to March 3!

Led by UW Botanic Gardens Director Sarah Reichard, the 10-day excursion includes visits to botanic gardens, organic farms, nature preserves and historical national parks. You’ll get unparalleled access to the “Pearl of the Antilles” and its stunning indigenous flora and fauna, as well as the island’s legendary history, music and dancing.

Cuba

A farmer gathers royal palms in Cuba.

This Cuban adventure is open to all SEFS students, staff and faculty, and there’s room for non-UW folks as well. Professor Reichard will not be returning to Cuba in the next few years, so don’t miss the chance for a one-of-a-kind garden tour!

Program Highlights
You can check out the full itinerary for a day-by-day synopsis of activities, but some of the highlights include exploring the capital city of Havana; visiting the Valley de Vinales, the tropical forests of Soroa and Zapata National Park; touring  botanical and orchid gardens; guided hiking through the ecologically protected area of Mil Cumbres (“Thousand Peaks”); and much, much more!

Rest assured, though, that not all of your minutes will be structured. In addition to the official visits and tours, you’ll have plenty of time to wander and experience Havana at your own speed and according to your own tastes. Sip coffee at a café? A night of live music and salsa dancing? Sample plantains and local cigars? The options are nearly infinite!

If that revs up your sense of adventure, then learn more about how to sign up, program costs and other details! The original deadline to register was November 17, but it has been extended a few weeks. However, to make sure the trip reaches the minimum number of participants, you are encouraged to sign up as quickly as possible.

Contact Professor Reichard for more background information, or track down some of the past participants, such as Steve West and Nevada Smith, who can gush for hours about how amazing the trip is!

Photos © Sarah Reichard.

Cuba

Valley de Vinales

Arboretum to Unveil New Zealand Collection

Coming up on Sunday, September 15, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public is invited to attend the official dedication of the New Zealand Forest, the most significant addition to the Washington Park Arboretum in decades!

First conceived nearly 10 years ago, the 2-acre New Zealand collection will feature more than 10,000 plants, shrubs and grasses that are found on New Zealand’s South Island. The exhibit—located on a boulder-strewn hillside crisscrossed with rock swales—is the second of five eco-geographic forests to be completed in the Arboretum’s Pacific Connections Garden, which will eventually cover 14 acres and be the largest exhibit of its kind in North America.

New Zealand Forest

The New Zealand Forest under construction this past May.

Construction of the New Zealand Forest cost roughly $2 million, with funding from the Arboretum Foundation and the 2008 Parks and Green Space Levy, and planners are extremely excited to see the garden opened to the public.

“This is our legacy to leave behind for future generations to enjoy, like Azalea Way or the Winter Garden,” says Fred Hoyt, associate director of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG), which owns and manages the collections at the Arboretum.

The opening celebration—organized in partnership with the Seattle-Christchurch Sister City Association and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture—will pay homage to New Zealand’s culture and ethnobotanical history. The dedication will include a Māori dance troupe from Vancouver, British Columbia, to perform a traditional “haka,” or war dance. Caine Tauwhare, a Māori wood carver who carved the slats for a park bench in the new forest, is also traveling from Christchurch (Seattle’s sister city in New Zealand) for a demonstration. Members of the local Muckleshoot Tribe will be there to greet the Māori, who by custom won’t enter a new land until the native people have welcomed them. (In the lead-up to the formal dedication, the Burke Museum will be highlighting its New Zealand collection, and the Māori dance group and carver will be there on Saturday, September 14, for a separate performance and demo.)

Sunday’s festivities will also include a host of speakers, including speeches from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, UW Vice Provost for Global Affairs Jeffrey Riedinger, New Zealand Honorary Consul Rachel Jacobson, and senior officials from the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Arboretum Foundation.

New Zealand Forest

The New Zealand Forest last week, coming together beautifully in time for the public dedication.

Building the New Zealand Forest has been an enormous collaborative effort that has involved the support of many partners, including Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Arboretum Foundation and The Berger Partnership, the design firm hired for the project. UWBG Director Sarah Reichard and Hoyt have been closely involved in the planning and creation of this new exhibit since its inception, and they’re grateful for all of the community volunteers and energy, as well as the citizens of Seattle for supporting the levy that funded the garden’s infrastructure.

As the New Zealand Forest matures, it will be a spectacular new garden to enjoy at the Arboretum. Visitors will be able to immerse themselves in unfamiliar landscapes—modeled on actual plant communities from the South Island of New Zealand—and discover beautiful plants they’ve never seen before. When you do visit, though, be mindful that many of the plants will be small for a while yet. Of course, that’s part of the joy of a collection like this: It will continue growing and changing for as long as it’s here. “No garden is ever done,” says Reichard, and they will keep adding new plants for years to come.

Check back with UWBG closer to the date for the most updated schedule of activities. The dedication is free and open to the public—no ticket or RSVP required—and will take place at the Pacific Connections meadow at the south end of the Arboretum. There will be live music, a ribbon cutting, cake and lemonade, and tours of the new garden. So come out and explore the New Zealand Forest!

Parking and Transportation
Arboretum Drive will be open to one-way traffic, going south, for the duration of the event. Parking will be permitted along the right-hand side of the drive, as well as in designated Arboretum parking lots. To help reduce traffic, please consider using public transportation, or coming by bike or on foot.

New Zealand Forest
Photos © SEFS.

Name That Tree!

We recently received an inquiry requesting help identifying a particular tree in Seattle’s Colman Park. Martha Edmond, the inquirer, wrote:

Lombardy poplar

One of the photos Martha Edmond sent to help identify the tree, which turned out to be a Lombardy poplar.

“I wonder if you are able to help me. I am researching an artist who painted along the west shore of Lake Washington (circa 1905) near Colman Park. The artist included a row of trees in his work. I was told years ago by a dendrologist that they were native to the West Coast, and that they were willows—but they are certainly not “weeping” willows.

An article is being published on this artist, and it would be nice to identify the type of tree. I am attaching some views of the trees that I took on a trip to Colman Park. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!”

We forwarded the photos to a few folks here at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, and Professor Sarah Reichard immediately guessed that it was likely some sort of poplar—possibly a Lombardy poplar—but said she would need more than a slightly unfocused image to be certain.

So, taking advantage of lovely weather this week, Professor Emeritus Bob Edmonds and his wife decided to head over to Colman Park to have a look in person. They found two poplars in the area and confirmed that one does, in fact, have the small leaves and crown shape of a Lombardy poplar, which has European roots and is not native to the Pacific Northwest. Edmonds says the other, which has larger leaves and a different crown shape, is likely a black cottonwood, which is native to North America, including Washington and Oregon. Who knew such a seemingly simple inquiry could yield such a complicated explanation?

Thanks to everyone for helping solve this mystery, and we hope we were able to help Martha Edmond and Ottawa Magazine with their story!

Photo © Martha Edmond.

Thesis Defense: Betsy Vance!

Hackelia venusta

Is there a better way to kick off a Wednesday morning than by listening to one of your fellow graduate students present her original research? No way!

So come out to Anderson 22 at 9 a.m. this Wednesday, May 22, to hear Betsy Vance defend her Master’s Thesis: “Investigating the ecological requirements of Hackelia venusta: An examination of the soils and their potential influence on the limited distribution of one of Washington State’s most endangered species.”

Hackelia venusta (“Showy Stickseed”) is an endemic, endangered species restricted to a single population located on the eastern footslopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Preservation of the current population, as well as the establishment of future populations, is contingent upon a better understanding of the plant’s specific ecological requirements. The purpose of this study was to characterize the physical and chemical properties of the soil and how these properties may be influencing the current extent of the population.

Professors Darlene Zabowski and Rob Harrison are co-chairs of Vance’s committee, and other members include Professors Sarah Reichard and Eric Turnblom.

She’ll have coffee, juice and some sort of food/snack on hand, so come kick-start your day with some caffeine and a healthy dose of intellectual stimulation!

Photo of Hackelia venusta © Betsy Vance.

Dissertation Defense: Rachel Mitchell!

Rachel Mitchell

Rachel Mitchell at an experimental grassland at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Wash.

Thesis season is in high gear, and we have another great dissertation defense coming up this Monday, May 13, with Rachel Mitchell: “The Extent, Drivers and Consequences of Intraspecific Variation in Plant Functional Traits.”

Although plant functional traits are increasingly used to explore and understand plant ecology, most studies assume that intraspecific variation in functional traits is negligible. Recent research, however, indicates that this is not the case, and that intraspecific trait variation may play an important role in plant communities and ecosystem function. Mitchell’s defense focuses on the extent, drivers and consequences of intraspecific trait variation in grassland species and communities.

Mitchell’s committee chair is Professor Jon Bakker, and her other committee members include SEFS Professors Sarah Reichard and Soo-Hyung Kim, along with Janneke Hille Ris Lambers, Martha Groom and Regina Rochefort.

Mark your calendars and clear some space to come see Mitchell’s talk this coming Monday morning at 9 a.m. in Anderson 22!

Photo © Rachel Mitchell.

Arboretum History, Maps Going Digital

Grid Map

Arboretum grid map, before.

Since it opened in 1934, the Washington Park Arboretum has hosted thousands of plant collections and species, each with a meticulously kept record and history. Until recently, many of those details from 1934 through the 1980s—when the database became digital—have been preserved solely on paper, scribbled on grid maps or filed in countless handwritten notes.

This past August, though, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG) received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to begin digitizing those records and create an interactive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map for the entire park. In the end, planners and visitors will be able to go online and pinpoint specific plants and collections within the arboretum, and access all sorts of historical details—a prospect that has everyone at UWBG and the arboretum buzzing.

“People will be able to find an area in the Arboretum, then zoom down and see which plants are there,” says Tracy Mehlin, project manager and information technology librarian at the Center for Urban Horticulture. “It will be really fascinating and educational to have all of that history linked to the plant records, and accessible online to everyone.”

Grid Map

Arboretum grid map, after.

One of the first tasks of the project was to begin surveying and verifying the geospatial coordinates of the 230-acre park, which decades ago was originally divided into 595 grid squares, each 100 feet by 100 feet. When those grid markers and coordinates are confirmed, they will be used to create a map that supports the geo-referenced database. Two- and three-person teams of students and staff have already been out surveying for the past couple months.

It’s a multi-tiered project, and Mehlin has been working closely with other partners at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS).

Sarah Reichard, director of UWBG, is the principal investigator on the grant along with Soo-Hyung Kim, a professor of plant ecophysiology. Jim Lutz, a research scientist and engineer with the College of the Environment, has been helping coordinate the student survey crews and GIS mapping, and David Campbell is working on the searchable database and Web interface. Others involved are helping with various projects, including digitizing the existing maps, as well as handwritten notes and histories attached to each of the park’s 10,000 accessions (plants specifically added and catalogued as part of the arboretum’s collections).When completed, the searchable database will be a boon for environmental research and park management. It will also expand interpretative opportunities for visitors.

“The really fun part of it starts when it’s done,” says Reichard. “The idea is that eventually you’d be able to get the coordinates of a particular collection, like our magnolias, and locate them on your cell phone or GPS unit. We can start putting together virtual tours, and visitors can go from plant to plant.”

The grant covers two years and is expected to run through August 2014. By then, anyone with a Web-connected device will have unprecedented access to most of the living collections—barring a few rare species—at the arboretum. And for the rest, you’ll just have to come out and explore the park on foot!

Images courtesy of Tracy Mehlin.