Volunteer Spotlight: Kyra Kaiser

September 23rd, 2016 by Donna McBain Evans

Kyra KaiserKyra Kaiser always dreaded public speaking growing up.  So you might not expect that she would end up as one of UW Botanic Gardens’ most enthusiastic tour guides at the Washington Park Arboretum, leading groups of visitors into the secret places of that 230 acre forested gem inside the City of Seattle.

Kaiser, a second year student at UW who intends to major in plant biology, leads free weekend walks at the Arboretum, a tour program with a broad focus that changes monthly according to the season and route taken.

As Kaiser was adjusting to her new environment as a freshman undergraduate, she realized that she needed to balance her academic studies with a connection outside of the classroom.

Kaiser soon found the perfect fit as a volunteer tour guide at the Arboretum.

“The best part of being a tour guide is that I am given the creative freedom to design my own tours:  I plan the route, choose which plants I will talk about and then build my talk based on prior knowledge, and several hours of research,” she notes.

Kaiser says she always does a practice run to improve the flow and boost her confidence before the actual tour.

“I found that my aversion to public speaking did not matter when I was prepared and talking about something I was interested in and eager to share my knowledge of, namely plants,” Kaiser adds.

Kaiser says the main goal for her tour is “to encourage people to appreciate the natural world around them.”  She tries to point out things that are beautiful but often subtle:

“… like water droplets that collect on the scalloped shaped leaves of a lady’s mantle, or the lovely perfume of witch hazels,” she says with delight.

“I try to engage people with questions,” she notes, “such as why would it be advantageous for lamb’s ear to have fuzzy leaves, considering that the plant is native to hot, dry regions.”

Kaiser also tries to make connections with other disciplines, for those people less focused on plants.  She connects “botany with culture for history buffs, etymology for language lovers, design for artists and everyday uses” that can appeal to a wide range of people.

“Another important part of being a tour guide is knowing when not to talk,” she says, so Kaiser is conscious of giving tour-goers the chance to ask questions, reflect on their own and admire their surroundings.

“I strive to make a small connection with everyone on my tour,” she enthuses, “and hope that the time people spend at the Arboretum was as meaningful to them as it was to me.”

Landscapes on the Edge

September 22nd, 2016 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

UW Botanic Gardens’ conferences, seminars, and symposia offer academics, scientists and practitioners opportunities to learn about the latest research and expertise in plant-related fields and create a forum for collaboration among professionals working in urban forestry, restoration and sustainable landscape management. Read on to learn about our exciting 2016 fall seminar. We hope you can join us!

Introduction to Landscapes on the Edge

Design and Implementation of Landscape and Restoration Projects
on Puget Sound Shorelines and Urban Ravines

Co-hosted by Greenbelt Consulting and University of Washington Botanic Gardens

UW Botanic Gardens & Greenbelt Consulting

November 15 & 16, 2016, 9am – 4pm
Center for Urban Horticulture
3501 NE 41st St., Seattle, WA 98105

Full registration – $230
One-day – $150

Register Here

* Special discount pricing for full-time students and conservation corps members. See registration site for details.

This program is designed to educate landscape professionals about the vulnerable nature of marine shorelines and provide guidance and instruction on how to better initiate, design, and implement successful landscape and restoration projects on upland buffers, shorelines, steep slopes, and beaches.

Expanding your skill set in this area will allow you to:

  • Meet the growing demand for this type of service
  • Implement successful projects, creating happy customers and positive word-of-mouth
  • Increase your company’s market share
  • Avoid regulatory problems, fines, and lawsuits
  • Improve public trust in the landscape industry to meet these environmental needs

The public is being educated about the need for better management of shorelines and steep slopes, resulting in rising public demand for professional services. This is an optimal time to train landscape professionals in the specifics of designing, planning, and installing projects on marine shorelines and other sensitive areas.

Speakers include:

  • Elliott Menashe, Greenbelt Consulting
  • John Bethel, Geomorphologist, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks
  • Kollin Higgins,  Senior Ecologist in the Science and Technical Support Section of King County Water and Land Resources Division
  • Erica Guttman, Washington State University Extension and Native Plant Salvage Foundation
  • Sasha Shaw, King County Noxious Weed Control Program
  • Marianne Edain and Steve Erickson, Frosty Hollow Ecological Restoration
  • Stephanie Williams, L.G., Geologist, Shannon & Wilson, Inc.
  • Karin Srelioff, MLA, Environmental Specialist | GSI Designer, Mason Conservation District
  • and more to come!

Landscapes on the Edge Program Flyer

Full program schedule coming soon.

Student Spotlight: Tessarae Mercer

September 16th, 2016 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor


Tessarae Mercer is an Intern at the UW Farm this summer. The work fulfills part of her capstone (graduation requirement) for the Program on the Environment. She grew up in Vancouver, Washington before coming to Seattle to study at the University of Washington in fall of 2013. In her (limited) free time, she enjoys being out in nature, reading, and dance. Her academic interests closely align with her personal hobbies, as she is currently studying Environmental Studies and Dance. As she says, “I think those two majors do an excellent job of summing up two of my biggest interests in the world!”

A couple of Tessarae’s favorite classes in college so far have been Environmental Ethics and Natural History of the Puget Sound. She describes both classes as “fascinating,” and remarks that they have both been really influential in justifying her decision to major in environmental studies.

Tessarae came to UW Botanic Gardens through her work  at the UW Farm. In a typical day, she does a lot of different things. Sometimes she’s working on her own independent project in the permaculture garden, or participating in general farming activities such as weeding, seeding, pruning, or harvesting vegetables. she loves getting to help out wherever she can and learning everything she can about the farm!

Her favorite plant (as of right now) are the tomato plants! Any of them, really. It’s her favorite because she loves the way pretty much every tomato tastes and she also really enjoys spending time tending to and pruning the tomato plants, finding it very therapeutic.

The “Crown Jewels” of the Washington Park Arboretum

September 11th, 2016 by UWBG Horticulturist

A tribute to our late Director, Dr. Sarah Reichard.  May she forever garden in peace amongst a grove of Stewartia, her favorite tree.

[Editor’s Note: If you have time to experience their true beauty, it is highly recommended you visit our Stewartia Collection. The smart phone version of our interactive map can be used to pin-point specific locations and information for mature specimens of the species listed below.

Selected Stewartia cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum, September 5-18, 2016


Stewartia monadelpha

Close-up photo of Stewartia monadelpha

1) Stewartia monadelpha                (Tall Stewartia)

  • Small tree with an upright growth habit.
  • Foliage turns an excellent maroon color in the fall.
  • Bark is cinnamon-brown and smooth in maturity, scaly rich brown in younger specimens.
  • Flowers are 1 to 1.5 inches wide, white with yellow stamens, and bloom over a month-long period, starting in early summer.
  • Stewartia have fuzzy woody capsules for fruit (see specimen samples).
  • Prefers partial shade.
  • Native to Japan


2)  Stewartia ovata               (Mountain Stewartia)

  • Large shrub with dramatic orange-to-scarlet foliage in fall.
  • Large, showy white flowers have five to six crimped petals, purple to white filaments, and are 2 to 4 inches wide.
  • Summer blooming
  • Native to southeastern U.S.


Close-up photo of Stewartia pseudocamellia var. koreana

Close-up photo of Stewartia pseudocamellia var. koreana

3) Stewartia pseudocamellia var. koreana                (Korean Stewartia)

  • Small tree, whose dark green foliage can turn into a beautiful red to reddish-purple color in the fall.
  • Flowers are large (three inches across), white with yellow stamens, and bloom sporadically over the entire summer.
  • The bark is flaky with the color ranging from grayish-brown to orange-brown, is often mottled, and very attractive.
  • Native to Korea

4)  Stewartia rostrata

  • Rare Stewartia from China
  • White fragrant flowers with gold stamens and maroon bracts
  • Reddish-purple fall color

5)  Stewartia sinensis               (Chinese Stewartia)

  • This tree is the smallest of the Asian Stewartia spp.
  • The flowers are four inches across in June to July.
  • The bronzy new growth turns green all summer, then to the most brilliant, glowing red in fall.

Biology in the Wild

September 9th, 2016 by Donna McBain Evans



I was amazed to learn that the Ginkgo biloba tree, which is thousands of years old but extinct in the wild, was saved by Buddhist monks who planted this tree in their monasteries so the species would live on!”

“We thought we would only hear the Latin names of a multitude of obscure plants,” she said, “but instead we heard amazing stories of survival and cooperation in nature.”



H.M Jackson High School teacher Stacey Hall

H.M Jackson High School teacher Stacey Hall


These were just two of the observations made by freshman and sophomore students who took one of the free guided tours at the Washington Park Arboretum.  The students were encouraged to take these tours with the promise of extra credit to boost their grades in the Biology class taught by Stacey Hall, their science teacher at H.M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek.

“I think it is so important to get kids out of the classroom to see how nature works,” says Hall of his Arboretum incentive program.  “When the learning is outside and hands on, it just sticks better.”

Hall offers the extra credit when the students participate in the guided Arboretum tour and then write up what they learned and present it to the class.

“You would be amazed at how many “aha” moments the students have had taking these tours,” adds Hall,  “the guides have a great way of connecting to people and the kids always come back with insights and connections to the learning we do in the classroom, whether it is plant diversity, ecology, genetics or evolution.”



UW Botanic Gardens offers free public tours at the Arboretum every Sunday at 1pm, as well as private tours which explore the various gardens and plants in our collections. There are also specialty tours such as the family program “Park in the Dark,” Twilight Tram tours for adults, tours of other area gardens like the Woodinville Lavender Farm, and tours highlighting those species that shine in summer or in winter.

Catherine Nelson leading a tram tour in the Arboretum.

Catherine Nelson leading a tram tour in the Arboretum.

“Six knowledgeable guides volunteer their time to lead tours,” says Tour Program Assistant Catherine Nelson.  “The tours take place primarily in the Arboretum, but also in the Union Bay Natural Area and the Center for Urban Horticulture.”

“Our plant collections are constantly evolving,” says Nelson with evident pride, “and feature diverse plants from around the world.”

There are miles of fantastic trails to be found throughout the UW Botanic Gardens—a boardwalk through Yesler Swamp, the Pacific Connections Garden at the Arboretum and a stunning fragrance garden at the Center for Urban Horticulture; there is also great bird watching in Union Bay Natural Area.

“We even have the UW Farm which gives students and visitors a place to learn about sustainable urban agriculture, and provides food for dining halls at the UW,” Nelson adds.

Clearly, the many trails found at the UW Botanic Gardens provide an amazing urban escape in the heart of Seattle.

One of the Arboretum guides, Kyra Kaiser, a freshman at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, has made special connections with the high school students in Stacey Hall’s biology class.

“The main goal of my tours is to encourage people to appreciate the natural world around them,” she says, “and I encourage young people to keep pursuing opportunities and new experiences because they might be surprised about what they like and what they learn about themselves.”

Good advice for about any age one might say.


Fantastic Fall Plant Sales

September 8th, 2016 by UWBG Communication Staff

Happy shopper at the FallAbundance sale in the Arboretum.

Savvy gardeners know fall is the best time to plant because the soil is warm and months of rainfall ensure deep root growth.

At the Washington Park Arboretum on Saturday, September 10th from 10am to 2pm the Arboretum Foundation hosts the FallAbundance plant sale in the Pat Calvert Greenhouse (near the Graham Visitors Center).

At the Center for Urban Horticulture on Friday, September 16th from 9am to 3pm the Northwest Horticultural Society hosts the Annual Fall Plant Sale in NHS Hall.

Even more plant sales, harvest festivals and garden tours are listed on the Miller Library’s website.


Remembering Jean Witt, Long Time Friend of the Botanic Gardens

September 2nd, 2016 by UWBG Communication Staff

Jean Witt, long time friend of the UW Botanic Gardens, passed away last week at age 95.  She was the widow of Joe Witt, the former Arboretum Curator and Professor of Urban Horticulture and for whom the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden is named.  Together, they were well known for their joint leadership in field study trips of Washington native flora and geology (Jean’s specialty).  Arboretum Director Emeritus John Wott wrote about their life together in July 2014.

Jean was also a noted iris hybridizer, illustrator, and researcher.  Her extensive work breeding median (mid-sized) iris was recognized by the American Iris Society last year with the presentation of the Bennett C. Jones Award.  A framed set of her illustrations is on display in the Miller Library, and can also be found in The Siberian Iris by Currier McEwen.  With Bob Pries, she published in 1999 a checklist of Iris species and their variations for the Species Iris Group of North America.

Jean was a narrator in the UW Botanic Gardens’ oral history project completed in 2011.  Asked about the Washington Park Arboretum, she observed “The interesting thing about the Arboretum is that it’s very well known internationally and under-appreciated at home…”  Throughout her long life, she was an advocate for all of the UW Botanic Gardens and a friend to many of us on the staff.


Joe and Jean Witt, Arboretum Foundation Annual Dinner, June 1972

UW Botanic Gardens Loses a Family Member

August 29th, 2016 by UWBG Communication Staff

This morning, our community woke up to the heartbreaking news that Professor Sarah Reichard passed away while leading a garden tour in South Africa. There are no words that can adequately express the sadness and shock we are experiencing from this news. With Sarah’s passing, we have lost an incredible director of the UW Botanic Gardens, a beloved professor, an important voice for conservation, and a truly wonderful person.

Our thoughts are with her husband Brian, her family, and her many friends, colleagues and students.

Sarah Hayden Reichard, Ph.D. Orin and Althea Soest Professor and Director

Sarah Hayden Reichard, Ph.D.
Director and Orin and Althea Soest Chair for Urban Horticulture

Memorial Set for October

We will be holding a celebration of life in honor of Sarah on Thursday, October 13. The details are not finalized yet, but the event will likely include an afternoon walk through the Washington Park Arboretum, followed by a reception at the Center for Urban Horticulture or another location in Seattle. Please mark your calendars to join us in honoring Sarah, and RSVP as soon as possibleeven if you aren’t positive you can make itto help us prepare for the right number of people. We’ll then be able to send you more details as they are set.

Dr. Sarah Riechard leading a tour of Chile in 2011.

Dr. Sarah Reichard leading a tour of Chile in 2011.

More about Dr. Reichard

Gift funds to honor Dr. Reichard

Late Summer Pods & Flowers on Display at the Washington Park Arboretum

August 24th, 2016 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (August 22, 2016 - September 5, 2016)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum
(August 22, 2016 – September 5, 2016)

1)  Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lanarth White’                         Bigleaf Hydrangea

  • This deciduous shrub, native to Japan, is popular in American gardens.
  • This pure white, lace-cap cultivar is an Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden “Great Plant Pick”.
  • You can find a group of these in the Camellia Collection, west of Arboretum Drive.

2)  Koelreuteria paniculata                  Golden Rain Tree

  • Koelreuteria paniculata is a deciduous tree native to China.
  • This unusual tree shares the same family (Sapindaceae) as Maples (Acer).
  • Its small yellow flowers are followed by showy, inflated seed pods.
  • This and another species of Koelreuteria can be seen along Foster Island Drive.

3)  Neolitsea sericea

  • Neolitsea sericea is native to Japan, China, and Korea.
  • This small evergreen tree is a dioecious member of the Lauraceae family.
  • The young leaves emerge covered with golden-brown indumentum.
  • Several examples can be found along the Upper Trail, south of the Magnolias.

4)  Persea yunnanensis

  • Persea yunnanensis is a native of China’s Yunnan Province.
  • This is a handsome broadleaf evergreen tree, growing to 30 feet or more.
  • It is in the same genus as Avocado, but does not bear the same large, fleshy fruit.
  • A nice example can be seen west of Lot 8, south of the Magnolia Collection.
Rosa corymbulosa photo by Joy Spurr

Rosa corymbulosa (Photo by Joy Spurr)

5)  Rosa corymbulosa                Chinese Species Rose

  • This deciduous shrub is native in China’s Hupeh and Shensi Provinces.
  • Rosa corymbulosa is noted as having few thorns and for bearing flowers in corymbs of up to twelve blossoms.
  • The deep-pink flowers are followed by elongated coral-red fruit in late summer.
  • A specimen can be found on the east side of the Crabapple Meadow near the service road.

South Africa – Here We Come!

August 19th, 2016 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

On August 23rd, our adventurous band of travelers will be taking off for South Africa!

Photo by Derek Keats

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden photo by Derek Keats

One of the first things we will do is visit the fabulous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, one of the most beautiful public gardens I have seen (after the Washington Park Arboretum, of course!) It has breathtaking displays – and Table Mountain in the backgrounds isn’t too bad either – plus its education and conservation programs are stellar.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden photo by Flowcomm

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden photo by Flowcomm

We will also be making a stop in Stellenbosch to see the university’s public garden and then on to the lovely Franschhoek Valley to tour a winery that has wonderful gardens, for lunch and wine-tasting. This part of the Cape is known for its excellent (and surprisingly inexpensive) wines. Last time I was there I came back with a suitcase full!

One of the things I am most excited about is seeing the Clanwilliam Wild Flower Society’s Flower Show, which I understand is something like our Flower and Garden Show, but with all the spectacular Cape Region flora. Clanwilliam has a varied topography that leads to incredible diversity of species and is part of the Fynbos Biome. The Fynbos has a very high level of endemism (plants found only there) and includes the highest diversity of the genus Erica (heathers) in the world – over 500 species!

Cape Gannet photo by Percita

Cape gannet photo by Percita

After visits to see penguins, Cape gannet, and Cape fur seals reserves, and spotting baboons here and there, we travel to the small northern town of Springbok, for even MORE wildflowers. This area is especially known for its bulb flora and we should be there at just the right time to see it at its peak.

We end up in Kagga Kamma Reserve in the Cederberg Mountains, where their mini observatory should enhance the star-gazing in this remote area. Some of the rooms are open-air, for the uninhibited. Others are in caves or in huts resembling those used by the native people. There we will go on game drives twice a day.


Cederberg Mountains photo by SA Venues.com

So check back on the blog as I update you on our adventures and share photos. You will hear about Kagga Kamma after the trip, since they don’t have cell phone or internet connections (totally unplugging in a beautiful place – yay!). Stay tuned!