Winter Blooms Abound

February 2nd, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Hamamelis flowerThe winter blooming shrubs Hamamelis, or Witch Hazels, are currently at peak bloom sending out their lovely aroma and luring visitors into The Witt Winter Garden. This plant and other winter bloomers will be featured during the month of February on our Sunday Free Weekend Walks.
This large shrub or small tree is native to North America, Europe and Asia and features the species Hamamelis virginiana, H. ovalis, H. venalis, H. japonica & H. mollis.
The origin of the plant’s common name comes from the Old English word ‘Wych’, meaning ‘bendable,’ and has evolved into the modern spelling of ‘Witch.’ The limbs of this plant were traditionally used for Dowsing which is how it came to be know as Water Witching.
Hamamelis is Latin for “together with fruit” which refers to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with maturing fruit from previous year. These fruits can split explosively at maturity, ejecting seeds up to 10 meters.
Native Americans used Witch Hazel bark to treat sores, tumors, bruising and skin ulcers. Boiled twigs were used to treat sore muscles and a tea was used to treat coughs, colds and dysentery
The nutty seeds from the Witch Hazel were also a Native-American favorite because of their flavoring, which is similar to pistachios.

Free Weekend Walks Begin for 2014

January 26th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

photo-7Our free public tours of the Washington Park Arboretum have begun for the new year. We hold these tours as Free Weekend Walks every Sunday from January through November. The walks are led by an experienced docent and last about 90 minutes. With over 10,500 plants in the arboretum collection we don’t run out of topics to share with our visitors.
For the month of January we had 90+ visitors come along and learn about Ancient Tree Species that have been living on earth for millennia. If you missed this month, there are more season topics to explore through the rest of the year.
One of our most popular tours is coming up in February; The Joseph Witt Winter Garden. Everyone wants to see and smell flowers this time of year to remind us that spring is around the corner. Following February, our Spring tours will take visitors to see all the amazing flowering plants in the collection.
Tours meet at the Graham Visitors Center, Sundays at 1:00pm and we go out rain or shine. You can find the monthly topics by visiting our web site and clicking on Visit then Tours. Hope you can join us soon – tell your friends!photo-8

Seeds that pop!

January 4th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant
Euonymus europaeus 'atrorubens'

Euonymus europaeus ‘atrorubens’

Tucked away behind the Cedrus knoll in the Arboretum’s Pinetum is the Euonymus europaeus ‘atrorubens’. At this time of year it is showing off its colorful seed pods, which hang all over the defoliated branches. A plant that has pink and orange fruits really catches your eye when you pass by.
This shrub is native to Europe and Western Asia and its common names are Spindle Tree and Cat Tree. It grows to 8′-10′ making it a good plant for a sunny spot in an urban garden. The flowers are borne in the spring and are insignificant, but the plant is used ornamentally for its red fall color and brilliant winter seed pods.

Salal, a summer beauty

July 31st, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant
Gaultheria shallon

Gaultheria shallon

In the midst of our dry NW summer, while many plants look worse for wear, our native evergreen Salal shrubs, Gaultheria shallon, are shiny and healthy. Salal flowers in the spring with pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers in groups of 5-15 on racemes; very similar to the Pieris japonica flower. Both plants are in the Ericacea family. The Salal shrub can grown to 16′ tall and forms a dense mass that creates habitat and food for local birds and animals. It is a coniferous forest understory plant that is widespread in lower, coastal elevations.
Salal is used world-wide in floral arrangements for its long lasting fresh evergreen foliage and is harvested locally in a multimillion dollar industry. However, the harvesting of the foliage in the wild is protected by the US Forest Service by issuance of permits – this is to save our native plant from over harvesting and ensure its continuance in the wild.
The name Salal is derived from the Chinook language. The small sweet blue colored berries, which are ripe right now, were harvested and eaten by the local Salish peoples; consumed as a fresh fruit in summer, used to sweeten fish roes and soups, and mixed with fish oil and dried in cakes for winter consumption (an early version of fruit leather).
Salal is one of the NW native plants that will be featured in August’s Free Weekend Walks at the Washington Park Arboretum.

Another Beautiful Flower

May 19th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant
Calycanthus x raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine'

X Sinocalycalycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’

With the majority of our Rhododendron collection blooming right now, many other blossoming plants can be overshadowed – like this small shrub, the X Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ which sits outside the Graham Visitors Center.

These gorgeous dark maroon flowers caught my eye the other day. The Calycanthus x raulstonii is a deciduous shrub that likes sun/part shade, can be a vigorous grower (though not taller than 8′), and bears long lasting flowers in the spring. The cultivar ‘Hartlage Wine’ is fairly new to gardens, it is a cross between a SE US species and a Chinese species. Although the 3″-4″ flowers last a long time, they do not bear the scent of their parent plants. The common name for these plants is Allspice, although they are not related to the pepper bearing Allspice which is the genus Pimenta. Free weekend walks for the month of May will feature many special flowers in our collection.

More Maples in Bloom

April 19th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

big leaf maple flower

Our native Big Leaf Maples, Acer macrophyllum, are currently covered with dangling flowers.  Right now is one of my favorite times to view these giant native trees because the effect of all these flowers in the trees is stunning.   The flower clusters are about 4 inches long and 1 inch thick and because the tree has not foliated yet, they pop out like bright yellow/green ornaments.

To observe these flowers up close, you need to look for a low lying branch, not always easy to find on these huge trees.   The Park’s Free Weekend Walks for April through May will feature these and more spring blooms.

The Red Maples are flowering

March 24th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

acer rubrum flowerThe Red or Swamp Maple, Acer rubrum, is always noticed for its intense flame color in the fall, but I love these trees best right now – when they are covered in flowers prior to foliation.

From a distance the light gray bark of the tree sets off the pink & maroon flowers creating a stunning effect – it’s as if the tree is full of red fuzz.  In order to see these gorgeous tiny flowers, you need to find a tree with low hanging branches and get up close; they are only about an 1-1 1/2″ long.

The Acer rubrum is native to North America, East of the Mississippi from the Southern US to Canada.  The tree is monoecious and carries both male and female flowers, but bears them on separate branches.   The flowers with a darker red color are identified as the females. It is a very popular street tree in Seattle, so keep your eyes open while traveling around the city right now, you can’t miss them.


Witch Hazels are in bloom

February 4th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Hamamelis There are several species of Witch Hazel, genus Hamamelis, featured in the Witt Winter Garden, which is in all its glory this month. The colors range from yellow to orange to red and their scent is incredibly heady.
The plant’s common name comes from the Old English word “Wych” which means “pliable”. The pliable branches of this plant were used for water dowsing, which was a way to find underground water, hence this activity also is known as ‘water witching”.
The Witch Hazel and many other winter blooming plants are featured on the Free Weekend Walks held each Sunday at 1:00 pm.

Public Tours for 2013 Starting

January 4th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant
Japanese Umbrella Pine

Japanese Umbrella Pine

The Washington Park Arboretum’s free Weekend Walk Program resumes in the new year. These 90 minute guided tours are free and open to the public every Sunday at 1:00 pm. No cost, no registration – just meet up at the Graham Visitors Center.
January’s tour is  Ancient Trees; our guides will show and discuss tree species which have been around for millennia – such as the Japanese Umbrella Pine (see photo).

In February our walks will highlight the Witt Winter Garden in all its blossoming glory.

The March tour is Our Favorite Plants, during which your guide will share plants and garden areas that they enjoy the most.

For further information or questions you can email me at More Arboretum tour options.

Take an enjoyable holiday walk at the arboretum

December 6th, 2012 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

People often think that because it is winter there isn’t much to see in the park right now.  But this is a great time of year to walk through the arboretum with family and friends.  With the leaves gone from most of the trees, other features stand out that may not normally catch the eye.  Beautiful colors and patterns in bark are exposed, as are bird’s nests.  Interesting seed pods, berries, fruits and delicate catkins stand out.

The tree pictured is a deciduous conifer, the Metasequoia glyptostroboides or Dawn Redwood, in the pinetum.  With its needles gone, you really notice the beautiful striated cinnamon bark and ornament-like dangling pollen cones remnants.

So if you are looking for a quiet, free holiday activity, I suggest the following walk.  You can start out at the Graham Visitors Center and the friendly staff at the information desk can assist with directions and maps.   Start by heading West over the Wilcox Bridge and into the pinetum.  Continue South along the trail through the pinetum and into the holly collection – very Christmassy.  From the hollies you can cross back East over Lake Washington Boulevard to Azalea Way – there are new crosswalks installed along the Boulevard for pedestrian safety.  Then stroll back North along Azalea Way to the Visitors Center.  This walk is only a couple of miles and would take about an hour.  Happy Holidays!