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.”

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

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.

August Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

August 14th, 2016 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (August 8 - 21, 2016)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum
(August 8 – 21, 2016)

1)  Clerodendrum bungei

  • C. bungei is a deciduous, suckering shrub producing upright shoots and opposite, ovate, toothed, dark green leaves tinged with purple when young.  Salverform, fragrant, dark pink flowers, each with five spreading lobes, are borne in rounded, terminal panicles from late summer to autumn.  Native to China and a member of the family Lamiaceae, this specimen is happily spreading around the south side of bed ‘G’ on Azalea Way.

2)  Fuchsia magellanica

  • F. magellanica is an erect shrub with ovate-elliptic leaves, sometimes tinted red beneath.  Throughout summer, it produces small flowers with red tubes, wide-spreading sepals, and purple corollas.  Native to Chile and Argentina, this specimen is located within our Pacific Connections Entry Garden along the circular path.

3)  Hibiscus  x  ‘Tosca’

  • A member of the Malvaceae plant family, Hibiscus is a genus of some 200 species of trees, shrubs, and herbs – inhabitants mainly of the tropics and subtropics.  This rather unspectacular specimen is located near Azalea Way, south of the large Glen Pond.

4)  Sorbus  ‘Birgitta’

  • Sorbus is a genus of about 100 species of deciduous trees and shrubs within the family
    Rosaceae.  They are widely distributed throughout northern temperate regions and are
    found in woodlands, on hills and mountains, and on scree.  Tolerant of atmospheric pollution,
    they are ideal as specimen trees in a small garden.  The raw fruit may cause mild stomach upset if ingested.

5)  Vitex agnus-castus and Vitex agnus-castus  ‘Silver Spire’

  • Another member of the family Lamiaceae, Vitex is a widespread genus of around 250
    species of deciduous or evergreen shrubs occurring mainly in tropical regions and often in woodland or dry river beds.  Cultivated for their elegant foliage and summer flowers, Vitex may be grown in a shrub border or against a wall.  These specimens are located along Azalea Way near the Lower Woodland Pond


“One is the loneliest number…”

July 29th, 2016 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum <br /> (July 25 - August 7, 2016)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum
(July 25 – August 7, 2016)

The University of Washington Botanic Gardens is home to truly one of a kind plants.  In botanical nomenclature, a monotypic genus refers to the case where a genus and only a single species are described.  These plants are often “living fossils”, comprising the last living remnant of ancient lineages.  Many are also often in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

1)   Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana               Dove Tree

  • Davidia involucrata is the only member of the genus Davidia.  It was named after French priest and naturalist, Father Armand David who was also the first westerner to describe the giant panda.  In 1899, David commissioned a young Kew-trained botanist named Ernest Wilson to travel to China to find the dove tree.  This presented a challenge for 22-year-old Wilson, who had never been abroad before and did not speak a word of Chinese.

2)  Franklinia alatamaha                Franklin Tree

  • William Bartram was the first to report the extremely limited distribution of Franklinia.  “We never saw it grow in any other place, nor have I ever since seen it growing wild, in all my travels, from Pennsylvania to Point Coupe, on the banks of the Mississippi, which must be allowed a very singular and unaccountable circumstance; at this place there are two or 3 acres of ground where it grows plentifully.” (W. Bartram 1791: 468).  The tree was last verified in the wild in 1803 by the English plant collector, John Lyon.

3)  Ginkgo biloba                Maidenhair Tree

  • The Maidenhair Tree was thought to have become extinct, similarly to the other members of its ancient lineage, until it was discovered in Japan in 1691.  The Maidenhair Tree remains virtually unchanged today and represents the only living bridge between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ plants (between ferns and conifers).

4)  Metasequoia glyptostroboides                Dawn Redwood

  • Considered one of the greatest botanical finds of the 20th century, the Dawn Redwood was known only from ancient fossils until a small population was discovered in the forests of central China in 1944.  The mature, large trees have all been declared protected; habitat protection is overall inadequate, which means that the survival of this very interesting species in its natural habitat is not guaranteed. (Bartholemew 1983, Fu and Jin 1992, Wang and Guo 2009).

5)  Pseudolarix amabilis                Golden Larch

  • The famous plant explorer, Robert Fortune first saw this unusual conifer as a container plant in China.  Wild specimens have been found in the Wuyi Shan of Fujian, and in the Lushan of Jiangxi.  Mixed mesophytic forests have been set aside as protected reserves on the Tienmu Shan and Lu Shan, and these include some of the most diverse temperate forests on earth.

Staff Spotlight: Jessica Farmer

July 29th, 2016 by Donna McBain Evans

JessicaJessica Farmer is one of those fortunate individuals who, through a combination of foresight, focus and possibly a bit of luck, ended up in her dream job.

“Just outside my office door at the Center for Urban Horticulture is Yesler Swamp,” she enthuses, “a quiet, shady oasis that provides me with instant wonder and relaxation.”

Just about a perfect location for a person who has been passionate about plants and nature since high school.  Farmer is the Adult Education Supervisor for the UW Botanic Gardens.  In that role she develops programs to involve adults in Botanic Gardens programs, coordinates volunteers, oversees social media, writes the monthly E-Flora newsletter and creates regular blog postings.

Farmer’s involvement in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) in her hometown in Iowa sparked an interest in  horticulture and led to her working in the high school greenhouse, and later in a retail nursery for a summer.

“After that I was hooked,” she admits.

She went on to gain a bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Iowa State University, specializing in public gardens.  Internships at the Reiman Gardens (Iowa) and Morris Arboretum (University of Pennsylvania) let to a position at a tree nursery outside of Chicago.

“After a few years of that I wanted to get back into public horticulture, so I returned to graduate school–this time in Seattle.  The fantastic resources at the UW allowed me to volunteer at the Arboretum,  study at the Center for Urban Horticulture, and I also got a concurrent Master of Public Administration degree through the UW Evans School (of Public Policy and Governance).”

“I loved that I now had the chance to combine my interest in plants with courses on public management and program development,” she concedes, “it has given me a whole new tool set that has helped me professionally and expanded my work.”

Farmer’s roots with the UW Botanic Garden run deep.  Her thesis adviser was Sarah Reichard, now UW-Botanic Gardens director.  And her student office was at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

When she is away from work, Farmer likes to garden (of course!) and prepare food from what she’s grown–lately she has gotten into canning and fermenting foods.  She also loves spending time in Seattle’s urban parks with friends and getting out to the mountains to backpack.

“One of my favorite nearby spaces at the Arboretum is the Loderi Valley,” she explains.  “I love to walk among the towering rhododendrons, with their beautiful curved trunks and lush foliage overhead.”

“It is a most exquisite, magical place,” she says.

And her favorite plant?

“At the moment, it is the Garry oak (Quercus garryana) that comes to mind–oaks exude images of strength and endurance,” she says.  “And I especially love to imagine the young one planted in my backyard–how it will grow strong and fill the space over time.”