Holiday Art, Craft & Gift Sale in the Miller Library

November 30th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

2015DecemberShowGet your shopping done early and support local artists! We invite our patrons to join us for a reception on Friday, December 4th, 5 to 7pm. Exhibit and sale runs through December 23rd, we’ll have a selection of locally made arts and crafts available for purchase at the Miller Library.

Cash* or Check only please! 25% of proceeds benefit the Miller Library.

Artists participating this year are:

  • ANN GERRARD, garden inspired wreaths
  • DOROTHY CRANDELL, elegant jewelry
  • JENNY CRAIG, Notta Pixie Press, vintage letterpress cards and gifts
  • MOLLY HASHIMOTO, nature-inspired watercolor paintings, prints, cards and calendars
  • JENNIFER CARLSON, felt veggie ornaments and lavender wands
  • SYLVIA PORTILLO, The Human Hand Card Company, cards, prints, dioramas and botanically inspired, felted wool, wearable flowers
  • MICHELLE SMITH-LEWIS, cyanotype botanical print fabric
  • JOAN HELBACKA, handmade bound notebooks
  • AL DODSON, photographs

Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st Street, Seattle, 98105

*some artists may accept credit card at the reception on 12/4

December 2015 Plant Profile: Euonymus europaeus ‘atrorubens’

November 26th, 2015 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant


Found in its native Europe, Euonymus europaeus ‘atrorubens’, or spindle tree, is commonly seen as an understory shrub or small tree growing along deciduous woodland edges. Quite shade tolerant, it loves calcareous, well-drained base-rich soils and can grow up to 20’ tall. It is considered cold and drought tolerant. While labeled as invasive in some areas of the Northeast, it seems to behave itself here in the Pacific Northwest; the specimens in our collection have been here since the late 1940s and maintain their size at about 10’ x 6’. The easiest specimens to locate in the Washington Park Arboretum are in the Pinetum, tucked in between the cedars and the Coulter pines. You can’t miss them this time of year.

Traditionally, this plant’s stems were used to make spindles to twine wool and flax into yarn. It contains many medicinal properties in its roots and bark which were used by both Europeans and the Iroquois in Northeast America and Canada, where it spread widely after introduction to the new continent. While the fruits are eaten by a variety of animals in the plant’s native habitats, they are poisonous to humans.

The spindle tree is currently used as an ornamental garden feature, and the cultivar ‘Red Cascade’ has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. While its late spring flowers (small yellow cymes) are considered inconspicuous, its amazing orange fruits and pink sepals are brilliant in the fall and will persist into deep winter on the shrub. The ‘Atrorubens’ cultivar is prized for its bright red fall foliage, similar to its cousin the “burning bush” euonymus.

Common Name: Spindle Tree

Family: Celastraceae

Family Common Name: Bittersweet Family

Washington Park Arboretum

  • Pinetum (555-42*B & D in 38-5W)
  • Pacific Connections Garden (555-42*A in 6-1E)

Origin: Northern Europe and UK

Height and Spread: to 20’ tall x 10’ wide

Bloom Time: late spring

Glimpse into the past – a Surplus of Cedar

November 24th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor
1937, splitting cedar fence uprights

1937, WPA splitting cedar fence uprights

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

One of the four primary forest trees of the Pacific Northwest is Thuja plicata, or the Western red cedar. There are “giants” of this species still growing after hundreds of years in protected sites in this state, but most were logged in great quantities as the lumber mills in the Pacific Northwest grew. The Washington Park Arboretum land, originally owned by the Pope Lumber company, was logged in the late 1880s and then basically clear cut of any remaining harvestable trees a few years later. Realizing that the city was growing up the hill, Pope sold the “developable” property and gave the drainage valley (now known as Arboretum Creek) to the City as open space in exchange for utilities which are all contained in the famed “Wilcox Bridge” over Lake Washington Boulevard East.

1937, WPA setting fence posts

1937, WPA setting fence posts

The red cedar produces many seeds and thus seedlings, and is an early invader of forest lands. It can germinate and grow under the dense shade of the big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). Since these trees are evergreen with many needles full of chlorophyll, they can photosynthesize every day of the year. They grow rapidly and tall. In the early part of the last century, Western red cedar seedlings flourished and produced many young trees in the fledgling Arboretum.

1937, WPA sawing cedar logs

1937, WPA sawing cedar logs

The University of Washington Arboretum (its original name) officially began in 1934. These were depression times, and there was little money to develop any of the ideas in the Dawson Plan which had been accepted. However, federal funds obtained through the State brought hundreds of men to work here through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Even though fences around the Arboretum have been a subject of controversy, there seems to have always been some type of fence along the eastern side, bordering Broadmoor Golf Course.

1937, WPA puttingup fence uprights

1937, WPA putting up fence uprights

These photos from 1937 show men (often in their hats and reasonably dressy clothes) working through the WPA sawing, spitting and building a tall cedar fence. Since cedar is an extremely durable wood for use in northwest climates, the fence lasted for years as shown in a picture from 1951. Eventually it deteriorated and has been replaced by a tall rather unsightly wire fence.

When an inventory of the native matrix of trees was conducted in the 1990s, it was obvious that there was a ten year dearth of missing cedar trees, proving that the lumber for the fence was cut in the Arboretum. Another side bar is that many of the original drainage pipes were hollow cedar logs, some of which are still in use in the Arboretum. What a novel idea, using our own ecosystem for beauty as well as worth.

1951, from Sequoia to Deutzia, Phila.....note fence

1951, from Sequoia to Deutzia, Phila…..note fence

Introducing – Free First Thursday Tram Tours

November 23rd, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor
Photo by Cit-E-Car electric vehicles

Photo by Cit-E-Car electric vehicles

We are excited to announce the arrival of a new 13-passenger tram at the Washington Park Arboretum. This tram will allow visitors with limited mobility to explore more of the Arboretum, and will offer all riders the chance to travel from the Graham Visitors Center to the Pacific Connections Garden (and other south-end collections) in less time and with more comfort! With the arrival of the tram, we are piloting free tours on the first Thursday of each month, starting in December 2015 and running through March 2016. The tram is open-air and does not have a heater, so riders will want to bundle up!

What: Free First Thursday Tram Tours

When: 11:00am – 12:00pm, December 3, 2015; January 7, 2016; February 4, 2016; March 3, 2016

Where: Meet at the Graham Visitors Center, Washington Park Arboretum, 2300 Arboretum Drive E, Seattle, WA 98112

Why: Sit back and enjoy the ride! Learn about our seasonal highlights, new plantings, Arboretum history and educational programs.

How: Register through our public class registration page. Space is limited to 13 participants per tour.
Your registration helps us plan for the space. Please only register if you will be here. Registration will be open until 8:30am the morning of the tour.

In addition to our previously offered walking tours, groups may now choose to schedule a private tour on the tram. All tours are led by knowledgeable tour guides, and pricing is based on the size of the group. Learn more about booking a private tour for your group.

“Happy Thanksgiving!”
Native Plants of Cape Cod

November 23rd, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum, November 16 - 29, 2015

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum, November 16 – 29, 2015

1)  Arctostaphylus uva-ursi                                                   ‘Vancouver Jade’            Kinnikinnick or Bearberry

  • Broadleaf evergreen and creeping groundcover with circumpolar distribution in northern hemisphere often found growing in association with Pitch Pine
  • If there were still bears on Cape Cod, it would be a favorite food source for them.
  • This cultivar, ‘Vancouver Jade’ is growing in containers outside the Graham Visitor Center.

2)  Juniperus virginiana  ‘Blue Coast’                               Eastern Red Cedar

  • A low growing, blue form of the Eastern Red Cedar
  • Pioneer species found in mixed stands with Pitch Pine, reclaiming abandoned farms and grasslands
  • Found growing under Pines in grid 36-4E, along nursery road

3)  Morella pensylvanica                Bayberry

Photo demonstrating the straightness of Arrowwood stems and their usage in making arrows

Photo demonstrating the straightness of Arrowwood stems and their usage in making arrows

  • Berries boiled to extract sweet-smelling wax used to make clean-burning candles
  • Found growing in dry open sites along with Bearberry, Eastern Red Cedar and Pitch Pine
  • Mass growing in Oaks Collection in grid 43-B

4)  Pinus rigida                Pitch Pine

  • Rigid cone scales and stiff needles, hence its Latin specific epithet
  • Used during days of wooden ships due to its resistance to decay
  • Several young specimens in our Pinetum, grid 37-4W

5)  Viburnum dentatum var. pubescens                Arrowwood

  • Large deciduous shrub with fruit a food source for songbirds
  • Common name refers to Native American use of straight young stems as arrow shafts
  • Old specimens located in southeastern Viburnum bed, grid 24-4W




November Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

November 11th, 2015 by UWBG Arborist, Chris Watson
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (November 2 - 15, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum
(November 2 – 15, 2015)

1)  Berberis fortunei             Fortune’s Mahonia

  • Native to China, this shrub sports deep-red new growth when grown in sunnier locations.
  • The mature size is 6-12 feet tall and just as wide.
  • This specimen is located in the Sino-Himalayan Collection (Grid 25-1W).

2)  Buxus wallichiana             Himalayan Boxwood

  • A large shrub or small tree native to the northwestern Himalaya and known for very dense, hard wood.
  • Trained as a small tree, our specimen is nearing its mature size at 10 feet.
  • This specimen is located in the Pinetum near the Wilcox Footbridge (Grid 39-4W).

3)  Illicum henryi             Henry Anise Tree

  • Native to China, this evergreen shrub has excellent, glossy foliage and small-but-noticeable red flowers that turn to unique star-shaped fruit in the fall.
  • This species is related to the plant from which the anise spice is derived.
  • This specimen is located along the Ridgetop Trail near the Magnolia and Asiatic Maple Collections (Grid 24-1W).

4)  Lithocarpus henryi             Henry’s Stone Oak

  • An evergreen tree native to China, the large, lance-shaped leaves give this tree a unique appearance.
  • This tree can reach heights of 60 feet in its native range.
  • This specimen is located along the service road, east of the Sino-Himalayan Collection (Grid 24-B).

5)  Stachyurus yunnanensis             Yunnan Stachyurus

  • The new growth of this Chinese shrub emerges pinkish-red and fades to green throughout the summer.
  • The new stems remain red until the following spring.
  • Located in the Sino-Himalayan Collection (Grid 25-1W)

Glimpse into the past – Remembering Joan Pirzio-Biroli

October 26th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

by John A. Wott, Director Emeritus


Joan Pirzio-Biroli

On August 19, 2015, one of the original staff members of UW Botanic Gardens (Washington Park Arboretum) left this earth to tend to her new garden “in the sky.” Joan Pirzio-Biroli, known to everyone as “Jan” or “JPB” was officially employed as a research/extension program assistant at the University of Washington from November 10, 1980, until her retirement on November 1, 1991.

Jan was born in Davenport, Iowa, and was proud of her Midwestern heritage. She met her husband, Giacomo Pirzio-Biroli (Jimmy) in Baltimore, where she was an art historian at the Baltimore Art Museum and the National Gallery of Art. Her passion for art often showed through in her later editing and designing of early Washington Park Arboretum/Center for Urban Horticulture newsletters and posters. The couple moved to Mercer Island in 1952 where Jimmy became one of the founding doctors for Overlake Hospital. They had a life-long passion for each other and for the earth.

In the northwest, Jan shifted her passion to botany. It began with her own garden, which started as a thicket of pussy willows and maple saplings and was transformed over 50 years into an Eden of beauty and wonder. Early on, she volunteered at the Washington Park Arboretum, where she made life-long friends with both people and plants. Later she went back to the UW for a master’s degree in Botany, which she obtained in 1981. She was an extremely acute botanist and worshiped “Hitchy,” the revered Northwest botanist C. Leo Hitchcock. Jan and Jimmy raised a son and daughter who eventually married and built homes on the family property; she cared for her mother as she aged and was an editor of the Arboretum Bulletin. She threw show-stopping Christmas Eve parties, and we had many Washington Park Arboretum/Center for Urban Horticulture gatherings at their home. As a volunteer and employee of the Arboretum, she was respected by colleagues and friends alike for her passion for plants. She mentored many young botanists who admire her to this day. After her retirement from the Arboretum, she returned as a volunteer, continuing to lead her popular educational tours of the park.

Jan started work with Joe Witt in the crowded original Arboretum office. She also assisted Brian Mulligan with plant identification. She soon became the person answering questions, giving tours, identifying plants, and being Joe’s personal assistant. She felt that Joe was greatly overworked. It seemed like she knew the location and botanical information on every plant in the Arboretum. She was the first one to begin the arduous job of transferring all the huge hand-written plant curation cards to a new computer system, under the supervision of Timothy Hohn. Later this was taken over by volunteers, most notably Eileen MacDonald.

When I arrived here in 1981, I became Jan’s supervisor and I found her to be a talented, spirited, and most trustworthy employee. She was adamant about my needing to understand that gardening in the Northwest was not the same as in the Midwest. She was right! There was no way I could ever keep up with her encyclopedia of plant knowledge.

On my first July 4th weekend in Seattle in 1981, Jan and Jimmy asked me to accompany them on their new 38 ft sailing yacht moored in Anacortes. This was a delightful adventure….she had prepared fried chicken, fresh baked breads, salads galore, plenty of drinks, and every evening we caught our Dungeness crabs for dinner. I certainly learned about sailing. During the last night near Friday Harbor, the waters became very rough, and when Jimmy loosened the ropes the next morning, we took off at break neck speed, scraping the bottom of the boat on rocks, thankful later that it was not a severe problem. The winds eventually calmed and we smoothly returned to port. I will never forget that trip!

Jan wrote many plant articles, she published monthly newsletters of public activities in the Arboretum, and she led legendary Explorer Walks for years. She was extremely accurate as a writer and editor, but somehow the word “Arboretum” always seemed to be misspelled. I remember the horror the first time it appeared in bold headlines…Abroretum. From then on, I tripled checked every future newsletter to Jan’s great glee as well as embarrassment.

For many years, she supervised our Index Seminum Seed Exchange between botanical gardens around the world, supervising a large contingent of volunteers. She and Jimmy led several public class tours to eastern Washington to explore the eastern Washington plants and geology. I have returned over the years to several of these locations. I always will remember the exploration trips to set up the tours, one especially when we were trying to find a bog on Weyerhaeuser land, only to get totally lost with two frustrated leaders (a spirited Italian and a spirited Iowan)! But after finding the bog and stepping on submerged logs, we all accidentally slipped into it up to your hips, necessitating a very wet trip home. The trip returned to frivolity.

Upon her retirement in 1991, Prunus (Sato-zakura Group) ‘Ukon’, Accession number 273-91-A, was dedicated in her honor “for her 11 years of service as an Arboretum staff member. It was noted as being 6’ high when measured that December, and is planted in 60-3E, right across Arboretum Drive E from the Graham Visitors Center. The tree is still there, although now impacted by huge overstory trees and the Cherry Bark Tortrix.

R.I.P Jan….it was through dedicated spirited people like you, that UW Botanic Gardens exists today.…..your legacy lives on!

Jan receiving her 10-year service award from Director Harold B. Tukey Jr.

Jan receiving her 10-year service award from Director Harold B. Tukey Jr.


Jan hard at work on the Index Seminum


Jan sharing information at an open house in 1987

Celebrating Jan's 65th birthday

Celebrating Jan’s 65th birthday


October Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum (Part II)

October 20th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (October 19, 2015 - November 1, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (October 19, 2015 – November 1, 2015)

1)  Cupressus (Hesperocyparis) bakeri                               Modoc Cedar

  • A moderately-sized coniferous tree with greyish-green scale-like foliage that is dotted with white resin. It is native to the Siskiyou and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges. A slow growing tree, usually under 90 feet over many decades.
  • Considered vulnerable to extinction in the wild in the medium term.
  • Located in the Pacific Connections Garden Cascadia Focal Forest above the Chilean Gateway.

2)  Euonymus myrianthus                Evergreen Spindle Tree

  • A member of the same family as burning bush, this large shrub was discovered in western China and introduced into cultivation by famed plantsman, E.H. Wilson.
  • This plant has insignificant flowers in spring and bares conspicuous yellow fruit in fall, which persist well into winter.
  • Located with the Asiatic Maples collection, north of where the upper and lower trails meet.

3)  Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. densiflorus                Tan Oak

  • Native to the mountains from southwestern Oregon through central California.
  • A natural source of tannin, Tan Oak bark was used in the process of tanning leather.
  • This species is particularly susceptible to “sudden oak death” Phytophthora ramorum.
  • Located in Pacific Connections Garden Cascadia Focal Forest above the Chilean Gateway.

4)  Picea breweriana                             Brewer’s Weeping Spruce

  • Native to the Siskiyou Mountains, this large coniferous tree is slow growing and adapted to extreme cold. The tough flexible branches are held horizontally, forming curtains of foliage. The stiff flattened needles are dark green with two white bands of stomata on the undersides.
  • Located in the Pacific Connections Garden Cascadia Entry Garden near Arboretum Drive.

5)  Magnolia grandiflora ‘Monlia’                Southern Magnolia

  • A medium-sized evergreen tree to 50 feet, it has large green leaves with brown indumentum covering the undersides. Large fragrant white flowers in summer are followed by large upright fruit. The species is native to the southeastern United States.
  • Located at the south end of the Graham Visitors Center parking lot.

October Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

October 7th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (October 5 - 18, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (October 5 – 18, 2015)

1)  Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’                Blue Atlas Cedar

  • A large coniferous tree with vivid, glaucous blue foliage, making it easy to identify.
  • Native to Algeria and Morocco on the Atlas Mountains, these specimens can grow up to 100 feet tall and beyond.
  • Located in the Pinetum near the Lynn Street play area.

2)  Cunninghamia lanceolata                China Fir

  • Members of the family Taxodiaceae, these trees are named after James Cunningham, who originally found C. lanceolata on the Island of Chusan in 1701.
  • Cunninghamias are closely related to the redwoods (Sequoia), although the foliage is similar to that of the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana).
  • Located in the Pinetum near the Newton Street entrance.

3)  Picea engelmannii ssp. Mexicana                       Engelmann Spruce

  • Conical tree with bluish-green to steel-blue needles.
  • Native to the mountains of western North America from Alberta and British Columbia (where it attains its greatest size) and south to New Mexico and Arizona.

4)  Picea pungens ‘Glauca’                Blue Colorado Spruce

  • P. pungens is allied to P. engelmannii, differing in its glabrous shoots, and in its bluer, more pungently pointed leaves.
  • Native to the Rocky Mountains and southern China.
  • Located in the Pinetum.

5)  Sequoia Sempervirens ‘Henderson Blue’                Coast Redwood

  • Native to a narrow belt of the California coastline, where summer fogs off the Pacific Ocean are frequent and mitigate the seasonal heat and drought.
  • Located in the Pinetum near 26th Ave. East and East McGraw Street.

Staff Spotlight: Tracy Mehlin

September 25th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

Tracy visiting The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island

Tracy is the Information Technology Librarian in the Elisabeth C. Miller Library.

She grew up in the Southwest, in Southern California and Las Vegas. She has been interested in plants since childhood, and one of her earliest gardening memories is selecting bulbs and roses from the Jackson and Perkins catalog to plant at  their house in the high desert. She moved to Seattle after college in 1996 because her sister lived here. She hadn’t planned to stay long, but got a job at a botanic garden, got married, and bought a house, setting down really deep roots! Now she spends time gardening, cooking, reading,  knitting, and enjoying the many varied restaurants of Ballard.

Tracy has a BA in Social Science and a minor in International Relations from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. She really enjoyed all her major classes in history, geography, political science, economics, and anthropology, but her favorite class was on Mexican history and culture. She also holds a Masters of Library and Information Science from UW.

Tracy became interested in UW Botanic Gardens when she read Val Easton’s column in the Seattle Times and noticed her byline, which said she was a horticultural librarian. She thought to herself that she finally had figured out what she wants to do with her life! She started volunteering in the Library autumn of 1999, was hired by the following winter, and started grad school in August 2000.

Tracy manages the websites of the Miller Library and the UW Botanic Gardens, so usually every day she edits or adds new content.  She assists patrons and fellow coworkers with computer and technology questions, and works on various projects as they come up, such as working with a vendor to redesign the interactive map of the Arboretum so that it works on smartphones.

Tracy really enjoys talking to patrons and coworkers about plants and feels so lucky to work here!
Her favorite place at the UW Botanic Gardens is walking from Merrill Hall to Douglas Conservatory because that takes her through three beautiful, dynamic gardens that have something interesting growing all year.

Tracy’s current favorite plant is the tomato. Really! She has five in her garden and is struck by how much she enjoys tending to them. They get planted in late May as tiny little things, then grow amazingly fast, especially this year with the hot, sunny weather. Two plants are already six feet tall. She loves the way the foliage smells. Tracy finds pruning and training them to grow on rebar stakes challenges her live-and-let-grow gardening attitude. Nothing is more coveted than the first ripe tomato. She also likes to make & can green tomato chutney and roasted tomato soup to savor in winter.