Rare pygmy saxifrage found

October 30th, 2015 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

Each new monitoring season, Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation is delighted by a few unexpected discoveries. This year, these finds include a single pygmy saxifrage (Saxifraga hyperborea) high up near a rocky mountain summit.

pygmy saxifrage, image by Brenda Cunningham

When the species was documented at the site in 1979, “an occasional lone plant” was noted. From 2010 to 2013, Rare Care volunteers searched diligently in an effort to relocate the occurrence. But after three unsuccessful attempts, Rare Care removed it from the monitoring list in order to focus on other rare plant occurrences. So how did our volunteers happen to find it this year?

They were looking for something else!

A US Forest Service botanist asked Rare Care to monitor Tisch’s saxifrage (Saxifraga tischii) at the same site. Two volunteers who had searched the summit previously for S. hyperborea accepted the S. tischii assignment; they were already familiar with the area. They found five Tisch’s saxifrage plants and set to work recording data, including physical site characteristics, associated species and phenology. And then there it was, a stone’s throw away – one pygmy saxifrage – fairly safe from threats, just tricky to find in a rocky habitat riddled with crevices and overhangs. A double reward for their monitoring trip.

sagebrush mariposal-lily, image by Sarah Walker

Also this year, rare plant monitoring volunteers found new sites of the endangered sagebrush mariposa-lily (Calochortus macrocarpus var. maculosus), the threatened Washington polemonium (Polemonium pectinatum) and the sensitive common bluecup (Githopsis specularioides). Wenatchee larkspur (Delphinium viridescens) wasn’t spotted where it had been previously documented, but it was found nearby in two new sites – a result of searching a wider area and holding the image of the species in mind while approaching and departing the site.

And one of The Mountaineers instructors who provides navigation training to Rare Care volunteers each year asked if he could assist in monitoring! He teamed up with a Rare Care volunteer to search some steep slopes on Orcas Island, and together they counted 51 arctic aster (Eurybia merita) that had not been found during a previous search in 2012.

arctic aster, image by Richard Ramsden

Article adapted from Rare Plant Press, Fall/Winter 2015, Vol X No 2. Other articles in the issue include “Showy stickseed exploits environments with low competition” and “Surveys for gray crptantha yield positive results.”

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


Journey Plant Medicine

October 22nd, 2015 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant
Prepare a poultice with little equipment

Prepare a poultice with little equipment


Learn how to use common native and wild plants for first aid along the way during your outdoor travels, using poultices, infusions, compresses, syrups and more made simply from raw plants. We will learn plant identification and preparation techniques, and practice these techniques in sample scenarios. Each person takes home a set of laminated Journey Plant Medicine Cards.


Instructor Heidi Bohan is an ethnobotanist known regionally for her knowledge of native traditional plants and their uses. She has worked extensively with local tribes, organizations and schools throughout the Pacific Northwest for over twenty years. She serves as adjunct faculty at Bastyr University and advisor for Northwest Indian College Traditional Plants Program. She is author of The People of Cascadia – Pacific Northwest Native American History, Starflower Native Plant ID Cards, Journey Plant Medicine Cards, and numerous other publications.

Take home these handy laminated cards, perfect for camping, hiking, or kayaking




WHAT: Journey Plant Medicines
WHEN: Saturday, November 7, 10am – 4:30pm
WHERE: UW Botanic Gardens – Washington Park Arboretum, Wisteria Hall (2300 Arboretum Drive E, Seattle, WA 98112)
COST: $75
HOW: Register Online, or call 206-685-8033

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.

October 2015 Plant Profile: Cucurbita maxima

September 29th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

squash photoBy Sarah Geurink

Beautiful, packed with calories and vitamins, and easily stored for up to several months, winter squash is one of the most rewarding crops for vegetable gardeners to grow. One of our favorite squash varieties grown at the UW Student Farm at the Center for Urban Horticulture is Confection Squash. Similar to Crown Prince, popular in England, New Zealand, and Australia, Confection is a beautiful blue-grey, squat kabocha-type squash most notable for its incredible flavor, rich sweetness and texture, and edible skin. Confection squash is versatile, too—a perfect ingredient for savory soups or sweet pies alike. Note that Confection squash actually becomes more flavorful the longer it is stored, and will usually sit happily in storage throughout the winter. It is worth the wait!

Winter squash seeds should be sown in the spring, after your last spring frost and not less than 14 weeks before your first fall frost. Grow your winter squashes in a sunny area with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 6.5, and water your plants regularly. Confection squash is ripe when the fruit has taken on a blue-grey color, the stem has browned a bit, and the skin cannot be easily pierced with your fingernail. Expect to harvest 3-4 Confection squash fruits per plant.


Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Cucurbita
species: C. maxima
Common Name: Confection Squash
Location: UW Student farm at the Center for Urban Horticulture

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.

Glimpse into the past – the Daniel J. Evans Centennial Tree

September 22nd, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor
David Zuckerman and the Centennial Tree in 2003, just after transplanting.

David Zuckerman and the Centennial Tree in 2003, just after transplanting.

by John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

On Thursday, October 29, 2015, the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington will honor Daniel J. Evans, on his 90th birthday, for his public leadership, scholarship, and service.  What an opportune time to mention the Daniel J. Evans Centennial Tree at the Washington Park Arboretum…a coast redwood  (Sequoia sempervirens) which he planted in the south Pinetum as part of the Washington State Arbor Day program.   This tree has grown from a propagule (cutting) from the original tree named in 1989 during the State Centennial.  That tree was located at 201 Union Avenue SE, Olympia, WA, centered on a small knoll on property originally owned by Russell O’Brien, an Irish immigrant, and occupied by three generations of family thereafter.  The site is now called Centennial Park.  The tree was about 50 feet from the foundation of the old house that originally occupied the site, near a newer smaller home. (At this date, I have not been able to determine if the tree is still there, although I personally have visited it several times over the last 33 years.)

In 1998, the parent tree was at least 100 years old, 148 feet tall, and 67.2 inches in girth.  Ken Russell, Forest Pathologist, cored the tree and determined its age and wrote a description (1988) which is attached to our accession record. Other specific information can be found in the Washington State Historical Society records.  It is unknown how the tree arrived in Olympia and why it was planted on the O’Brien property.

Original certificate for the tree.

Original certificate for the tree.

In 1995, as Arboretum Director, I received an inquiry from Shelley Farber, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, asking if we would be interested in a propagule, since the DNR had several rooted trees which they wished to establish throughout the State of Washington. The official certificate is signed by Shelley on February 27, 1995 at 3:20 p.m.

The Arbor Day planting of the tree took place in a very heavy rain storm on the Washington State Arbor Day, April 12. 1995.  (The Washington State Arbor Day is a different day than the National Arbor Day).  The ceremony was attended by Dean David Thorud, UW College of Forestry, Clement Hamilton, Director of the Center for Urban Horticulture,  dignitaries from DNR, area high school students, and arboretum staff, myself included.  The arboretum staff (Christina Pfeiffer and David Zuckerman) had prepared a great planting site, with the tree (Accession #245-95) patiently waiting in its plastic pot.  After appropriate speeches, and with great gusto, the young tree was passed to David for planting preparation.  He lifted and tugged on the pot only to discover that it was totally pot bound, necessitating slicing off the pot.  Of course the roots were found to be one solid round core.   We all stood patiently for several minutes in the rain while David struggled to cut and loosen the roots, wanting to make sure the tree would survive. It has!  Finally, Governor Evans was able to plant the tree and we all quickly retreated for drier locations, leaving the staff to finish the planting job.

Governor Evans at the Arbor Day tree planting, April 12, 1995.

Governor Evans at the Arbor Day tree planting, April 12, 1995.

The Daniel J. Evans Centennial Tree being transplanted, 2003.

The Daniel J. Evans Centennial Tree being transplanted, 2003.

The tree flourished well, but on September 23, 2003, it was moved a few feet north, thus giving it more space.  Todd Holm, from Olympic Tree Farm, was the tree spade contractor. The tree has continued to flourish. In 2003, it was measured by Randall Hitchin at 30 feet tall, with a 6 inch dbh.  Today, it is 70 feett tall with 20 inch dbh.

I often see Governor Evans enjoying a milkshake at one of his favorite haunts, Burgermaster.   Occasionally we chat about his tree, and he tells me that he regularly visits it with his family, including his grandchildren.   This in indeed a superb tribute to a great man with a great tree which will remain a legacy for at least another 100 years, a milestone he himself is within 10 years of achieving.

Capture the moment with botanical photography!

September 15th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

Botanical Photography Classes with David Perrydavid_perry_bio3

David Perry is an inspirational, Seattle-based photographer, a willing teacher and a captivating storyteller with a keen knack for observation and a distinct twinkle in his eye. His reverence for gardens, flowers and the gardeners who tend them is apparent in the pictures he makes and his playful, sometimes irreverent manner of speaking about them keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

David’s work has been featured on the cover of Fine Gardening four times in the past few years, and many times in Sunset, This Old House Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design, and Pacific Horticulture among others. His garden was recently featured by local Seattle Times garden columnist, Val Easton, in Pacific Northwest Magazine.

Students in David’s previous classes have raved about his teaching abilities, the individual attention given to each student, and his sense of humor.

Read on to discover three great opportunities to learn from David this fall and for you to become the botanical photographer you have always wanted to be!


Japanese Maple Photography Workshop

Washington Park Arboretum
2 parts: Mon., Sept. 28, 7-9pm & Sat., Oct. 3, 8:30am-12pm
Fee: $95 (the lecture on September 28, described in detail below, is included in this price)
Register online

This workshop includes both an instructional lecture and a photo-shooting workshop. The lecture will thoroughly cover the many styles of portraits that are possible and how they can translate across to plant photography. The full workshop is for those who wish to delve in further by participating in a hands-on workshop with shooting assignment. We will walk together to the Arboretum’s stunning collection of Japanese Maples to practice incorporating the portrait styles (The Close Up, The Environmental Portrait, The Group Photo, The Candid Portrait), and principles into our photographs. We will observe the Japanese custom of viewing autumn colors, known as “momijigari,” with our cameras, attempting to capture the essence, spirit and beauty of the Japanese Maples.

Picture Perfect Plant Portraits

***This lecture is included in the Japanese Maple Photography Workshop listed above.*** Anyone unable to make it to the Saturday photo shoot is welcome to sign up for the lecture alone.

Washington Park Arboretum
Mon., Sept 28, 7-9pm
Fee: $15
Register online

What is a plant portrait? At its most basic, a plant portrait is a likeness that celebrates the physical characteristics and ephemeral beauty of a plant. Plant portraits are a wonderful place to begin wading into the larger river of garden photography, but they are also a photographic art form that one will never outgrow. Join David E. Perry for a lively and inspiring exploration of his own adventures as a plant portraitist. Learn how to make better close-ups and how to capture the dreamy moods that will elicit the oohs and ahhs of others while showing the plants within a larger garden setting.


iPhone and iPad Botanical Photography

Center for Urban Horticulture
3 Thursday Afternoons, October 29th-November 12, 1-4pm
Fee $165
Register online

Become the master of your photographic domain. Learn to use the cameras you already have on your smartphone or tablet and the best photography apps to make pictures that can populate your website, portfolio, Instagram and Facebook pages. Learn from master photographer/storyteller David Perry, who has four covers for Fine Gardening magazine in the past two years, the most recent of which was shot with his pocket-sized point and shoot camera.


This is an opportunity not to miss! Call 206-685-8033 or email urbhort@uw.edu with any questions.


Student Spotlight: Nate Haan

September 14th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

Nate in the Goodfellow Grove at the Center for Urban Horticulture

Nate is a PhD Candidate who became involved with UW Botanic Gardens when he joined Professor Jon Bakker’s lab at the Center for Urban Horticulture in 2013. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and moved to Seattle in 2013 to start his studies at the UW.

He enjoys spending time hiking and backpacking in the mountains or along the coast. He also spends a bit of time on art projects, usually printmaking.

Nate finished his bachelor’s degree at Calvin College in 2007, majoring in Biology.  His favorite class was called Plant Taxonomy, although it covered lots of topics other than taxonomy.  He loved it because they learned how to identify plants by their family characteristics, and had several field trips to forests, bogs and prairies to learn the local flora.  A few years later he was a Teaching Assistant for this class, and a few years after that was hired as the instructor.

Nate finished his M.S. at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment in 2010. His thesis was on ecological restoration in disturbed areas like roadsides.

Currently, he is working in prairies in the South Sound, studying Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and its interactions with its larval host plants. A typical day is usually spent in the greenhouse, watering or potting plants for various experiments. There is a captive population of checkerspot butterflies in the lab at most times, so he spends some time with various members of the lab taking care of them or setting up different experiments. Other than that, you can usually find him in the graduate office in Merrill Hall. Mostly, he enjoys coming up with new research ideas, learning new things, and occasionally getting his hands dirty.