Northwest Horticultural Society 2015 Plant Sale

February 4th, 2015 by Jenelle Clark

Camellia japonica ‘Jupiter (Paul)’. One of the many winter treasures growing at the Arboretum.

Alert, serious plant lovers: Get your hands on rare and ephemeral early spring plants at the 2015 Northwest Horticultural Society’s Spring Plant Sale, March 7th at 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. Proceeds benefit the Elisabeth C. Miller Library.

Please join us for a special lecture, Late Winter Treasures of the U.W. Botanic Gardens, by Raymond J. Larson, the Curator of Collections at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. The lecture begins at 10:00 am.


February 2015 Plant Profile: Sarcococca

February 3rd, 2015 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Sarcococca ruscifoliaWinter garden in the Pacific Northwest seems incomplete without this landscape standard. It has lush, glossy, evergreen foliage year round, takes dry shade conditions, and flowers in the wintertime with a powerful scent that perfumes the landscape. Sweet Box comes in two basic forms for the home gardener: the tall form and short form. The tall form (S. ruscifolia and S. confusa) get to about 2-3 feet in height and wide. The short form (varieties of S. hookeriana) makes somewhat of a groundcover with underground stolons that form a clump no taller than 12 inches and can spread about 3 feet.

In the garden, the ideal location for Sweet Box is under part shade with regular irrigation the first few seasons to get it established. It works well as a foundation planting up against the house and in mixed beds in a shaded woodland garden. Despite its common name and close relationship, Sweet Box can’t be treated like regular boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and be sheared on a regular basis. To keep the size and shape in check, prune only the tall forms and prune shortly after they’ve finished blooming (March-April). This forces new growth and stems that will then flower the following winter. Pruning during the summer and fall will remove the new growth; therefore, the flower buds are sacrificed.

Genus: Sarcococca
Common Name: Sweet Box
Location: Fragrance Garden
Origin: Eastern and Southeastern Asia, Himalayas
Height and Spread: Tall (2-3′ height x 3′ spread) – Short (1′ height x 3′ spread)
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late December-late February



Get a jump start on spring at the 2015 Northwest Flower & Garden Show

January 30th, 2015 by Jenelle Clark

Flower show logoSpringtime is on the cusp of arrival here in Seattle, which means it’s time once again to be immersed in the rich sensory wonder that is the Northwest Flower & Garden Show (NWFGS). Heralding the beginning of the new growing season, the NWFGS celebrates gardening by showcasing spectacular planting designs and provides a myriad of opportunities to learn more, stock-up on plants, and let your imagination run wild. The show will be held this February 11-15th at the Washington State Convention Center.

Make sure to stop by the UW Botanical Gardens’ educational booth, #2513, to explore the many opportunities we’ll be offering this year to develop new gardening skills and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Botanic Gardens. The UWBG booth theme is “Discover & Learn,” and will highlight the Arboretum’s interactive map, our year-round educational opportunities, and the iconic locations throughout the botanic gardens.

“Romance Blossoms” at the 2015 Northwest Flower & Garden Show

The theme for this year’s show couldn’t be more fitting for Valentine’s Day weekend. “Romance Blossoms” will be the inspiration behind the 21 featured show gardens, designed by the region’s top landscape designers. This year, following suite with the show’s theme, the gardens will display even more rich floral abundance, 50% more to be precise. This is due to the show’s commitment to an expanded “forcing” program in collaboration with two local growers.

A Successful Failure

January 30th, 2015 by Kathleen DeMaria, Arboretum Gardener

The Washington Park Arboretum rang in the new year with a series of windstorms that broke limbs, downed trees and dulled chain saws. What the storms didn’t do, however, was cause extensive damage to collections, structures, or visitors. “Lucky” might be your first thought, but luck had little to do with it. Proper tree care and a knowledgeable and observant tree care crew allow us to consider our recent tree ‘failures’ successful.

UWBG Arborist, Chris Watson ascends a Hemlock that he is removing. Because this is a removal Watson is using spikes on his boots to assist him with his long climb. Spikes are never worn on trees we prune as they can damage bark.

UWBG Arborist, Chris Watson ascends a Hemlock that he is removing. Because this is a removal Watson is using spikes on his boots to assist him with his long climb. Spikes are never used on trees we prune as they can damage bark.

chris ascending shadow

An early morning climb

Our biggest break in January was one of the Hemlocks that line Arboretum Drive. Years ago it developed a ‘double leader’, or ‘codominant stem’ (2 or more main stems with similar diameter that emerge from the same location on the main trunk). Codominant stems can be challenging as the tree grows because the stems push against each other as they grow together, causing deformity that often results in compressed wood and ‘included bark’. These factors can often lead to a weak spot in the tree that may be susceptible to failure.

UWBG Arborist Chris Watson had been monitoring this Hemlock for years and decided to place a cable in the tree a few years ago to prevent any serious breakouts. His decision and placement were both great moves, as this tree did succumb to the wind, but the broken leader remained cabled to the stronger leader and no damage occurred.

Best view in the Arboretum

Best view in the Arboretum. Watson carefully contemplates his next cut.

You have to work hard for the view.

You have to work hard for the view.

















Anybody who has ever taken a class in the Arboretum with Dr. Bob Edmonds has likely heard him discuss the fungal pathogen Armillaria mellea, commonly called Armillaria root rot, shoestring root rot, or honey mushroom. Unfortunately we have this pathogen in our soils and occasionally when a tree we suspect has the disease falls, we get a chance to investigate. We (and Dr. Edmonds) suspected this tree had Armillaria.

Tell-tale signs of Armillaria mellea include: White, fan-shaped mycelium growing on the inside of the bark and over the sapwood, soft, spongy and stringy wood that has a lighter yellow coloring, and finally and often most noticeable, black shoestring-like ‘rhizomorphs’ in the dead and dying wood at the base of the tree. Upon investigation of this tree, we did find multiple signs of Armillaria including rhizomorphs, white fans of mycelium, soft spongy yellowed wood, and a column of rot in the center of the trunk that the tree had compartmentalized pretty well over the years.

UWBG’s horticulture staff’s diligent monitoring and tree care regimes turned this failure into a great research and teaching opportunity in our living classroom called the Washington Park Arboretum. Come discover and learn with us.


Rhizomorphs from the fungus can be seen here and under a microscope.

Black Rhizomorphs  can be seen here and under a microscope.

Hollow center of this Hemlock indicates decay that the tree has been compartmentalizing for years.

Hollow center of this Hemlock indicates decay that the tree has been compartmentalizing for years.

Soft, spongy and discolored wood where the tree broke indicate the presence of Armillaria.

Soft, spongy and discolored wood where the tree failed indicate the presence of Armillaria.

Winter with Fiddleheads Nature Class

January 27th, 2015 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

Investigating a spider sighting




The winter session of Fiddleheads Family Nature Class is in full swing this month, despite the weather. Preschoolers aged 2-5 are learning how winter is special, what a skeleton is, what a fossil is and how they form, and even delving into a little chemistry! Every week is a different theme with fun new activities to get you and your little one interested in science, nature, and the world around us.




Taking a closer look at a slug

Taking a closer look at a slug



Classes are Tuesday-Thursday mornings from 10am-12pm with a special Wednesday afternoon session from 1:30-3:30pm for preschoolers ages 4-5.

More information on price, time, discounts, location, and topics.

Call 206-685-8033 or email for more information.



What lives in a pond?

What lives in a pond?



Upcoming topics:
I Can Be a Scientist! – February 3-5

Trees Grow Up, Too – February 10-12

How Animals Move – February 24-26

Spying With Our Eyes – March 3-5

Sounds of the Forest – March 10-12

Fun In the Mud – March 17-19

Snails, Slugs, and Slimy Things – March 24-26















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

January 25th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist

Witt Winter Garden

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (January 19-31, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (January 19-31, 2015)

1)  Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’         Bloodtwig Dogwood

  • Young stems of this cultivar are orange-yellow with the sunny side turning carmine red.
  • Stem color of species is gray to purple, while the color of C.s. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is yellow-green in summer changing to winter colors rapidly at leaf drop in fall.

2)  Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’             Witch Hazel

  • This hybrid of H. japonica and H. mollis was selected for its pale sulfur-yellow flowers which tend to glow in the low light levels of morning and evening.
  • Cultivars of witch hazel can have flower colors from pale yellow to deep red, some being quite fragrant while others are much less so.

3)  Lonicera standishii                   Honeysuckle

  • This semi-evergreen shrub bears fragrant flowers from early winter to early spring.
  • Lonicera standishii is native to China.

4)  Ruscus aculeatus                    Butcher’s Broom

  • Lacking true leaves, what you are seeing are called “cladophylls” which are simply flattened stems.
  • The flowers of this plant are dioecious, only 2 mm across and are located in the center of the cladophylls.
  • Butcher’s Broom is native to Europe, Turkey, North Africa and the Azores.

5)  Viburnum tinus ‘Pink Prelude’                Laurustinus

  • This species has been cultivated in England since the 16th century.
  • V.t. ‘Pink Prelude’ has white flowers that age to pink.
  • The flowers of laurustinus are followed by small, but showy metallic-blue fruit.

Zip-lining through the mist in Costa Rica

January 23rd, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

One last bird, before I return to plants! The blue-crowned mot mot, photo by Michael Hobbs.

After reading through the blog posts about my recent trips to Cuba and the Costa Rica trip just concluded, I have realized I am becoming one of those people. You know. Bird people. The ones who get excited about the birds they are seeing, missing out on the fabulous plants altogether. Okay, well maybe not that extreme – I still get pretty excited about the plants, but I am starting to see the attraction of birds. Especially large, colorful birds like the mot mots, which sit still long enough for you to find them in the binoculars. I don’t expect to become a birdaholic like many of my fellow travelers, especially if it means getting up before dawn, but I do see the attraction.

As for plants, in addition to the Gunnera insignis that I mentioned earlier, my second favorite new species in Costa Rica is probably Pitcairnia brittoniana. It is a epiphytic bromeliad that grows on the sides of trees or embankments with an impossibly red inflorescence that also grows sideways, rather than the upright form of most bromeliads. Its vibrancy shouts “look at me!” through the gloom of the cloudy forests of Monteverde.


The dramatic Pitcairnea flower.

The dramatic Pitcairnea flower.

Another favorite at Monteverde was a liana in the pea family. For many years it has been known as Mucuna urens, but recent studies have thrown that species into question. The seeds are quite large and the pods have an interesting reticulated pattern. They provide nectar to the bats which pollinate the flowers, food for the larvae of the beautiful large blue morpho butterflies in the forests, and the large seeds are food for agoutis, a common large rodent. And they look cool.

Our guide, Jimmy, show us the large pods and seeds of Mucuna.

Our guide, Jimmy, show us the large pods and seeds of Mucuna.

It was also fun to see so many of the houseplants we grow in their native habitat. The split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) was everywhere. Plants in the African violet family, like Columneas (goldfish plant), were both understory and epiphytic plants. Dieffenchias (dumb cane) found in every bank lobby in North America, are tropical understory species that are a favorite food of peccaries, a kind of wild pig. And the orchids were amazing – we visited an orchid garden that had only orchids found in Monteverde – and there were hundreds of them.


The view from our water taxi as we sped across Lago Arenal towards Monteverde.

But back to the trip: we left Volcan Arenal by boat, specifically an open-sided sort of water taxi that unofficially operates on Lago Arenal, a lake greatly enlarged by a dam to generate electricity. “Unofficially,” because the government agency that manages the dams does not want it used for such things, though it is clearly very common. It was misty as we crossed the water, landing at a location that is apparently a major ferry stopping point for travelers (lots of backpackers!) making their way between the cloud forests of Monteverde and Arenal. Despite the apparently hundreds of people using the site for embarking/disembarking every day, we scrambled up a muddy slope. Our guide, Jimmy, said that they do not put in pavement and steps because it is an “unofficial” landing spot.


The ferry landing near Monteverde, with mobs of backpackers coming and going.

We bumped along in our hired van for about an hour, before landing at our very nice hotel, with fantastic views out to the Pacific Ocean. The next morning we had our excursion to the cloud forest, where we reveled in spotting the Resplendent Quetzal. In the afternoon several of us experience zip-lining for the first time. It was supposed to be a canopy line, but it was VERY cloudy – and windy – as we allowed ourselves to be clipped to cables to zip off into the unknown – truly unknown because you could not see more than a few yards into the clouds. Forget seeing much of the canopy. It is bizarre to see your friends zipping off and disappearing into a cloud and even more bizarre to do it yourself. More than once, we questioned our wisdom at embarking on this journey, especially as the winds whipped at us. By the end, they were sending us down two at a time (legs of the rear person wrapped around the body of the front person) to increase the weight and prevent us from getting stuck part-way across because of our cable attachments “braking” on the cable as we were tossed around by the wind. It was a grand adventure but we were all (except maybe Jana) relieved to come to the last of the eight lines.

After the intense experiences we had together, it was sad to have our final dinner, knowing that by early morning some of us would be heading home, while others went on to further adventures in Costa Rica. It was a great group to travel with! We shared some amazing adventures and I can’t wait to meet up with them again soon.


We visited an orchid garden in Monteverde, where our young enthusiastic guide reminded me of our own gardener, Riz Reyes.


Our happy group. Our guide, Jimmy, is kneeling in the front and our driver, Enrique, is standing in a blue shirt.


MLK Day of Service: UBNA Work Party in Review

January 20th, 2015 by Elyse Denkers


On Jan, 19, also known as the MLK Day of Service, a group of 7 volunteers helped remove ivy from cottonwood trees near the Union Bay Natural Area waterfront.
Just along the UBNA loop trail at the waterfront viewing area, many of the cottonwood trees have been suffocated by invasive English ivy. These trees may become a safety hazard for trail-users as ivy foliage weighs down branches.

Our goal was to create “life-rings” around the impacted trees by 1) cutting ivy at a 5 ft height around the tree, 2) peeling the ivy back off the tree, and 3) digging the ivy roots out of the ground around the tree base.
The ivy still hanging on the tree will eventually die without a soil sources.


P1010224 We finished our goal of creating life-rings and removing some ground ivy, but we still have more ground ivy to remove in this area.
Another work party we be scheduled in the next few weeks to finish this area and move on to rescuing the cottonwood trees across the trail.

If you are interested in helping finish this project, please see the UW Botanic Gardens volunteer calendar. New volunteer events will be posted there. You may also contact Elyse Denkers, UBNA research assistant, directly at


Getting a Glimpse of the Elusive Resplendent Quetzal

January 16th, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

Our Resplendent Quetzal, captured by using a cell phone through a spotting scope, not the best way to document his resplendentness.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, resplendent is defined as “shining brilliantly” and “characterized by glowing splendor.” Having now fulfilled a dream of more than 23 years, I have finally seen the bird given the name of “Resplendent Quetzal” and I have to say, the name is not adequate. It should be the “Amazing, Unbelievably Resplendent Quetzal.”

The species is becoming increasingly rare, as its habitats in Central America are lost to development, especially for ranching. Our guide, Jimmy, warned us that it was be very unlikely that we would see one at Monteverde, a cloud forest region of Costa Rica. But knowing that they primarily eat fruits from the avocado family (Lauraceae) he asked the local guides where there might be one in fruit, and led us to it. Sure, enough, a gorgeous male bird sat high on a branch! He sat there very obligingly, allowing us to find him with a spotting scope and binoculars. Frustratingly, though, he sat where no matter what angle we tried to get, his head was blocked by either a leafy branch or some moss dangling down. But we were able to clearly see his brilliant red belly, vibrant iridescent green back, and the streaming green tail up to two feet long! Amazing. Unbelievable. Resplendent. Indeed!

Quetzals are classified as trogons, an order of colorful tropical birds. They are large (easy to spot!) and primarily eat plants and insects. Trogons are found worldwide, but the Resplendent Quetzal is found only in cooler forests from Guatemala to Panama. It is the national bird of Guatemala and the name of their currency is called the quetzal.  Another beautiful trogon, the Cuban trogon, is found only in Cuba and was a top find in our previous trips there.

Finding and communing with this beautiful bird was deeply satisfying. After years of looking, I was able share moments with this rare and elusive bird. It also leaves me a little sad, having met my quest. What should I be looking for next? What will be my next biological pursuit?


Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Frank Vassen.

In Pursuit of Costa Rican Birds

January 12th, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

What a day we had yesterday! My husband Brian and I woke early to go on a bird walk with our guide, Jimmy, and Michael and Janka Hobbs. Michael is quite an expert on birds and Janka is pretty good too. We did not see much in the way of birds, but there were two classical fountains out in the middle of a pasture that made no sense at all. I presume that someone got a good deal on them and put them out to water livestock, but why put out the entire thing and not just the base?


This classical fountain was one-of-two mysteriously found in a pasture near Volcan Arenal.


Anyway, after breakfast we headed out to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. They are about 5 miles of a loop trail that takes one across several high hanging bridges at the level of the canopy. The bridges would be pretty scary, except that we have been over a number already at other sites and are something of pros at scampering across. Still, 9-10 stories high on a flimsy swinging bridge is pretty sobering.


Brian Reichard exits one of the many bridges at the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Many of the swinging suspension-bridges are more than 90 feet from the bottom.



Great Curassow. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

This started out as a nice hike. We spotted a male Great Curassow  who played hide and seek with us in the underbrush. We hiked along for a while and then Jimmy spotted a few birds downhill that got his interest. We stopped and as we looked we realized there was a huge mixed flock of birds a ways downhill from us. As he and Michael called them out and pointed with a green laser where we should look, Jimmy realized that they were all ant eating birds. He theorized they were following swarming army ants. Then the birds got progressively closer to us, which made them much easier to see, but it also meant the army was heading right for us. We were seeing both broad-billed and rufous motmots, several tanagers, ant-eaters, etc. etc. We all got very excited and were calling out names and yelling “where? where?” as each new species was called out. It was very intense. I meant to step back and take a photo of us being intense, but it was so intense that I forgot to take a photo of us being intense. Let’s just say, when other people came down the trail, we tried to explain and they just gave us a look that said “ooooookaaaaaayyyy” as they quickly slipped by.  This went on for at least an hour. It got to the point where we could see the swarm of ants (though they were very small, so no good photos) and other insects scurried to get out of their way. Pity the poor pillbug like bugs. As they got close, the birds were so close we could nearly touch them. Finally, the ants got to where we had been standing and we had to move or be bitten ourselves. It was amazing. Michael Hobbs, our bird expert, said he added about 15 new life species to his list in that hour. There were at least 20 species following those army ants.


Great Curassow. Photo by Amy McAndrews

But the surprises where not over. We went back to the hotel for lunch and a look around the area, then headed out to one of the hot springs around Volcan Arenal. As we headed down the long road to the main road, our driver, Enrique, suddenly stopped. We all looked to see why and next to us, sitting in the grass, was a crested owl. There was a moment when we all sat stunned, looking at it and going “WHOA! What the heck!” and then we all dove for our cameras. Unfortunately, before we could get them ready, he flew off into some adjoining trees.


Crested Owl. Photo by Amy McAndrews


The somewhat fuzzy bird in the central right part of the photo is a broad-billed motmot.


The bridge seen in the lower part of the photo was one we had crossed earlier. This was taken from a bridge.