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.”

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.


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.

July Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

July 15th, 2016 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (July 11 - 24, 2016)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum
(July 11 – 24, 2016)

1)  Colutea orientalis                Bladder Senna

  • This deciduous native of northern Iran has delicate bluish-green pinnate leaves.
  • The orange flowers are followed by surprising translucent bladder-like fruit pods.
  • You can find Colutea orientalis in the Legume Collection along Arboretum Drive.

2)  Hydrangea macrophylla  ‘Mme. Emile Mouillere’ Bigleaf Hydrangea

  • Hydrangea macrophylla is native to Japan.
  • This cultivar is an example of the Hortensia group – having mophead flowers.
  • The pure white sterile flowers will age to pink.

3)  Hydrangea serrata  ‘Bluebird’                Tea of Heaven

  • Hydrangea serrata, a.k.a. H. macrophylla subspecies serrata, is native to Korea as well as Japan.
  • This cultivar is a fine, long blooming example of the Lacecap group.
  • Many of our hydrangeas can be found in Rhododendron Glen along Arboretum Drive.

4)  Lomatia myricoides                 River Lomatia

  • Lomatia myricoides is a native of Australia, in the regions of New South Wales and Victoria.
  • The flowers are honey scented.
  • A large specimen is located along the east side of Arboretum Drive opposite our New Zealand Garden.

5)  Taiwania cryptomerioides                Coffin Tree

  • This native of southeast Asia is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List overall, and ‘critically endangered’ in Vietnam.
  • The wood from this tree has been historically used for coffins.
  • Specimens can be found along Arboretum Drive, on the north side of our Giant Sequoia grove, as well as in the Pinetum.

Summer Arrives at the Washington Park Arboretum

July 3rd, 2016 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum, June 27 - July 10, 2016

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum,
June 27 – July 10, 2016

1)  Cunninghamia lanceolata                (Chinese Fir)

  • Bluish evergreen foliage contrasts nicely with its scaly bark.
  • This evergreen tree from China is an important timber tree in its native area.
  • In 1701, James Cunningham (one of the first European plant hunters to visit China) described and collected this tree.

2)  Hydrangea integrifolia                                                      (Evergreen Climbing Hydrangea)

  • A vigorous, evergreen vine climbing to over 40 feet, on the trunk of a mature Douglas Fir.
  • Attractive, large and round creamy buds form prior to the flower opening.
  • Native to Taiwan and the Philippines.

3)  Magnolia grandiflora                (Evergreen Magnolia)

  • The large fragrant blossoms are the highlight of this tree.
  • Native to the southern United States, this tree is popularly planted in urban environments around Puget Sound.

4)  Ostrya carpinifolia                (European Hop Hornbeam)

  • The name Ostrya is derived from the Greek word ostrua, meaning “bone-like”, and refers to the very hard wood.
  • The fruit clusters resembling hops hang from the branches and provide a nice contrast with the foliage and rough bark.
  • Native to southern Europe, Asia Minor and the Caucasus.

5)  Picea koyamae               (Koyama’s Spruce)

  • The immature purplish cones are great color against the green needles.
  • This evergreen tree, from a small mountainous region in Japan, has a threatened status as native stands have been damaged from wildfires and typhoons.
  • Botanist Mitsuo Koyama discovered a small stand of these trees in 1911.

July 2016 Plant Profile: Phormium cookianum

July 1st, 2016 by Kathleen DeMaria, Arboretum Gardener

Phormium cookianum at the Washington Park ArboretumThis smaller, lesser known relative of Phormium tenax is one of only two species found in the genus Phormium, and is credited as the parent that gives the graceful arching form to many hybrids. The plant is a native of New Zealand, where it is widely grown for its valuable fiber; hence the name, Phormium, which is Greek for basket. Māori used the leaves of both species for weaving baskets, mats, ropes, clothing, fishing nets and head-bands. Using a sharp mussel, leaves were cut and the fleshy green substance was stripped off down to the fiber. After the fiber (called Muka) was exposed, several more processes of washing, bleaching, dying and drying would yield fibers of various strengths and softness.

The handmade flax cording and rope had such great tensile strength that they were used to bind together hollowed-out logs to create ocean-worthy canoes. It was also used to make rigging, sails, roofs for housing, and frayed ends of leaves were fashioned into torches for use at night. Roots yielded materials to make medicine, and nectar and pollen were obtained from the flowers to make face paint.

Phormium cookianum at the Washington Park Arboretum

Combining function and form, P. cookianum boasts yellowish-orange flowers on towering spikes that, unlike the vertical flower spikes of P. tenax, angle out from the plant’s crown. The seed pods resemble long black bean pods, and can weigh the inflorescence back nearly to the ground. This Phormium can grow in sun or partial shade and will tolerate fairly dry conditions but prefers moderate water.

This summer is the first year our Phormium cookianum is blooming here in our nascent New Zealand garden, and the show is not to be missed. In the United States we mostly use Phormium as a strong architectural element in the garden and a fantastic hummingbird attractor, but in New Zealand this monocot’s connection to the history of a nation cannot be unwoven.

Botanic Name: Phormium cookianum (syn. Phormium colensoi)
Family: Asphodelaceae
Common Name: New Zealand Flax, Wharariki in Māori
Location: New Zealand Garden in the Pacific Connections, Washington Park Arboretum
Origin: Endemic to New Zealand
Height and Spread: 4-5 feet tall. Mature clumps can be 8-10 feet wide with leaves 2-3 inches wide.
Bloom Time: June/July in Seattle, November in New Zealand

Phormium cookianum at the Washington Park Arboretum

New digital collection created to complement UW Botanic Gardens Oral History

June 27th, 2016 by Tech Librarian, Tracy Mehlin

graham visitor center at washingto park arboretumPatrons listening to the oral history narrators reminiscing about the Washington Park Arboretum might wonder what the heck they are talking about. Why was there a debate about the purpose of the Arboretum?

In an effort to give listeners historic context the Miller Library invited UW Information School grad student Katie Mayer to create a digital collection drawn from the Library’s archives. Last spring quarter, Katie  listened to a sample of the recordings, selected themes, and explored the archives of the Miller Library, UW Special Collections and the Miller Botanical Garden. In order to keep the project manageable, but also expandable, Katie developed criteria for which documents should be digitized. Finally, she selected the most useful reports, minutes, articles and correspondence, scanned the items and assigned metadata. Metadata (such as dates and descriptions) will help people decide which items they might want to read.

Now the Oral History Complementary Documents allow patrons to listen to narrations and then read the reports to learn the points of view of various decision makers and interested neighbors. Other documents give insight into the influential plantswoman Elisabeth Miller’s passion for public horticulture and her deep interest in plants.

report snippet

A UW report from 1972 proposing a shift toward a traditional botanic garden management system and away from a park model.


plant list

A snippet of a plant list Betty Miller drafted to be considered for landscaping the McVay Courtyard from 1985