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.”

Biology in the Wild

September 9th, 2016 by Donna McBain Evans

Ginkgoleaves

 

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.

 

Coniferous Trees Highlighted in January Tours

January 6th, 2016 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

When the Olmsted Brothers first came to the Seattle area in the early 1900s, they were impressed by the size, abundance and beauty of our native conifers. Thirty years later when they designed the collection placement for the Washington Park Arboretum, they made a point of not removing our native trees, but placing the arboretum collection within a matrix of these native conifers. Eighty years later our park abounds with these tall stately beauties.

Many of the first conifers – or (mostly) evergreen trees – acquired in the collection were placed on Foster Island at the north end of the park; this site, while picturesque, turned out to be not so good for the needs of the trees themselves. Now much of our conifer collection resides in the Pinetum, which meets the needs of these plants as it is a site with better sun exposure and soil drainage. The rest of the collection is placed throughout the arboretum in areas suited to the needs of each species.

cupressusguadaloupensisCurrently the UW Botanic Gardens conifer collection includes 41 genera of conifers, comprising 216 species (not including subspecies or varieties) and approximately 2,974 individual plants. Our Sunday Free Weekend Walks in January will focus on this extensive conifer collection. With close to three thousand plants in the collection we cannot see all of them in the 90 minutes allotted, but our guides will show and talk about many of these amazing trees as well as what makes them unique in the plant world.

CguadaloupensisOne of the conifers in our collection that I have come to admire is the Cupressus guadaloupensis var. guadaloupensis, common name Guadaloupe Cypress. We acquired three of these trees in 1989 and two are still living; these plants highlight the conservation value of our collection.

Our Guadaloupe Cypress are not very big and sit unassumingly next to a path in the Pinetum. This tree caught my eye because if its exfoliating bark, which I had never seen on a conifer before, so of course I had to do some research on this tree. I’m glad I did, because it is an interesting story.

These conifers are endemic to Guadaloupe Island in the Pacific Ocean west of the California/Mexico border. Guadaloupe is a desert island and most of its moisture is received through ocean fogs rather than rain. The Guadaloupe Cypress has been cultivated since the 1800s but is rarely used in collections as it will not set seed outside its native habitat and is not necessarily resistant to cold temperatures. In the last century the tree became critically endangered in its native habitat due to a population of feral goats on the island.

A quote from The Gymnosperm Database at Conifers.org:

“For many years the species was severely limited by the grazing of goats, which reduced its population to about 3300 individuals on about 160 ha, with negligible regeneration. However, in 2005, under the leadership of Dr. Alfonso Aguirre Muñoz, the Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas, A.C. succeeded in completely eradicating the goats from this large island and the trees and vegetation are now recovering. This is an uncommon bit of good news in the generally depressing landscape of rare conifer conservation.” Good news indeed.

Cool Seeds Abound

September 11th, 2015 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 1.26.25 PMPterocarya stenoptera, common name Chinese Wing Nut, has gorgeous lime green seed catkins 12-14″ long each bearing up to 80 seeds. That’s pretty amazing in itself but when these seed catkins are dripping off of each limb of a tall tree the effect is stunning.

The Wing Nut genus resides in the walnut family, or Juglandaceae, and is used for ornamental purposes in gardens around the world.   Its native habitats are in China, Japan, and Korea, growing in areas from sea level to elevations of about 1500 feet.  Like its cousin nut trees – the Walnut, Pecan & Hickory – this large deciduous tree has pinnate leaves and grows quickly with a rangy habit.Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 1.26.59 PM

We have a few different Pterocarya species in the Washington Park Arboretum collection.  I like to stop and admire the large P. stenoptera specimen along Azalea Way; it was acquired in 1951 and is now about 60′ feet tall.   Because it has many low-hanging limbs, you can touch the seed catkins, which are surprisingly rigid and tough.

You can learn about this tree and many others in our collection if you join our Free Weekend Walks for September.  Our tour theme is “Fruits, Nuts & Seed Pods” because right now is the time to marvel at the bounty which is the result of spring pollination.  Guides meet visitors at the Graham Visitors Center every Sunday at 1:00 pm and off you go to explore our great park.

My First Free Weekend Walk

July 31st, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

This is the first in a series of blog posts we will be sharing from our summer communications volunteer, Saffron Hefta-Gaub. Saffron is a sophomore at the Bush School in Seattle, Washington, and we are delighted to share her perspectives on UW Botanic Gardens’ spaces and programs. 

July 19th, 2015

Hydrangeas

On this lazy, hot, summer day, I embarked on my first event with the UW Botanic Gardens: the Free Weekend Walk. The great things about the tour are that it’s free, every Sunday, and open to all ages. The walking was brisk, and despite the heat, our guide Catherine kept us entertained. The theme of this day was Hydrangeas and Other Summer Bloomers. Themes like this switch every month to best fit the season.

Because I can’t drive, I was dropped off at the Graham Visitors Center, just before one o’clock. After inquiring at the desk, I waited until our guide came right on time, starting us out with a few introductory facts. I learned that the park was 230 acres, the majority of the land being owned by the city with the collections belonging to the Botanic Gardens. We were a group of twelve, including me, horticulturalists  and tourists alike. To begin, we circled around the parking lot, stopping by the greenhouse to see the large-leafed “dinosaur food” bog plant native to South America, with long, almost Pinecone-esque petalless  flowers. Behind the greenhouse was a gorgeous pomegranate tree, which, with the warm season we’ve been having, bore fruit.

After we looked at the various trees in the bright sun, we circled back around to the main path, which thankfully had patches of shade. It was 90 degrees out, mind you, and I had stupidly forgotten a water bottle. Our guide was good at keeping our minds off the heat, though my thirst for water preoccupied a third of my thoughts. The rest of my mind filtered through facts and phrases for this post, while another small section wanted to be binge watching my favorite show, though I shouldn’t mention that here, have to be professional. 😉

The tour, after all, was focused on the blooming hydrangeas, and the first one we accounted on the path was drooping from the drought. In fact, many of the plants we passed had brown, forgotten leaves. Facts from my 9th grade biology class kept popping up, an unplanned refresher in photosynthesis and the food web. The dead leaves on the underside of the trees were the plants’ way of conserving energy and water; leaves with less light had more energy going into growth than coming out of photosynthesis. We also spotted snag trees, dead plants that had become homes for insects, decomposers who feed off the bark. The insects attract hungry birds and bats, and soon you have full ecosystems on one dead tree.

Back to the hydrangeas: interesting tidbit, there are three kinds of hydrangeas: lace top, mop top, and the cone-shaped paniculatas. The flowerettes around the base of the lace top, when lifted up, are a signal to the bees that pollination should occur, and drop once there is nectar. Nature is amazing!

Next in our walk up the shadow scattered hill were the magnolias. Yet another thing that I learned was that because magnolias, evolutionarily, predate bees; the flowers are shaped and hang in a way so that they can be pollinated by ants and beetles. The magnolias have a nice citrus smell, and because of the unusual heat, many of the trees we passed were on there second bloom of the season, which our guide had never seen before. The magnolias also provided a much needed shade. Another tree we saw was the sassafras tree, the origin of root beer. The cool thing about the sassafras  tree was that was only one of two trees with the three kinds of leaf shapes: mitten, flame, and ghost. Seeing all the differently shaped leaves on this tree and the other species we passed was strange and interesting.

Magnolia

Finally, we got to the large collection of hydrangeas. There were many beautiful bushes, colored blue and white. Catherine informed us that these hydrangeas did in fact change color based on the PH of the soil. We also spotted a hydrangea that grew vine-like on a tree, but in a safe way. By now, it was time to turn back, and we headed on a gravel path through the forest, where it was shady and cool. The final fascinating fact I learned was that many of the magnolias and other “tropical” plants that thrive in the southeast United States are related to the plants of Asia, an offshoot from back when the land was all one continent.

All in all it was a great way to spend my afternoon. Our guide Catherine made it entertaining, educational, and we got in some exercise! All three e’s! The Botanic Gardens have my interest, and I am sure they will have yours if you take the chance to visit. The Arboretum is beautiful, the paths are easy to use, and with these guided tours, navigating and fact-learning is easier. I’d highly recommend it. 🙂

 

Another collection stunner blooming now

April 19th, 2015 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

RhododendronoccidentaleAlong Azalea Way this time of year, as many of you know, the Rhododendron cultivars, Redbuds & Dogwood Trees are putting on their show of stunning blossoms.   Amongst all these flowering shrubs and trees it is sometimes hard to discern any individual plants, but its always worth it for me to stop at the group of Rhododendron occidentale at the North end of Azalea Way.   These Rhododendron species, commonly known as Western Azalea, get my attention because in addition to the clusters of pretty flowers (and unlike most Rhododendron species) they have a wonderful scent.  My nose could spend a lot of time near these shrubs.  This grouping of about 10 shrubs (located in the very NW bed along with several other pink/orange flowering cultivars) were planted in 1946 and now each plant stands about 8-10 feet tall.

The R. occidentale is one of two native west coast Rhodies (the other being R. macrophyllum, our state flower) and is found mainly in the mountain and coastal areas of southern Oregon and Northern California.   Because our climate and soils are similar, they are a plant that transfers quite well to our PNW gardens.  They are a slow grower which can take sun or shade and seem to adapt to a variety of soils.  Their native environments range from coastal marshes, river and lake sides and up to mountain meadows.  But that’s not all – the other perk to these shrubs is that they can bear a lovely orange/red fall foliage color.

Come along on one of our Free Weekend Walks and enjoy a guided tour of these and many other collection plants in their full spring glory.   No registration, visitors meet at the Graham Visitors Center at 1:00 pm each Sunday.

For more detail on these shrubs in their natural environment click the article link from Pacific Horticultural Society

Autumn Is Amazing

October 18th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

liquidambfallcolorThe Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweetgum, is one of autumn’s most brilliantly colored trees, its leaves showing off every color in the spectrum.

The Liquidambar was wide spread, existing all over the Northern Hemisphere during the Tertiary Period (250-65 million years ago), but mostly disappeared due to glaciation during the ice age. Now this tree is native only to the SE United States and some areas of Mexico and Central America.  These deciduous trees can grown to 80-100 feet tall & live up to 400 years.  Its species name in Latin means ‘flowing with resin’ as the sweet resin in this tree was originally used for chewing gum.

They can be mistaken for maples as they have a similar palmate leaf. The Sweetgum leaf has 5-7 pointed lobes, but is usually flat along the bottom. They also have a distinctive spiky  brown fruit in autumn.

Our free Weekend Walks 10/19 – 11/16 will take visitors to view this and other deciduous plants in our collection.  Please join us.  See Visit > Tours for more information.

Fruits & Nuts appear in autumn

September 23rd, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Read the rest of this entry »

A Local Beauty

July 27th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

tplicatabranchesThis photo is of a native Thuja Plicata (common name; Western Red Cedar) and shows the great J-arm branches that these trees feature. Although the Puget Mill Company logged most trees on the site by 1900, this particular Thuja was perhaps overlooked by the loggers and is therefore one of the oldest and largest specimens in the arboretum. It is located between the Witt Winter Garden and Azalea Way.
This tree species was valued by the local Salish tribes who called it the “tree of life” as it provided them with bark for clothing, dried leaves for a medicinal tea, and planks for longhouses among many other uses.
Our August Free Weekend Walk’s topic is Native Plants & People; a knowledgeable guide will talk about this tree and various other native plants and their ethnobotanical uses.

Another stunning Rhody

April 19th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Rhododendron macabeanum is one of the finest big leaved Rhododendron species and has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award Of Garden Merit.  It has larR.mcabeanumge yellow/white flowers often blotched purple inside with an interesting bright pink stigma.  The leaves are a dark glossy green and about 1′ in length with a light colored indumentum on the underside.  It also bears a nice silvery young leaf and bright red bud scales.

Native to India at high elevations, this plant was introduced to the West in 1927.  We have a wonderful specimen in the arboretum.  It is blooming right  now and is located between the SE corner of Loderi Vally and the Magnolia Collection.  Our April Free Weekend Walks on Sundays at 1:00 pm will continue to feature this and other amazing Rhododendrons in the UWBG collection.