Posts filed under ‘Trees’
World-class orchid collections like the one at Smithsonian Gardens are more than an assemblage of pretty flowers. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes like maintaining good plant culture, regular and judicious watering, and dealing with insect pests and viruses. Another aspect of a well-kept collection is vigilant record keeping and data management.
There are several collections information systems (CIS) in use by botanic gardens that keep track of accessioned plant material. In the past, Smithsonian Gardens used a relational database tailored specifically to orchid collections for this purpose. This program worked well for many years but our growing online presence, digitization and IT requirements, and opportunities to expand SG’s plant collections prompted us to search for a more robust system.
In November 2015, Smithsonian Gardens switched to a botanical collections database with a more flexible framework. This new framework enables us to expand our plant records to encompass gardens surrounding the Smithsonian museums, in addition to managing our living collections of orchids and trees. Using this new tool to accession “unofficial” collections such as SG’s tropical plants will improve our horticulturists’ ability to track plant usage, longevity, and vitality.
Visitors to the Smithsonian will also benefit from this database transition. As Smithsonian Gardens tracks new plants in its gardens, staff will be able to plot their locations on a map, create tours, and compile images and other plant data on SG’s website. For on-site visitors, this will be an invaluable trip-planning tool; for online visitors, this will be a fantastic way to explore plants on the Smithsonian campus from afar.
The switch to a more flexible database also allows SG to better integrate its collections information with existing Smithsonian IT systems. This compatibility enables automatic syncing of collection images between the plant database and the Smithsonian’s main Digital Asset Management System rather than having to link the images separately in both places. Cross-talk between the systems cuts out redundant steps from our previous workflow and frees up collections staff to work on other projects. In addition, the process used to update collection images and information to the online Smithsonian Collections Search Center is more streamlined.
SG’s living collections team is currently cleaning up and enhancing the migrated data. With over 30,000 records of both living and historic plant assets, there is a lot of verification and editing to accomplish. This fall the focus will shift to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection, the other living collection entrusted to our care. Our goal is to integrate Tree Collection data from an existing database with accession records in the new database, while maintaining the ability to track tree locations across more than 180 acres of grounds through mapping software.
Smithsonian Gardens is excited to grow its living collections management program. The implementation of a new database is just a first step, but it paves the way for future progress and enables more efficient and effective management of the Smithsonian’s living plant collections for the benefit of both on-site and virtual visitors.
-Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Specialist, Smithsonian Gardens
It’s Arbor Day! That means it’s time to celebrate all of the wonderful benefits that we get from trees, and to plant trees to increase those benefits. Newspaper editor J. Sterling Morton is usually credited with first proposing the tree-planting holiday called “Arbor Day” in Nebraska in 1872. While Morton’s Arbor Day was a first in the United States, the celebration of a day devoted to trees actually has roots hundreds of years earlier.
The first documented celebration of an Arbor Day was organized by the mayor in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo in 1594. Today, a small marker commemorating this event can still be found in the town (now known as Alameda de los Remedios). The first “modern day” Arbor Day happened in Spain in 1805 in the village of Villanueva de la Sierra and was organized by a local priest, Don Ramón Vacas Roxo. According to author and professor Miguel Herrero Uceda, Don Ramón was “convinced of the importance of trees for health, hygiene, decoration, nature, environment and customs” and decided “to plant trees and give a festive air.” After celebrating Mass on Carnival Tuesday, Roxo, accompanied by other clergy, teachers, and villagers, planted a poplar tree. The celebration and plantings lasted three days. The priest was so moved by the importance of trees that he wrote a manifesto in their defense and sent it to neighboring towns to encourage people to protect nature and establish tree plantations.
Many decades later, the message and spirit of Arbor Day had spread throughout the world. In 1977, Kenyan political and environmental activist Wangari Maathai started a grassroots movement known as the Green Belt Movement. It organized women in rural Kenya to plant trees in order to combat deforestation and erosion and provide future food and firewood, all the while empowering the women involved. The movement has planted over 50 million trees, and tens of thousands of women have received training in environmentally sustainable trades. Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
One of the most inspiring stories about people and trees comes out of India. In 1979, a local teenager named Jadav Payeng began noticing that on the island of Majuli, his home, erosion was taking vegetation and land away, and many of the native animal species along with it. Majuli is the largest river island in the world, located in the middle of the Brahmaputra River, and is vulnerable to the tides of many tributaries. Seasonal flooding was leaving large areas of the island barren, while washing other areas away completely. Payeng was concerned by what he saw, so he planted twenty bamboo seedlings on a sandbar to help prevent this erosion from continuing. He was so inspired to save his home in this way that he continued to plant trees and scatter tree seeds to help reforest the island. Today, he is responsible for planting a forest that is now approximately 1,400 acres, more than one and a half times larger than New York City’s Central Park! Deer, tigers, rhinoceroses, and elephants have moved into the dense forest, along with returning bird species that had not been seen in the area for decades.
This Arbor Day, let’s be inspired by these stories of how individuals can make a large and lasting impact on our world. If you can, plant a tree (or several), care for the trees that you already have, or volunteer for a neighborhood tree advocacy group. We can all make a difference and improve our world with trees!
-Greg Huse, Arborist, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager
The Smithsonian Tree Collection is maintained by Smithsonian Gardens and features close to 1,900 accessioned specimens throughout the Smithsonian museum grounds and gardens surrounding the National Mall, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the Smithsonian support facilities in Maryland. Click here to learn more about the Smithsonian Tree Collection.
The Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection currently consists of over 1,900 trees spread across the Smithsonian’s downtown Washington, D.C. campus as well as at the Institution’s support facilities in Maryland. These trees add great aesthetic value to the grounds, and complement the flowers, shrubs, and other plantings in the gardens here. However, and perhaps more importantly, these trees offer a myriad of environmental and health benefits.
During the summer of 2015, information on all of the collection trees was run through i-Tree, a software program developed by the U.S. Forest Service to calculate the benefits of trees. The results were eye-opening, and it was encouraging to see how much our trees benefit our campus, city, and planet.
Poor air quality, especially in urban areas, can lead to decreased human health, poor visibility, and damage to plants. Trees in urban forests help improve air quality by capturing air pollutants, reducing air temperatures, and decreasing energy consumption in buildings which reduces overall air pollutant amounts by lowering demand on power plants. The SG Tree Collection was calculated to remove 2,700 pounds of air pollutants (carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter) annually with an associated monetary value of $31,185. This is the equivalent of taking ten cars off the road for a year!
One of the most important environmental challenges we currently face is global climate change. Trees can help mitigate this problem by capturing atmospheric carbon and storing, or sequestering, it for many years. As trees grow, they continually store carbon in the new wood they produce. The trees in the SG Tree Collection store an estimated 37,877 pounds of carbon annually. The large majestic oaks, elms, and other trees found at the National Museum of American History sequester twice as much carbon as the trees found in any other Smithsonian garden or landscape.
Surface runoff of stormwater is a cause for concern in urban areas because it can contribute to pollution in streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and oceans. Precipitation that reaches the ground and does not infiltrate the soil becomes surface runoff, which carries pollutants into waterways. Urban trees reduce this runoff by intercepting the water in the tree canopy and allowing it to evaporate over time. Additionally, water that lands on trees may run along the branches and down the trunks which helps it reach the ground more slowly and infiltrate the soil. Smithsonian trees intercept 383,705 gallons of rainfall annually, thereby preventing it from becoming surface runoff.
In addition to these environmental benefits, many recent studies show how trees, especially in urban areas, contribute to better health for people. Areas that have many trees can lower blood pressure, have a calming effect on teens and adults with ADHD, improve breathing for those with asthma and other lung conditions, decrease healing times for sickness and injury, contribute to overall emotional and psychological health, and even improve birthweights of newborns!
We appreciate trees for their beauty and grandeur, especially at this time of year when they come ablaze with autumn colors. Beyond appreciating their beauty, it’s important to remember all of the environmental and health benefits they provide as well. Planting and properly maintaining trees are important steps to take to continue to improve the world in which we live. We here at Smithsonian Gardens are proud to do our part in contributing to that goal.
– Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager
Happy Arbor Day! My name is Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’, or columnar European Hornbeam. I feel right at home here at the National Air and Space Museum as all the rockets in Gallery 114 look a lot like….me! The name fastigiata comes from the Latin word meaning “soaring”. While I’ll never reach the moon, I will reach 40 feet tall. My fall color is fiery yellow and orange, and my bark is grey and muscular-looking.
Here are a few snapshots from my planting this morning. It’s a pleasure becoming the 1901st addition to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection, and I hope to enjoy many years at the Smithsonian!
Click here learn more about Smithsonian Gardens and the Tree Collection.
For tips on how to choose the right tree and plant it, check out these tips on proper tree planting techniques from the Smithsonian Gardens Green Team.
The Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection currently consists of over 1,850 trees, approximately 1,400 of which are located on the downtown Washington, D.C. and Anacostia campuses. These trees add beauty to our grounds, and they offer myriad environmental and health-related benefits. Unfortunately, it seems that trees are constantly under attack by a host of problems, ranging from severe climate, to native and exotic pests and diseases, to damage from construction and development projects, to the tough urban environment in which they grow. Once these plants become stressed, it’s more likely that they will suffer due to one or more of these issues. In addition, as trees grow, certain structural defects can develop which may cause problems in the future, especially when severe weather events can exploit the inherent weaknesses in these defects.
For these reasons, we at Smithsonian Gardens take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to caring for these green assets. Oftentimes, defects, cultural stressors, or insect and disease infestations that have gone unnoticed for a time can be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Therefore, a thorough health and structure assessment of these trees was completed at the end of 2014. This assessment consisted of a top-to-bottom, 360 degree visual evaluation of each tree. All defects and other potential issues were noted and assigned a rating based on the severity of the condition observed.
What we had at the end of the evaluations was a complete list of trees, their problems (if they had any), and recommendations for correcting anything of concern. Based on the ranking system, we now have an organized and detailed list of what maintenance and tree care work is needed, with a clear indication of where we need to start. This has enabled Smithsonian Gardens to find and fix issues before they become more serious, and gives us the ability to be proactive with our tree management. It also gives us a better idea of how to budget for upcoming maintenance needs. Prevention is the best medicine, and any time we can find and correct an issue before it becomes serious it allows us to keep our trees happy and healthy for many years to come.
-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager
As we gaze around at the beautiful autumn colors that our trees are showing us, we’re trying not to think about the arrival of the cold and snowy weather of winter. However, arrive it will, and now is the time to prepare your trees for those coming winter months. Although all trees are potentially susceptible to winter injury, young and/or thin-barked, and broadleaf evergreen trees require the most preparation.
Excessively cold temperatures, wind, and quick temperature changes can cause drying, browning, and death of evergreen foliage. This problem is most prevalent on broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, laurels, boxwoods, and hollies. To help prevent this damage, construct a barrier of heavy burlap, like a fence, to block drying winds from their prevailing direction. If the entirety of the plant is exposed, loosely wrap it in burlap. In either case, be sure to leave the top of the plant exposed so light and air penetration can still occur. In addition, it is important to keep watering your trees up until the time of the first hard frost. A 4-6 inch layer of mulch over the root zone will also help the soil retain warmth and moisture. (Remember not to pile the mulch up against the trunk of the tree.)
Another issue of concern, which is also caused by rapidly fluctuating temperatures, is sunscald. This occurs when the sun has warmed the trunk of the tree, and then that trunk is rapidly cooled upon sudden shading from a cloud, etc. This condition results in elongated, dried and cracked areas of dead bark. This can be prevented by wrapping the trunk with commercial tree wrap (available at most home and garden centers) or other light-colored material. This will reflect sunlight and keep the bark at a more consistent temperature. The wrap should be placed on the tree in the fall and removed in the spring, after the last frost.
Broadleaf evergreen foliage damage and frost cracks are influenced by many factors, including plant species, location, drainage, natural protection, and how well established a plant is in the landscape. There is no specific temperature at which damage occurs, but if the forecast calls for temperatures below the average seasonal low (29-33°F for Washington, D.C.), it is best to utilize the protection methods outlined above.
Tree branches can be prone to breakage from heaving snow and ice loads and by strong winds. Weakly attached, overextended and broken limbs should be pruned. Trees with an upright form, such as juniper, arborvitae, and clump birch, can be wrapped in burlap, or held together by wrapping the branches collectively with twine or rope. Any wrapping material should be removed in the spring.
When natural food sources grow scarce in the winter, rodents may feed on the young bark and cambial tissue of trees. Plastic tree guards or a cylinder of ¼” wire mesh placed around the trunks of young trees will help prevent this damage. Be sure to remove these guards once the spring has come so the tree does not wind up growing into them.
Trees possess an extraordinary ability to withstand severe winter weather, with some being more hearty than others. However, with proper care and attention, your trees should come through the winter ready to show off their new flowers and foliage for spring.
-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist & Tree Collection Manager
Smithsonian Gardens manages the health and maintenance of 1,873 trees in the Washington, D.C. area. As you walk around the Smithsonian gardens and museums you may notice a common theme: many of these trees are mature specimens with historical context and connection to the museums they surround. This is extremely evident as you walk the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History, where the extensive American elm plantings bring us back to a time when Ulmus americana was the predominant street tree in America. In fact, the large specimen on the corner of 9th Street and Constitution Avenue predates the museum, which celebrated its centennial in 2010.
As Dutch Elm Disease (DED) has wiped out the majority of stately American elms throughout the U.S., we at Smithsonian Gardens work diligently to monitor and manage our trees in order to prevent the spread of this lethal disease.
It is with this management strategy in mind that we carefully select replacements when elm trees at the Smithsonian need to be removed. When one of the younger elms on the north lawn of the National Museum of Natural History was critically damaged during a storm, we once again debated and discussed which “resistant” elm to replace it with. One of the best choices for a true Ulmus americana replacement is the ‘Jefferson’ Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Jefferson’), selected through the collaborative efforts of the National Park Service and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
This tree was selected for its excellent DED resistance and the fact that as a true species, it exhibits the classic American elm form, unlike some of the resistant hybrids.
‘Jefferson’ elms leaf out earlier in the spring and maintain their green color better in the summer than other U. americana specimens. We were very lucky to receive this tree from the National Park Service as it is just becoming available in the commercial trade at this time, and can be difficult to find. The National Park Service propagates ‘Jefferson’ by cuttings from the original tree, located on the National Mall, and grows the seedlings for six years at its National Capital Region Nursery. It is a long process and a difficult one, as only about 5% of the cuttings live to become mature trees. Hopefully this selection will become more common in the nursery trade so that we can once again plant these majestic trees with confidence. Until that time, we are very thankful for the ongoing collaboration between the National Park Service and Smithsonian Gardens to ensure that the American elm still graces the Washington, D.C. landscape.
–Jonathan Kavalier, Smithsonian Gardens Supervisory Horticulturist