Contributed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

"rockii" Stunning purple flare in flower of woody peony 'Rockii' (Mrazik garden)

There's an upcoming “don't miss” event at the Morris Arboretum. “The King” will be holding court. Unfortunately, it's not a legends show honoring Elvis, the “King of Rock and Roll.” I’m so sorry to disappoint all of you diehard Elvis fans out there.  

I'm referring to the original “king,” who even today is very alive—and, it is a sight to behold!  You will want to see this king, the king of flowers, manifest as the peony flower (genus Paeonia). Sadly, its blooms lasts only four to six weeks; beginning in late April for  tree peonies and into May, and starting mid-May and into early June for herbaceous peonies.   

"Pink" Double-pink flower of herbaceous peony (Mrazik garden)

The history of peonies is suited for royalty. In Greek myth, Paeon, a physician of the gods on Mt. Olympus, was turned into a peony flower to save him from harm by his teacher, Aesculapius. Greek poetry praised peony as the queen of herbs. Centuries later in China, the tree peony was known as hua wang, the king of flowers.  

The peony flower’s special appeal is perfectly summed up by Henry Mitchell, an American writer, as “The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers; a rare fusion of fluff and majesty...” Plus, they have a range of colors and some are fragrant. In my view, the peony’s pure floral beauty is unmatched.

Where are peonies at the Arboretum? Start in the Rose Garden, on its East side, and look for the stone wall (check your smartphone compass to find east). Peonies fill the entire bed above this stone wall. Here, the vast majority are herbaceous plants; there are also woody shrubs of the cherished Paeonia rockii. Also, check the rose and herb garden beds and downstream of the Log Cabin along cherry row.

So, the king of flowers is waiting to make you happy.

Contributed by: Joyce H. Munro, Morris Arboretum Archives Volunteer

Where is Miss Morris’s gold clock, the little one that sat on her dressing table? I would like to believe that clock is still ticking somewhere. But it’s not ticking amidst the china and shells and stuffed animals Miss Morris gave the Art Museum. The person who took it is named Mary O’Toole.

No, she didn’t steal it. Miss Morris bequeathed it to her, along with two dress pins—an amethyst lace cabochon and a spray of forget-me-nots. Nice bonuses for being at the mistress’s beck and call. Rising before dawn, working till dusk. Living in a miniscule room on the top floor of Pine Street in winters and Compton in summers. Mary also got to keep the contents of the sewing room as well as her bedroom. And nicest of all, a monthly annuity for the rest of her life.

What did Mary do after her career as lady’s maid? I would like to believe she finally got married. And so she did. I haven’t located her marriage certificate but I guarantee it’s dated after January 1932. This I know because Miss Morris’s will stipulated Mary would receive an annuity “if she be in my employ at the time of my death,” which death occurred on January twenty-fourth.  For a quarter century, Mary laid out the outfits for the day, washed under-linens by hand, tidied up the dressing table. Groomed Miss Morris for social events, like the holiday dinner dance at the Acorn Club, America’s first club for women of a certain social standing. And since it was Christmas, no doubt Mary wrapped Miss Morris in furs and muff for the ride to Rittenhouse Square in her Pierce Arrow limousine.

When did Mary’s heart start giving her problems? I would like to believe it never did, but unfortunately . . . Maybe it started as she climbed the stairs one morning, carrying a bouquet of roses for Miss Morris’s dressing table. Or maybe when she was a child in Bundouglas, Galway, one of Martin Toole and Mary Lyden’s brood of eight. Maybe on the roiling seas en route to America at age twenty, bringing hopes and dreams of a better life and not much else. Or later, after she became Mrs. Francis Patrick Conway.

She never moved far from Compton after marriage, just up the road to Chestnut Hill, where Frank was a successful contractor. Her younger sister Jetta and newly-wedded husband Jim O’Neil—Miss Morris’s former waitress and chauffeur—didn’t move far away either. They were in Flourtown. Patrick and Ellen, two more siblings, were across the Schuylkill. Another—Katherine—in Rhode Island, and occasionally the whole kit-n-caboodle would motor up to visit her. Tom, their baby brother, would have been nearby too, chauffeuring Execs at Tastykake, except he went back to Ireland for three years right after he received a Certificate of Naturalization. When he returned to Philly, authorities ruled he had violated regulations by failing to establish permanent residence. So Tom expatriated himself, probably unintentionally.

Sometimes, Mary and Jetta, with spouses and siblings, picnicked over at Meadowbrook Lane. Near the towering gabled stone house that had been their home for many years. Where they once took care of a Quaker lady with modern sensibilities. And where, in the end, she took care of them.

Contributed by Guest Blogger Rick Sellano

A Fundamental Start with Essentials

Since my undergraduate class, “Pharmacognosy,” I have had an affinity for essential oils. Pharmacognosy is the area of pharmacy that explores plants, specifically their therapeutic and medical uses. That knowledge led to my life-long fascination with essential oils. On April 22, I learned even more about this favorite subject at a Morris Arboretum class taught by Megan Koppel, a natural health educator.

Roots of Essential Oils

Essential oils get their names from the idea that they contain the “essence” of a plant. Lavender oil is a good example. While traveling in Provence, France, I had the good fortune to watch the production of lavender oil. The resulting essential oil is said to have all the intrinsic benefits of lavender, including medical (antiseptic, anti-inflammatory), culinary (coloring, flavoring), cosmetic (soothing, fragrance), and aromatherapy (calming, relaxing). Lavender essential oil delivers all this, and that’s a lot of good stuff for a flower that is also a delight to see in gardens or open fields.

Flowers to Oils

Those involved in essential oil production collect the raw ingredients (typically flowers and plant parts) by a painstakingly slow process. Truckloads of flowers—as in the case of lavender—move through phases of distillation or extraction to ultimately yield a relatively small quantity of the oily essence. Roses present a similar challenge. Because of the world’s love of rose scent, the market for rose oil is strong, and the price of real (vs. synthetic) rose oil is expensive.

Experiencing the Essentials Firsthand

At the Morris Arboretum, Koppel guided us to participate in an eye-opening and energizing essential oil routine. We took a drop or two of peppermint oil in our cupped hands, and then we added a drop or two of wild orange oil. We mixed the two by rubbing our palms. Then we cupped our hands and inhaled the mixture. The aroma not only opened the senses, but also produced an energized feeling of contentment. We followed that by rubbing some of the oily mixture on the muscles at the back of our necks, which produced a cool and relaxing feeling. Finally, we rubbed a thumb in the remaining mixture and swiped it against the roofs of our mouths. The resultclean breath!

It’s not surprising that the use of essential oils is growing. Oils are readily available, as are accessories, including tiny rollerball bottles for on-the-go application. Diffusers are simple electric gadgets that spray a fine mist of the oil. Some essential oils of note are basil, bergamot, camphor, clary sage, clove, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, orange, patchouli, tea tree oil, and ylang-ylang. These oils are sourced from flowers, leaves, peels, roots, seeds, and wood. Regardless of the source, most essential oils have the same fundamental properties. They are oil-based substances that do not readily dissolve in water (they’re hydrophobic) and are volatile (they diffuse into the air if their container is opened).

The Internal Route

Koppel also covered the internal uses of essential oils. Some people think that when used on the skin, these oils are systemically absorbed, and this process positively influences internal organs and systems—an ancient form of medicine that is still used by some today. Then there’s the all-so-careful use of essential oils used as substances to ingest. Oils like oregano, one which Koppel calls the “essential oil hammer in your tool box,” can help boost vitality. Naturally, you should clear anything you plan to take internally with your physician and that, like medications, essential oils should be given in “reduced doses” to children and the elderly.

Home-Grown Uses of Essential Oils

Aromatherapy blends and all-natural perfumes are not the only items where you’ll find essential oils. Cleaning and other household products, especially simple and safe ones made at home, are perfectly complemented by essential oils. In fact, Madison Avenue has been touting pine- and lemon-scented cleaners for decades; but they often contain synthetic ingredients. Today, as concern about synthetics and allergy frequencies are more prevalent, natural cleaning solutions are coveted. Koppel explained that we can readily prepare these with ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and simple soaps. Ideal essential oils to add are pine, lemon, lime, orange, evergreen, cucumber, lavender, and rosemary. In some instances, the medicinal benefits (such as disinfecting for rosemary) do double duty, adding more than just a fresh scent.

Caveat Emptor

Koppel covered what to look for when buying essential oils, such as purity, potency, and source. Oils approved for oral use (in addition to the typical external use) should have an expiration date although when essential oils are stored in a cool, dark place, they may stay fresh for longer.

The Value Proposition

Adding a dash or more of essential oils to your life is a natural and delightful approach to feeling better and having a safer home. Still, enjoying essential oils, like many pleasures, is not the cheapest proposition. Quality oils, especially ones like frankincense, coriander, and cardamom can be expensive, but like good cheese, champagne, and truffles, a little essential oil goes a long way. Continue to watch the Morris Arboretum listing of education programs for classes on a range of subjects to feed your senses and broaden your horizons. Now, that’s essential!

Contributed by Heidi Wunder, Asst. Communications Director

PHILADELPHIA, Pa (April 6, 2017) The University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia is now officially recognized as an arboretum, the University’s Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) announced today. Penn’s urban campus has achieved particular standards of professional practices deemed important for arboreta and botanic gardens, and therefore has been awarded a Level I Accreditation by The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program.

Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn’s Arboretum in Chestnut Hill since 1933, and the official Arboretum of the Commonwealth, has long been active on Penn’s campus and shares Penn’s pride in this accreditation. Morris Arboretum has provided plants from its accessioned collection, as well as helping to identify plants on campus, and provide mapping and health evaluation. Morris Arboretum’s Urban Forestry team has provided consulting on preservation of trees, and participates in tree planting.

Penn’s nearly 300 acres in West Philadelphia are the primary home of the University, populated by more than 21,000 graduate and undergraduate students and 17,000 faculty and staff.  The newly accredited Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania encompasses the entire campus, and is now one of Penn’s two arboretums; the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is the official Arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is located in Chestnut Hill, a mature suburban community about 15 miles from Penn’s main West Philadelphia campus.  The Morris Arboretum and Penn have a robust partnership promoting shared research, outreach and education programs highlighting the importance of trees. 

The Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania curates and manages a diverse collection of trees, focused on preserving and sustaining the urban forest for the well-being of the community, environmental benefits, research and educational opportunities.  Penn’s campus is an urban forest with more than 6,500 trees in its collection, over 240 species of trees and shrubs, ten specialty gardens and five urban parks. 

"Our campus' landscape character, and the design and management skills necessary to sustain it, has been recognized in this prestigious designation as an arboretum," said David Hollenberg, University Architect. “Penn has dedicated resources and coordinated the care of a comprehensive tree management program over the course of many years, resulting in the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus USA designation since 2009 and, now, the formal recognition as an accredited ArbNet Arboretum.”

Penn Plant Explorer, an interactive website linked to Penn’s comprehensive tree inventory, allows users to map and interpret Penn’s entire collection of trees from the donor sponsored Class Tree tour, significant trees, interesting and unique trees to seasonal interest and edible plants. 

About ArbNet
ArbNet is an interactive, collaborative, international community of arboreta. ArbNet facilitates the sharing of knowledge, experience, and other resources to help arboreta meet their institutional goals and works to raise professional standards through the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program. The accreditation program, sponsored and coordinated by The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois in cooperation with American Public Gardens Association and Botanic Gardens Conservation International, is the only global initiative to officially recognize arboreta based on a set of professional standards. The program offers four levels of accreditation, recognizing arboreta of various degrees of development, capacity and professionalism. Standards include planning, governance, public access, programming and tree science, planting and conservation. More information is available at

About Facilities & Real Estate Services at the University of Pennsylvania

Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) provides the expertise, business process, policies and standards required to plan, design, construct, operate, maintain and renew the physical assets of the University. In addition, the Division is responsible for the strategic planning, management and operation of non-academic University property, and collaborating with the neighborhood to create a safe, diverse and economically vibrant destination. FRES maintains 218 buildings on a campus of 302 acres, excluding the Health System, New Bolton Center and Morris Arboretum. Visit