If you haven't planned your visit to Morris Arboretum, the time is now! The rose garden looks beautiful and there is so much to see and discover. Check it out in this video. Katie Fehlinger, Meteorologist of CBS3 Philly, and her daughters highly recommend it!


Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’- flower. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’- fuzzy bud scale protects the flower bud within. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

In late spring /early summer, Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' calls “look at me” with its large, fragrant white flowers, set off by shiny evergreen leaves displaying rusty undersides. Magnolia is named for Pierre Magnol, a French physician and botanist (1638-1715), who was the first to publish the concept of plant families as groups of plants related by structural characteristics. Grandiflora means “large flowers.” The Ray Bracken Nursery introduced this cold-tolerant and salt-tolerant cultivar with cinnamon-colored bud scales and lower leaf surfaces, thus the cultivar name, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty.’


The common name of Magnolia grandiflora is southern magnolia, but these trees are not just “southern” anymore, as breeders work to find cultivars that can withstand northern winters. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ grows in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6-10, a perfect fit for the Morris Arboretum, which is in zone 7a, corresponding to an average annual minimum temperature of 0-5 degrees Fahreinheit.


Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’- immature cone-shaped fruit. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Collection Connection shows that the Morris Arboretum has many different cultivars of Magnolia grandiflora besides ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’: '24 Below,' 'Blanchard,' 'Charles Dickens,' 'Claudia Wannamaker,' 'Crystal Bay,' 'Edith Bogue,' 'Magestic Beauty,' 'Poconos,'  'Select No. 3,'  'Spring Grove No. 16,’ 'Spring Grove No. 19,’ ‘St. Mary,’ and ‘Victoria.’ There is also one hybrid: Magnolia grandiflora × liliiflora i.e. with flowers like a lily!


Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’- a bee arriving late to the pollination scene. Notice spent male anthers lying on the white petal-like tepals. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is an easy to locate gem, located  adjacent to  the Ha-Ha Wall, a landmark on the Arboretum map.


Additional information: It may increase your appreciation of this tree to know that Magnoliaceae is an ancient plant family whose flowers evolved before bees existed; beetles and flies were the available insect pollinators. The large flowers with their nectar and pollen attracted beetles and the leathery petal-like tepals and tough female pistils are believed to have evolved as protection against rough treatment by beetle mouthparts. Various beetle species are still the primary pollinators of magnolias; but nowadays, bees may contribute to pollination as they partake of the nectar and pollen, although they often come “late to the party,” i.e. after the peak pollination time for the flower!

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ (1998-248*A) - planted in 1998. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and free-lance writer.

Contributed by Anthony Aiello, Gayle E. Maloney Director of Horticulture & Curator

One thing visitors may not think about when visiting the Morris Arboretum is the monetary value of its tree collection. At the risk of stating the obvious, as an arboretum, Morris Arboretum’s primary function is to serve as a museum of plants that focuses on trees and shrubs. And, as curator, Anthony Aiello’s role is to oversee the composition, care, and use of these living collections. Of the 11,985 accessioned plants throughout the Arboretum (not including those in the greenhouse), 4,127 of these are classified as trees, ranging from small, recently-planted seedlings, to vigorous teenage and maturing trees, all the way to impressive veteran specimens. Of these 4,127 trees, 63% have been planted since 1980 and approximately 50% of them have been planted in the past 25 years, indicating that it an actively managed collection. 

As a museum, Morris Arboretum’s tree collection is insured, and based on a valuation that was conducted in 2013, it has a total estimated value of $25 million, making the tree collection one of the top assets of the Arboretum. As with any asset, trees require care as they age, and it is the gap between Morris Arboretum’s existing resources and its overall maintenance needs that is the deferred maintenance for tree care.  As an example, if the arboretum were able to spend 1% of the total value annually on the care of its collection, it should be spending $250,000 each year on tree care. The good news is that there is a full-time arborist staff member plus an intern, and the arboretum is also able to contract out for arboriculture work throughout the year. This budget, however, is significantly less than $250,000, so as the annual maintenance budget lags, the deferred maintenance continues to accumulate, and there is a backlog of work that needs to be completed. 

Morris Arboretum is taking the next step in its tree care which is to put a value on this backlog of deferred work. There is currently a proposal to assess all of the trees in the collection by first, measuring the sizes of all of the trees and developing a ranking based on the potential hazard that they pose, and then estimating tree longevity and developing maintenance recommendations. Funds still need to be raised to complete this two-phased assessment, and once these are secured, Morris Arboretum can move to develop a comprehensive tree management plan. 

Simultaneously, the Arboretum is advancing its veteran tree care work, in other words, focusing on the management of its signature specimens. The recent loss of the beloved Bender oak and slow decline of the Engler beech served as a wake-up call to carefully monitor the arboretum’s existing veteran trees. A step towards this was an arborist "round-table" in January, during which a group of internal and external experts came up with recommendations for

Morris Arboretum’s 12 top trees. Based on this, it is moving ahead with work on seven of them and plans to continue the round-table process next year.

The tree collection is the foundation of the Morris Arboretum and is a fundamental aspect of its mission. It is essential to preserve, maintain, and grow the collection in order to achieve the goals of research, horticulture, and education. With continued efforts to focus and improve its arboriculture, Morris Arboretum can ensure that this resource continues for future generations.

Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss


Acer davidii ssp. davidii (David maple). Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Davidia involucrata (Dove Tree) Photo by Amada44, CC BY 3.0.

Davidii is a handy specific epithet to be aware of because in addition to the maple Acer davidii, the Morris Arboretum also grows Astilbe chinenesis var. davidii, Buddleja davidii, Hemiptelea davidii, Rosa davidii, and Sophora davidii.

Who is this “David” honored by the botanical name “davidii?” Père (Father) Armand David was a 19th century French Catholic missionary and an avid collector of plant and animal specimens in China.  More than 100 plant species that he sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris were new to the Europeans, including many species of rhododendrons, maples, cherries, primulas, gentians, and lilies. In addition, he discovered more than 100 animal species that were previously unknown to Europeans, including the giant panda and a rare deer hidden behind the guarded walls of the imperial hunting grounds, now known as Père David’s deer.

When you see “ii” attached to the end of a plant’s specific epithet, know that a masculine person of that name is being honored. The female equivalent is “iae.” Do not feel angst over the pronunciation of Latin names. I sing the lyrics to a children’s song “Old MacDonald Had a Dog, E-I-E-I-O,” and remember that, in the U.S., “davidii” is most commonly pronounced david-E-I. The British often say david-E-E. And the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder Voice says Acer david-I, Buddleja david-E-I, and Sophora david-E-I. So you are almost sure to find someone who agrees with your pronunciation!

Even more impressive than the large number of plants bearing the specific epithet davidii is the fact that Père David has a genus named after him: Davidia. There is only one species in the genus and that is Davidia involucrata. This tree is a sight to behold with its wonderful dove or handkerchief-like white bracts attached to the flowers in late spring. And, yes, this China native was discovered by Père David, himself.  And, yes, the Morris Arboretum’s collection includes specimens of the variety Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana!

So why not see as many of the Père David plants as you can? And, just to add some pizzazz, find Pinus armandii, also named for Père Armand David! As you begin to notice plants with specific epithets ending in “ii,” remember that there is a real man who has contributed to society, usually in the realm of the natural world, behind that name. The mapped locations of all of them can be found at Collection Connection.

Buddleja davidii ‘Nanho Purple’ (Nanho Purple Butterfly- bush) at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Buddleja davidii ‘Nanho Purple’ (Nanho Purple Butterfly- bush) at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.