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

Last week it was sad to watch as two venerable pines were removed from near Gates Hall – our native white pine (Pinus strobus #1936-7382*A) and an Austrian pine (Pinus nigra var. nigra #1948-8556*A).  I am always sorry to see mature trees removed and miss their presence in the landscape.  In the case of these two pines, not only were they handsome specimens that I enjoyed when walking to and from my office every day, but they both have interesting links to the Arboretum’s history.  

White pine is one of our native pine species, and reaches majestic proportions in the wild and in landscapes.  Strongly pyramidal when young, with age they become more open and their branching takes on a great deal of character.  This particular white pine was received by the Arboretum as an eight-to-nine foot tall tree in November of 1936 from Maurice Bower Saul, Lydia Morris’s attorney who helped establish the arrangement between Lydia and the University of Pennsylvania.  At the time, it was planted close to what was the Arboretum’s property line, with the neighboring estate Overlea (what we now call Gates Hall).  This was long before the current entrance drive and parking lots, and this area would become one of the main conifer collections at the Arboretum, the remnants of which still surround our parking lots. 

Among his many accomplishments, Maurice Saul was a Trustee at Penn, founder member of the law firm Ewing, Remick & Saul, Lydia Morris’s attorney, and long-time counsel of the Arboretum (for more information see Untold Stories of Comption: The Attorney).  It was with his assistance that Lydia navigated a path to have the Arboretum become part of the University of Pennsylvania.

This pine was paired with a large specimen of bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa #1932-1169*A) planted in September 1926 by the National Association of Gardeners, “in commemoration of their visit to Compton, in appreciation of John and Lydia Morris’s role in advancing the art of horticulture and gardening in America”.  So, for the past 80-plus years, these two trees, marked an enduring representation of the relationship between Lydia Morris and Maurice Saul.

Austrian pine is a picturesque tree, with a wide-spreading crown and striking white bark.  Austrian pines are very susceptible to needle cast diseases; due to our hot and humid summers, this tree had been increasingly affected the past few years, and there was very little life left in it.  This particular tree was part of the Overlea (Gates Hall) landscape and was here in 1948 when Penn purchased this property.  At that time, the Arboretum and University administration intended to renovate the Morrises’ mansion, Compton, and purchased the neighboring property to relocate the research, educational, and administrative functions of the Arboretum (see Biodiversity Heritage Library).  In addition to the Austrian pine, there are a number of trees that were part of that property, including the large plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia), copper beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Atropunicea'), red oak (Quercus rubra) and Golden English oak (Quercus robur 'Concordia').  Because 1948 was the year that this property became part of the Arboretum, all of these trees all have 1948 accession numbers, marking the year that they were officially recorded.  It is likely that these were planted at or around the time that Overlea was built in 1893. 

All of the plants at the Arboretum have stories to tell.  Some of these stories are more involved than others, and in the case of these two pines, they provide links to characters and places in our history.


Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’  was planted in the Azalea Meadow at Morris Arboretum in 2003.

Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss in 2018.

Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’ is one of the more striking evergreens at Morris Arboretum.  Pinus is the Latin name for a pine tree. Densiflora means densely flowered, a misnomer because pines reproduce, not by flowers, but by cones! While not botanically accurate, densiflora is probably an allusion to the densely clustered male and numerous female cones on these trees. The cultivar nameOculus Draconis’ refers to the view from the reddish terminal bud surrounded by concentric layers of long, yellow and green variegated needles, which is said to look like the “eye of the dragon.” Its unofficial Japanese cultivar name ‘Jano-Metranslates to “eye of the snake.”  Dragon’s Eye Japanese Red Pine is the common name because young bark has a reddish color.

This particular variegated pine has been cultivated in Japanese gardens for centuries. The variegation in the Dragon’s Eye Pine is a mutation wherein the yellow portions of the needle do not produce green chlorophyll, the chemical needed for  the photosynthesis of sugars; thus yellow areas of the needle do not contribute to the plant’s energy needs. On the other hand, one positive aspect of variegated cultivars is that some pests may avoid the trees, perceiving them as abnormal or diseased.


Dragon’s Eye Japanese Red Pine- do you see the eye of the dragon?

Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss in 2018.

In addition to Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus- Draconis,’ Morris Arboretum has four other types of P. densiflora.  Pinus densiflora is the straight species.  Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’ is a beautiful multi-trunked cultivar valued for its umbrella-like crown. The hybrid Pinus densiflora x pinus thunbergia (named for botanist Pehr Thunberg 1743-1845) is a cross between the Japanese Red Pine and the Japanese  Black Pine; the natural hybrid is  considered to be a good omen in Japan.  Pinus densiflora x ( densiflora x thunbergia) is a twice hybridized tree. 

A dwarf cultivar named ‘Morris Arboretum W.B.’ is pictured on the American Conifer Society site. Despite its name, this cultivar is NOT a specimen at Morris Arboretum.  According to Anthony Aiello, the Director of Horticulture, its provenance is not certain, but it may have been collected from a witches’ broom (a genetically altered branch) growing on a Pinus densiflora at Morris Arboretum.

So, there is a lot to entertain any budding botanist: reddish bark, dragon eyes, snake eyes, umbrellas and witches’ brooms.  And you may be lucky enough to receive the added bonus of seeing the beauty of these pines enhanced by snow! You can find all tree locations on the maps found on the Collection Connection or in the Morris Arboretum Plant Catalogue

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


Acer pensylvanicum- bark. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Acer pensylvanicum was one of many New World species exported by the Philadelphian plant explorer John Bartram (1699-1777) to his European colleagues, including to a patron, Lord Petre who carefully maintained many of the samples in his personal herbarium collection.

Acer pensylvanicum- leaves. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

What does the genus name “Acer” tell us?  Acer is the Latin name for maple. Acer means sharp, referring to the fact that the Romans used the hard wood of the maple to make spears.

Bartram’s specimen of Acer pensylvanicum, in the Petre Herbarium at the Sutro Library, San Francisco State University. Notice Bartram’s handwritten note describing the maple before it had been named A. pensylvanicum.


So why is this maple named A. pensvlvanicum and why is it spelled with only one “n”?  In 1681, King Charles II granted a land charter and called the tract ‘’Pennsylvania” meaning “Penn’s Woods” to honor William Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn. Spelling not being consistent in the 18th century, however, the name appeared variously as “Pennsylvania,” “Pensylvania” (as on the Liberty Bell), and even “Pennsilvania.” No matter how you spell it though, “pensylvanicum” is the perfect choice of specific epithet for this understory tree native to the Pennsylvania (and other Northeastern) woods. This Latinized name was recorded in 1753 by Linnaeus, the Father of Taxonomy.  Once a plant is officially named, the rules allow for no change in the spelling.  So the one “n” is here to stay.  I like to think of it as a quaint reminder that, before Noah Webster published his 70,000-word dictionary in 1828, American English spelling was simply not standardized.

Common names also tell us a lot about a tree: think of moosewood (moose and deer browse on the leaves and twigs), striped maple (look for the white stripes on the bark), goosefoot maple (did you notice the leaf shape?), snakebark maple (the bark looks like snakeskin), whistlewood (small branches are easily made into whistles), and Pennsylvanianvaahtera (the Finn’s double the “n”).


Morris Arboretum is home to three Acer pensylvanicum trees, unique because they are the only snakebark maple native to North America. You can find their locations on the Collection Connection or in the Morris Arboretum Plant Catalogue.


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


Contributed by Hilary Kratz

Morris Arboretum’s Rose Garden is a planned space, it’s a living space and it’s an inspiring place. You get the feeling of being swept into it, and once you’re there, you’d rather not leave. The colors, the shapes, and the wonderful smells are a feast. It’s the sort of place to think lofty thoughts, take a nap, say a prayer or maybe just watch chipmunks rush from hidey hole to hidey hole.


Personally, my eyes can’t get enough of it. I have to bring it home. My painting hangs in a yellow room, the reminder of sunshine. The glimpse of a place I love, to comfort me come January.