By Jason Lubar, Associate Director of Urban Forestry Morris Arboretum


I am always sad when I have to condemn a significant and beloved tree to death. Such is the case with the large hackberry tree on Stenton Avenue whose canopy is shaped like an “O” or donut because of years of careful pruning around the electric wires that penetrate through its canopy.  This tree is just west of Northwestern Avenue, right across from Bloomfield Farm. Today, this tree, known by the many drivers who commute along Stenton Avenue, is being removed.

We noticed that the tree, adjacent to Erdenheim Farm, had significant structural issues, so I recommended that an in-depth inspection be carried out so an informed judgement could be made about the tree.   Andrew Hawkes, Morris Arboretum’s arborist, Trish Kemper, our urban forestry technician, and I visited and tree and discovered it  to be hollow with fairly large cavity openings on four sides of the trunk. The extent of the decay was too great, and the risk from the whole tree failing and landing on Stenton Avenue was unacceptable, so I condemned the tree to be removed.

Lizzie from Erdenheim Farm bemoans the loss of the “Cheerio Tree” and remembers it from her childhood:

“I grew up in Chestnut Hill and began riding horses when I was seven years old. There was a handful of kids who rode at the same barn about an hour away. Our moms would take turns carpooling. Up to seven kids in a car, to and from, was crazy and memorable, and gave us lots of time for making up games. One of those games was Cheerio Tree.  The rules were simple: when the Cheerio tree came into sight you yell "CHEERIO TREE!". The first to say it won. Sometimes we would add up the score over a period of time, but usually it was just a win for the day.

It is interesting that two former Morris Arboretum Urban Forestry interns were involved with removing this hazardous, but beloved tree, one who works at PECO’s Vegetation Management Department, and the other working for Davey Tree, who coordinated the removal.


Contributed by Thom Mrazik, Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

Cornus sericea 'Cardinal' next to Pump House

Drift of red twig Cornus sp. at end of Oak Allee

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' near Oak Allee


Remember “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the song by Pete Seeger, with opening lyrics of “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose”? Plants are experts at knowing the seasons and the right time to show their best. For example, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) consistently kicks off spring with showy petals. Meanwhile, the handsome kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) tree knows to catch our attention in fall with its scarlet leaves and red fruits.

Why wait months? Discover dogwood beauty right now at the Arboretum, and go hunting for dogwood shrubs, commonly referred to as red twig dogwood. These woody shrubs—Cornus alba, Cornus sericea, and Cornus sanguinea—are enjoyed in the landscape for their boldly colored red stems (or twigs), most apparent after they lose their leaves and especially when there is snow on the ground. Sometimes, the red mingles with orange and yellow colors on the same plant. When planted in groups, they fill a garden space with artful arrays of solidly colored, erect, and sometimes twisty, long lines.

Where can you find red twig dogwood at the Arboretum? Use the plant catalogue to find their approximate locations.

I found several displays of red twig dogwood in front of the main entrance gate to the Arboretum, even more were growing around the Pump House and near the stream. Along the wetland border, I observed drifts of reddish, densely stemmed shrubs, but the map noted them instead to be Salix (willow)—a topic for another time.

But, let's get back to dogwoods. I was pleased to find a large cluster of shrubs at the end of the Oak Allée, including nearby, a Cornus cultivar with gradations of red, orange, and yellow stems. Remember, in every season at the Arboretum, you’ll find the best of what dogwoods have to offer. Check out the plant catalogue and go exploring.


Contributed by Guest Blogger Rick Sellano

Engaging urban populations in environmental issues is critical for creating beautiful, healthy cities, says Dr. Ari Novy, our recent guest speaker. Last Wednesday, February 1, we had the privilege of listening to a talk by Dr. Novy, Executive Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, when he visited Morris Arboretum. A plant evolutionary ecologist by training concerned with plant conservation, Dr. Novy shared his insights on both the current and future interrelationships of plants and urban populations. He believes that some of today’s city environments are cause for concern, but more importantly, as an optimist, sees urban space as fertile ground for ecological opportunities.

According to Dr. Novy, as more people around the world move into cities, fewer have regular contact with natural or agricultural landscapes. Our success and survival as a society, Dr. Novy explained, rely on our ability to maximize the education provided by the presence of plant life in our cities. Dr. Novy is concerned about the disconnect he sees happening in these urban locations. By example, he pointed out that people are abundantly present in cities, but that plants are not necessarily so. Obviously, that’s not true in every case, but he believes it is an ominous circumstance. If plants do not have a strong urban presence, particularly in the form of agriculture, then there’s fallout. We lose track of declines in animal biodiversity, and we become less aware of “what goes into” the plants we eat.

But there is some good news about food. Perhaps owing to the direction of current cuisine, and likely bolstered by TV cooking programs, a farm-to-table approach to cooking and dining has helped bridge the gap. It’s a dash of hope to Dr. Novy. Still, he holds strong to his vision and tells us that our cities need better gardens, better parks. Dr. Novy is encouraged by the Orange County Great Park (expanding at the former El Toro Marine Air Station) and sees it as inspiration for the ideals of future urban spaces. Not yet completed, the El Toro expansion will boast almost 700 acres of parkland and a 194-acre sports park, an extensive range of sports fields, an agriculture component and a wildlife corridor. Dr. Novy highlighted that the El Toro expansion is an urban space that will provide a range of functions including resources to learn about plant evolution and ecology. That’s something he truly appreciates!

To wrap up, Dr. Novy reminded us that “…we rely more on plants than we think, for example, even in the clothes we wear…and a vast amount of the planet’s land is used to source clothing, food, and everything else we derive from plants.” Heightening our awareness of plant importance and land usage helps ignite necessary conversations on the topics of ecology and biodiversity. “This is a starting point… to explain the importance of plants to an ever-growing urban population,” he said. Dr. Novy sees our future prosperity as dependent on our ability to care for, understand, and appreciate plants. He encourages us to promote the use of urban spaces for agriculture and for people everywhere to teach others about the life cycles and important roles of plants.


Learn more about Dr. Ari Novy

Learn about future Morris Arboretum talks

Contributed by Guest Blogger Rick Sellano

Moral dilemmas regarding the effects of pollution on our cities (and now our planet) have been around for a long time. Some believe air and water contamination are an unfortunate, but necessary, by-products of industrialization and advancement. The word "advancement" might provoke some mixed sentiments since clean power from sustainable windmills and watermills has been available for ages. But centuries ago, we weren’t manufacturing cars.

Add skepticism to the mix, something that seems to plague the topic of climate change, and things get a bit muddier. There’s no doubt that an open mind is a valuable vessel and that the process of questioning advances learning. Going strictly with environmental science, EPA research provides two key predictions: “First, continued emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to further climate change—a warmer atmosphere, a warmer and more acidic ocean, higher sea levels and larger changes in precipitation patterns. Second, the extent of future climate change depends on what we do now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The more we emit, the more extensive future changes will be.”

A plumb plan to explore the path of our dynamic global landscape is to attend our presentation by Dr. John Francis on March 5, at 2:00 pm, at the Ambler Campus Learning Center Auditorium. Dr. Francis will speak about his transformation from an environmental activist to an environmental practitioner—and how his and our personal journeys might lead us closer to sustainability. This may be your chance to discover if there’s more you can and want to do to safeguard the environment.

Dr. Francis began to enact his environmental energy and passion in 1971 after witnessing an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. He stopped using motorized vehicles and took a vow of silence lasting 17 years. He earned three degrees, including a doctorate in land resources, from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Later, he served as project manager for the United States Coast Guard Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and authored "Planetwalker: 17 Years of Silence, 22 Years of Walking" and "Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World."

Our world is precious and its ecosystems, in many ways, delicate. At Morris Arboretum, we believe that being an advocate for the environment means tapping into as much information as possible. We hope you'll take advantage of this chance to learn how one person—walking the talk—can make a significant impact. Also, find out if even in a small way, you can cultivate heartier support for our planet. Registration for Dr. Francis’s lecture is required. Register here.