We are hosting a contribution drive for the benefit of ACLAMO in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, an Arboretum partner organization who needs our help!

The fallout from Hurricane Ida has severely impacted ACLAMO’s families and their children, and so we are collecting the following items for their use:

  • Non-perishable food items
  • Diapers (especially sizes 5,6,7)
  • Baby wipes
  • Female Sanitary products
  • General cleaning products (Clorox wipes, rags, mops, et al.)

We'll be collecting items from Wednesday, September 15 through Friday, September 24th. Any items you are able to contribute are greatly appreciated. Please bring your contributions during normal business hours to the Arboretum’s entry gate where a collection bin can be found.

Read more about our partnership with ACLAMO here




Article and photos by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum near the Morris Arboretum Springhouse.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

In 2004, Athyrium niponicum var.  pictum (Japanese painted fern) received the Perennial Plant of the Year award for being one of the most colorful and resilient ferns for the garden. Its feathery sage, silver, and burgundy foliage can brighten a shady area from spring through November, when it dies back for the winter—and it’s deer resistant! 

The genus name Athyrium derives from the Greek "athyros," meaning doorless, and refers to the hinged indusia, a covering that protects the sorus, a collection of spore cases which are slow to open (see bottom right photo). Niponicum means of or from Japan, although this species is also native to North China, Korea, and Taiwan. Pictum means painted or highly colored, and in contrast to Athyrium niponicum, which is an all-green fern, the variant picum has burgundy midribs and veins accenting the silvery green leaflets. Cultivars such as 'Burgundy Lace’ and ‘Pewter Lace' show enhanced coloration. There are also some hybrids between Japanese painted fern and the native Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern). One such hybrid is ‘Branford Beauty,' combining the colorful curved fronds of the Japanese painted fern with the textured leaves of the lady fern rather than the spreading rhizomatous habit of the Japanese painted fern, the hybrid inherited the erect habit of the lady fern.

Scientists at the New York Botanical Garden are wondering if Athyrium niponicum var. pictum may be the first exotic fern to naturalize in the New York City area, as the spores from this plant, endemic to East Asia, spread via wind to moist, fertile areas away from where they were planted. These scientists are asking us to photograph examples of this fern growing in places where it does not seem to have been deliberately planted by humans, and to send photos to iNaturalist, a useful and free app for your phone, so that they can be studied for evidence of naturalization. With iNaturalist you can take photos of plants, animals, or fungi and get immediate computer-generated ID suggestions. Additionally, you have the option to contribute your observation, and over the following weeks the iNaturalist scientific community will offer opinions as to the correct species name. If concordance is reached, your observation will be considered Research Grade”—what a satisfying way to advance worldwide mapping of the natural world!

J-shaped sori (collections of spore cases) on the backs of frond leaflets.J-shaped sori (collections of spore cases) on the backs of frond leaflets.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.
 Japanese painted fern sorus
Each sorus is covered by a protective membranous indusium. 
Photo by Brian Johnston.

Come enjoy the Japanese painted ferns at Morris Arboretum; there are large patches growing in the shade by the main parking lotnear the Springhouse complex, and in the Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery. Not all fern species have sori on the undersides of their fronds, but August igood month to look at the leaflets of those that do; the position, size, and shape of sori is important information for fern ID (see left photo). And, while you are exploring, why not put on your citizen scientist hat and send an observation to iNaturalist? 

P.S. Want to try growing ferns from spores? Here’s a tip sheet with easy directions, written by William Cullina, the F. Otto Haas Executive Director of Morris Arboretum. 

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a freelance writer. You can contact her with comments or requests for photos at botanicaltours.weebly.com 

As an arboretum, we're devoted to the existence and potential of trees within nature as well as communities, which is why we're calling on our visitors to support The Residential Energy and Economic Savings Act (TREES Act) of 2021. 

U.S. Congress is considering creating a new program that would plant 300,000 trees a year, mainly in high-heat, underserved urban communities—like many Philadelphia neighborhoods. 

Trees are often sparse in underserved communities, and as a result people who have the hardest time covering cooling and heating expenses in their homes are the same people who have higher energy bills. The TREES Act would provide funding to plant trees in areas that need them most, with the goal of cooling neighborhoods and reducing energy costs. Trees planted through this program would also help mitigate climate change and absorb pollutants that are harmful to people with respiratory illnesses.

The $50 million annual program, which would be run by the U.S. Department of Energy, would provide funding to a variety of groups including, potentially, Philadelphia City Government and non-profit organizations. Help us push for more funding for tree planting in areas that need it most by asking your Congressional leaders to co-sponsor TREES Act (H.R. 3522 and S. 1782)

Sign the petition today!

And to learn more about the history of trees in Philadelphia and the ongoing work to improve access in underserved communities, check out the Tree Plan as well as our friends at Tree Philly!

Article and photos by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Monarda didyma in the Morris Arboretum Herb Garden.

Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm) is a tall native perennial growing in the Morris Arboretum Herb Garden. Monarda is named for Nicolás Monardes (1494–1588), a Spanish physician and botanist. While he never traveled to the Americas, he was able to gain information about herbs from the West Indies by frequenting the Port of Seville (the only commercial riverport in Spain) and talking to motley sources including sailors, soldiers, merchants, friars, and officials; some even brought him seed samples, which he was able to grow in his garden in Seville. From 1565–1574, Monardes published the first American flora, a series of books about new medicines and plants coming from across the Atlantic. His fame was such that in 1753, almost 200 years later, Linnaeus honored him by naming Monarda, a genus endemic to North America, for him. 

Didyma means “in pairs,” pointing out that the male reproductive parts (stamens) are paired. This is shown clearly in the botanical illustration (right), emphasizing the value of botanical illustrations and how they can highlight plant features in ways that a single photograph cannot.

Long Y-tipped stigmas and shorter paired stamens with yellow anthers (Abraham Jacobus Wendel, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Monarda didyma also has a special tie with Philadelphia’s famous botanist, horticulturalist, and explorer John Bartram. In 1743, Bartram was invited go on a peace mission to meet with Iroquois leaders in upstate New York. During this expedition he discovered settlers near Fort Oswego brewing tea with the leaves of Monarda didyma, which was introduced to them by Native Americans, resulting in “Oswego tea” as a common name for the herb. Bartram sent Monarda didyma to England, where it first flowered in 1746; it is now naturalized in Europe. “The Brother Gardeners” by Andrea Wulf tells this story and many others about native North American plants such as flowering dogwoods, lady’s slipper orchids, sweetgums, and tulip poplars that Bartram sent from Philadelphia to Europe in the 18th century. Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America, is currently free and open to the public.

Monarda didyma is a member of Lamiaceae, the mint family, and has the characteristic square stems, opposite leaves, small colorful flowers with upper and lower lips, and strongly scented foliage. The flower head of Monarda didyma consists of small, unscented, individual carmine red flowers atop leafy bracts, while the scented foliage of Monarda didyma has been likened to that of bergamot orange, a component of Earl Grey tea, explaining “bergamot” as another common name for Monarda didyma.

On your next visit to Morris Arboretum, be sure to check out the Herb Garden (at the base of the Rose Garden); it's filled with annuals and perennials including Monarda didyma, striking for both its tall height and its vibrant red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and bees.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a left-handed botanical tour guide and freelance writer. You can contact her with comments or requests for photos at botanicaltours.weebly.com