Article by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Pulmonaria spp. (lungworts) are spring-flowering plants named for the spotted leaves of the type species, P. officinalis. The genus Pulmonaria means “lung” as the spotted leaves resemble diseased lungs. P. officinalis was touted as medicine for lung ailments, officinalis meaning “sold in stores” and denoting a plant with culinary or medicinal use. The common name is lungwort; “wort” is an old English suffix that means “plant.”

1834 anatomic drawing of pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis).1834 anatomic drawing of pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis). Lungwort has spotted leaves reminiscent of the diseased lung seen on top. (CC BY 4.0)
Pulmonaria sp. flowering with spotted foliage at the Morris ArboretumPulmonaria sp. with spotted foliage, growing in a shaded area at the Morris Arboretum. The red and yellow flower is Spigelia marilandica. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

The Doctrine of Signatures is a pseudoscience held forth in various forms since ancient times that theorized the resemblance of a plant part to a human organ correlated with its ability to cure diseases of that organ: walnuts, with the brain-like appearance of their nuts, would strengthen the brain; and liverworts, with their liver-shaped leaves, would cure jaundice. Despite the magical appeal of “sympathetic medicine,” the spots on pulmonaria foliage did not evolve to direct humans to a cure for lung diseases; rather, the spots are air pockets just under the leaf surface that may serve to cool the leaf.

In addition to the leaves, the flowers are also of interest, providing bees with much needed nectar in early spring. The flowers of most pulmonaria species show pink or violet buds maturing to that distinct shade of blue that is often seen in Boraginaceae (the borage family), which includes Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebell) and Myositis scorpioides (forget-me-not).

Pulmonaria sp. flowering at the Morris Arboretum.Pulmonaria sp. flowering at the Morris Arboretum. This photo was taken in the center of the Oak Allée where a curved wall creates a space for a bench. Photo by Nancy Matlack.
Pulmonaria</em>‘Raspberry Splash’ growing in a garden in a suburb of Philadelphia. Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ growing in a garden in a suburb of Philadelphia. This cultivar is known for raspberry-colored flowers and a long bloom time. Photo by Nancy Matlack.

There are an estimated ten to eighteen species of pulmonaria, but none are native to North America. Nursery scientists actively hybridize the species to create plants with white, pink, or red flowers and variously spotted or non-spotted leaves. Look for the pulmonaria at the Morris Arboretum as you walk down the Oak Allée. While the flowers are a springtime treat, the leaves are held at least until winter and spark an interesting conversation about the name.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and freelance writer. You can contact her with comments at




Article and photo by Andrew Conboy, Martha S. Miller Endowed Urban Forestry Intern


The Morris Arboretum Urban Forestry Consultants recently inspected a tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at the historic Anglecot property in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. The consultants first assessed this tree in 2009, after a resident expressed concern about a large cavity at the tree’s base.

The mature tree measured 235’’ in circumference at 2’ above the ground, and was roughly 100’ tall. We estimated the age to be upwards of 130 years old, meaning that it may be one of the original landscape trees planted on the property when it was built in 1883. Because of its impressive size, the tree could strike the nearest building or land on Stenton Avenue if it failed at the base.

The cavity is located at the very base of the trunk and appeared to be quite extensive. We measured its size (Photo 1, below) and compared it to our 2009 measurement. In those 13 years, the cavity has grown 9” wider and 14” taller (Photo 2, below).

Andrew Conboy (Urban Forestry Fellow) measuring tree cavity.
iews of the tree cavity in 2009 and 2022.

We used a stick to probe the extent of decay within the cavity (photo 3), and found that the decay extended throughout the majority of the base. A new vertical crack above the cavity was also observed, which was absent in our 2009 analysis.

You may be wondering if there is anything we can do to save a tree in this condition. Can we chip away the decayed wood and fill it with concrete or foam? While this may seem like a good idea, it is unfortunately not very effective and may actually speed decay or damage the tree even further. Decay organisms like fungi will remain inside the cavity even if it’s filled, and filling the cavity creates a cool, damp, and dark environment in which fungi can thrive.

But how strong is the rest of the trunk? Is the wood sturdy enough to hold the tree upright for much longer? To answer those questions, we assessed the structural integrity of the remaining wood by using a resistance drill. As this drill penetrates the wood, it measures the resistive force that the wood exerts on the drill bit, and records those forces on a graph paper in real time (photo 4). If the wood is strong and free of decay, it will be more difficult for the bit to move through it (green areas on photo 4). If the wood is weak and decayed (or nonexistent), the drill will move through it very easily (red areas on photo 4). We gathered resistance drill data from six locations around the tree’s base. These graphs ultimately make it easier for us to assess wood strength in places we cannot see.

A stick probe pushed into the decay cavity of the tree.
Sample graphs from resistance drill.

In 2009, the team conducted a similar analysis and ultimately recommended that the tree remain in place but be closely monitored. However, because the extent of decay in the cavity has grown quite substantially since then, we concluded that the tree is no longer structurally safe to be retained in the landscape. We recommended that this tree be topped to a standing snag of about 20’ and left as valuable habitat for wildlife. Numerous insects, birds and even bats will make this snag their home for as long as its left standing. Because the tree occupied such a large space, we recommended that two native canopy trees be planted to take its place, including another tulip-tree.

As a tree lover, it’s always tough to sentence a large tree to death. Whenever a tree like this is lost, it is important to plant at least one to replace it. Learn more about the Morris Arboretum Urban Forestry Consultants here

Andrew Conboy received his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Chestnut Hill College and his master's degree in Biology from Lehigh University. He is passionate about trees and plants and their potential for remediating environmental issues. He runs a local non-profit called Colonial Canopy Trees and enjoys creating educational video content focused on trees and environmental topics.  

Article by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Photos by Nancy B. Matlack

 Echo and Narcissus by J.W. Waterhouse, 1903. Echo and Narcissus by J.W. Waterhouse, 1903.
Notice the white narcissus flowers by the foot of Narcissus. (Public Domain)


Narcissus is an ancient name for native Mediterranean bulbs that produce showy yellow and white flowers in the spring. Narcissus is also the name of the mythical Greek youth who died of unrequited love for his own reflection. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the body of Narcissus is replaced by a flower with white petals surrounding a yellow heart. From this description it is not possible to be sure that Ovid was describing what we now know as Narcissus spp.; nonetheless, linking the flower and the legendary youth, both with the same name, has piqued the human imagination over the centuries.

 A more mundane etymology was put forth by Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman naturalist, who specified that the narcissus flower was not named for the lad, but instead comes from the Greek narkao, meaning "I grow numb" and referring to the intoxicating fragrance of some species. Others associate the “numbness” with the poisonous nature of the bulbs, leaves, and flowers—a defense against creatures such as rabbits, squirrels, and deer.

The common name for most Narcissus spp. is daffodil, the result of adding, for some uncertain reason, an initial “d” to asphodel, the name of another flowering bulb native to the Mediterranean. Asphodel flowers do not resemble Narcissus spp., but they are also white or yellow and associated with death in Greek mythology. Narcissus jonquilla has a particular common name: jonquil.

Yellow asphodel growing on Crete. Yellow asphodel growing on Crete. The word daffodil is the result of adding an initial “d” to asphodel. Notice that the asphodel lacks the central corona/trumpet/cup of the daffodil.
(H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0)
A close-up of daffodils growing at Morris Arboretum.Narcissus spp. at the Morris Arboretum. Photo by Nancy Matlack.
Daffodils growing at the Morris Arboretum.Narcissus spp. at the Morris Arboretum. Daffodils multiply, both sexually by producing seeds and asexually by producing bulb offsets. Photo by Nancy Matlack.

What unifies the over fifty species and 32,000 registered cultivars of Narcissus spp.? Their shared feature is a central corona, described as a “trumpet” when it is long and a “cup” when it is short. Flowers are defined as “complete” if they have four organs: sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils; Narcissus is one of the very rare plant genera that adds a fifth organ, the corona, to the flower. This corona or crown seems to play a role in reproductive success by seed production, and it certainly adds to their unique attractiveness.

Enjoy them this season as you walk through the Morris Arboretum. Hybridization and cultivars have resulted in a wide variety of colors and forms. If you want to become more of a daffodil expert, check out the American Daffodil Society.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and free-lance writer. You can contact her with comments or requests for photos at  

By Mia Hoppel

While we (not so) patiently wait for the last frost to rear its head and the weather to warm, why not read a new-to-you book about plants and nature? Mia Hoppel—Philadelphia high school student, home gardener, and volunteer gardener with the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as well as Laurel and West Laurel Hill Cemetery—rounded up four of her recent favorite books on nature, ranging from the story of a teenage climate activist in Northern Ireland to Robin Wall Kimmerer's critically acclaimed Braiding Sweetgrass.  

Diary of a Young Naturalist
By Dara McAnulty
Ebury Press, 2021

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty


Diary of a Young Naturalist tells the story of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty, a young climate activist from Northern Ireland. His journal entries are separated by season, allowing the reader to witness changes in the natural world alongside the changes in McAnulty himself as he gets older and his perspective evolves. This is a heartwarming tale, which offers insight into the struggles young people are facing today. From the expected difficulties that come with growing up during a pandemic and climate crises, McAnulty, an autistic teenager, is in the middle of it all, balancing schoolwork, activism, personal relationships, and his deep care for the environment. McAnulty’s writings on nature are vivid, drawing the reader into the moment and sharing everything he’s witnessed, from the smallest creature to the tallest mountain. McAnulty has done incredible work as an activist and is the youngest ever recipient of the RSBP Medal, but Diary of a Young Naturalist is not wholly about activism; it’s a book containing a year of McAnulty’s life in which climate activism is an intrinsic aspect. His joy in nature is what draws the reader in; it’s inspiring, hopeful, and offers a relatable experience of the natural world.



By Matt Collins
Photography by Roo Lewis
Chronicle Books, 2020

Forest by Matt Collins.


Forest is filled with compelling stories and gorgeous photography separated into ten chapters, each telling the story of a specific tree: pine, hornbeam, Douglas Fir, oak, juniper, birch, chestnut, poplar, beech, and cherry. Based in London, author Matt Collins and photographer Roo Lewis travel to several different countries, visiting different locations in which they find these trees, including tree farms, forests, wolf preserves, and even a woodworker’s shop. Forest is not an expert’s guide on trees, and does not tell very much in terms of their biological composition or functions. It is nonfiction told like fiction: a compelling and engaging story of a tree lover going to interesting places in which trees can be found and exploring their relationship with the humans around them—something anyone who enjoys trees can relate to. The book itself reads like a walk in the forest, ambling peacefully from one tree to the next, and this aspect coupled with the stunning photography makes it a favorite on my shelf. If you could contain a forest within a book, it would look like this one.



The Botanical Bible
by Sonya Patel Ellis
Abrams, 2018

The Botanical Bible by Sonya Patel Ellis


The Botanical Bible does many things: it’s an introduction to botany, recipe book, gardening guide, overview of nature-inspired art, and a story about humans and plants. As a book, its purpose is to provide the reader with the ability to engage with nature on a deeper level, and it begins with basic botany and the history of horticulture, providing the groundwork for what is to come in its pages. After using the beginning of this book to tell the origins of the story of plants, Sonya Patel Ellis shares many different uses for the plants in question: how to grow your own food, recipes for seasonal eating, how to create plant-based remedies for health and beauty, recipes for housekeeping, and different types of nature-inspired art. All of this is thoughtfully compiled and placed in The Botanical Bible alongside gorgeous photography and illustrations, making it a beautiful book to have on the coffee table, and it gives readers the resources to build a strong relationship with the environment. Whether that relationship is built through art, gardening, cooking, or something else, the recipes and ideas are available in this book.



Braiding Sweetgrass
By Robin Wall Kimmerer
Milkweed Editions, 2013

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer


Braiding Sweetgrass is an incredibly well-written book, and it’s packed with good information. Robin Wall Kimmerer tells her tale as a mother, botanist, professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, weaving together stories from different periods of her life and creating a narrative in which the reader can see the interplay of all these aspects. Her experiences in each of these areas have built her relationship with nature, and she is able to skillfully share that relationship by relating her experiences and her beliefs on the environment. Braiding Sweetgrass is full of the author’s love of the world coupled with the environmental tragedies of today, which can have a gut-wrenching impact. These stories are mirrored in Kimmerer’s personal life, creating an interconnected and compelling book that is tied to the author’s deep knowledge and understanding of plants, built through her career as a scientist and through indigenous teachings. Altogether, this is an emotional and eye-opening book, providing wonderful information and a compelling perspective on society and the environment.






Mia Hoppel is a Philadelphia high school senior with a passion for gardening and writing. She is a volunteer gardener at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s native plant garden, a frequent volunteer with the Laurel and West Laurel Hill Cemetery’s horticulture team, and maintains a home garden. She is an editor and writer for Planet A, a journal of environmental writing and art for young people ages 8-18.