Arboretum to Participate in USDA Energy Awareness Days

The National Arboretum will open a new exhibit and host displays from universities and colleges working on energy issues during the Department of Agriculture’s second annual Bio Energy Awareness Days (BEAD). BEAD is an annual celebration held on the summer solstice to increase awareness and knowledge about alternative sources of energy and to offer information on how efficient use and conservation of energy benefits rural communities and the nation.

BEAD I was sponsored by USDA’s Research Education and Economics Mission Area (REE) and was held June 21, 2007 at the USDA in Washington, D.C. BEAD II will be held at the USDA and at the National Arboretum June 19-22, 2008 and is again sponsored by REE in partnership with other mission areas in USDA, other federal agencies, universities and colleges, and in cooperation with the 25x’25 Alliance.

During BEAD II, approximately 40 universities and colleges will display exhibits—from tractors to posters—that demonstrate their research on energy, renewables, and energy efficiency. The exhibits will fill a large tent in the arboretum’s meadow, and the exhibitors will be invited to a reception hosted by the arboretum and the USDA on June 20th.

On June 21st at 1:30 p.m., the arboretum will have a public ribbon cutting ceremony for its new garden exhibit, Power Plants. The garden features 21 plants that are currently being used or have the potential to be used for biofuel. Visitors will learn how these plants contribute as sources of fuel as well as some of the issues producers face in converting plants into ethanol or biodiesel. The exhibit is a collaborative effort of the gardens, research, and education units at the arboretum; the Agricultural Research Service Information Service; and various other agencies of the USDA. It will continue through 2009 and be posted as a virtual tour on the arboretum’s web site. For an article about the construction of the garden, see the Winter 2008 News and Notes.

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Exhibit at U.S. Botanic Garden Includes Arboretum Display

The arboretum’s Power Plants exhibit will be featured as part of the One Planet—Ours! Exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden, May 24–October 13. The theme of the exhibit is sustainability and how each of us can live for tomorrow as well as for today. Organizations from around the country will showcase garden displays on the Conservatory Terrace and interpretive and sculptural displays in the National Garden and Bartholdi Park. The arboretum’s contribution will be a composition of oil barrels with ornamental counterparts of biofuel plants growing in them, symbolizing the potential that plants have in the quest to replace petroleum for our energy needs.

Tying the USBG exhibit together are “Cool Globes,” more than 40 sculptures of whole-earth solutions to the problems of living unsustainably. One of the globes, featuring alternatives to fossil fuels, will be exhibited in the lobby of the National Arboretum. Artist Peggy Macnamara used 20 different plants that are being studied for their fuel potential to create the globe, which is five feet in diameter.

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Crowds Celebrate the Art of Bonsai at Bonsai Festival

Bonsai took center stage in early May when the U.S. National Arboretum joined forces with the Potomac Bonsai Association (PBA) and the National Bonsai Foundation to host the Potomac Bonsai Festival. On the first weekend in May, local bonsai clubs from the Potomac Bonsai Association brought their best trees to the auditorium for public display. Members of the Potomac Viewing Stone Group contributed a display of viewing stones, an art form related to bonsai.

PBA hosted a sales tent across the road from the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum where a wide range of vendors offered bonsai, pots, tools, soil mixes, and other items for the bonsai enthusiast. Trees from several of the bonsai vendors—many of them talented bonsai artists—were featured in an indoor display in the Special Exhibits Wing of the museum.

Several guest presenters gave bonsai demonstrations at the festival. PBA member Chuck Croft created a forest planting on a slab with Japanese Cedars (Cryptomeria japonica). Cheryl Manning, a longtime student of John Naka from California, styled and repotted a Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergiana). The styling of the pine will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Bonsai Society.

A special guest traveled from Japan to be a featured demonstrator. Award-winning bonsai master Shinichi Nakajima styled two trees—a Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ and a Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata)—one on Saturday and one on Sunday. His Saturday demonstration was so popular that some members of the audience returned on Sunday for his second one. Not only was his instruction inspiring, but also his sense of humor reminded the group that the practice of bonsai should be enjoyable.

Perfect weather brought record crowds to the free festival, with the sales and demonstration tents often filled and overflowing.

Vendors in the Potomac Bonsai Association sales tent offered trees, containers, and other bonsai supplies as well as advice. Bonsai master Shinichi Nakajima demonstrates wiring techniques. Cheryl Manning demonstrates how to transform a plain tree into a treasure.

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U. S. National Seed Herbarium Moves to the Arboretum

The world’s largest and most diverse systematic collection of seeds of flowering and coniferous plants is now part of the National Arboretum. The collection contains approximately 125,000 dried seed and fruit samples from plants throughout the world. Over 27,000 different species of plants representing 397 families and 13,000 genera of plants are represented in this valuable collection. The samples are stored in either glass vials or plastic bags. The entire collection is kept in a secure, moveable compact storage facility.

The National Seed Herbarium serves several important roles, including helping to document biodiversity and seed types of species, varieties, and cultivars, some of which may be extinct. It is an important tool for identifying unknown seeds, and it supports research programs relating to seeds. The collection served as the primary source of information for the most important references for seed identification of noxious weeds, legumes, and families of seed plants published by the USDA. For more information about the seed herbarium, click here.

The seed collection was transferred to the Arboretum in late 2007 from the Plant Sciences Institute of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, where it has resided for many years.

The Seed Herbarium is a companion to and complements the arboretum herbarium, which contains over 600,000 dried specimens of twigs, branches, flowers, and fruits of the world’s flora.

The seed collection is stored in a multi-carriage compactor unit that contains open-face pigeonhole storage compartments. Mora oleifera (Triana) Ducke, largest “bean” in the world, is a legume native to the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador. Smaller seeds are stored in glass vials, which are labeled with the scientific name and the plant introduction number or the plant collector's name.

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Arboretum Hosts Invasive Plant Workshop

In March the arboretum hosted a two-day Workshop on Invasive Plant Research and Partnerships with Ornamental Horticulture and Natural Resource Management. The workshop brought together representatives from the American nursery industry, conservation organizations, and government agencies to discuss and prioritize research topics relevant to management of the invasive species problem by the American nursery industry. The nursery industry is very aware of the danger of inadvertently introducing and distributing invasive species in the course of the introduction, breeding, and nursery distribution of plant material. Workshop participants discussed the best approaches for maintaining a diverse stock of nursery material while reducing the risk of accidentally introducing new invasive species to the country, and identified areas where further research is needed. The 41 participants included National Arboretum scientists Thomas Elias, Richard Olsen, Alan Whittemore, Margaret Pooler, and John Hammond, as well as representatives of the American Nursery and Landscape Association, several commercial nurseries, the Nature Conservancy, public botanical gardens, universities, and several federal and state agencies. A draft report recommending research focus areas and further planning needs has been drafted, and will be released later this spring.

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Greenhouse Construction Nearly Complete

The new greenhouse project at the National Arboretum is now expected to be completed by midsummer. Construction of the frame structure has been completed and all the glass panes have been installed. Currently, construction crews are working on the heating, cooling, and watering systems. Arboretum staff are eager to move in and plan on utilizing the space as soon as it is available.

The greenhouse environment will be controlled using up-to-date technology. A main computer system will be able to monitor temperature, humidity, and light intensity. If the greenhouse starts to get too warm, the computer will open vents in the roof and sides. It will also turn on fans and start an evaporative cooling system, pulling in conditioned air from outside. The greenhouse will come equipped with an automatic shading system as well. When light levels become too high for optimum plant growth, the computer will signal to have the shade cloth automatically stretched over the growing area. As a result, light levels will fall, and will decrease stress on plants growing below. When natural light is reduced to an acceptable level, the shade cloth will fold up along the side of the greenhouse.

A state of the art fog and mist system will be featured in the propagation room. Nozzles will spray water that has been purified by a reverse osmosis system. Humidity will be rigidly controlled to promote even germination of seed and rapid and consistent rooting of vegetative cuttings. Soil temperature will also be maintained at an optimum range for root growth. Because thousands of unique plants are propagated by research and garden staff each year, this new propagation room will operate at capacity during much of the year.

The new greenhouse structure is actually made up of many smaller rooms, each with its own environmental controls. Some sections may be kept quite warm, others much cooler, depending on the needs of the plant materials grown inside. One room will be high enough to grow containers of mature specimens of woody tropical and Mediterranean plants and will feature a large garage door that will allow for vehicle access. Other rooms will be involved in tree and shrub breeding and research. Regardless of use, the new greenhouse complex will be a welcome addition to the nursery facilities at the National Arboretum.

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New Paths and Bridges Constructed In Fern Valley

New bridges and improved trails were installed in the Fern Valley this past winter, as part of the larger project to create a new entrance and accessible path system for Fern Valley. Construction on the new entrance path connecting Fern Valley to the Flowering Tree walk is now underway.

Construction of the first section of improved trail began on December 3. Since then, five sections of new trail have been edged and leveled to make walking through Fern Valley a more enjoyable and easy experience. The paths are composed of red brown stone compacted to form a firm surface that is permeable to water. Fern Valley staff have used the same type of stone to resurface trails that were formerly surfaced with mulch to reduce the need for maintenance. The new trail work improves on that material by adding a more compactable fine-grade gravel. The path surface muffles the sound of footsteps, helping to preserve the tranquility of Fern Valley. The warm and earthy tone of the gravel complements the naturalistic wildflower plantings.

Two bridges and a boardwalk were replaced in the Northern Woods section of the garden. The most exciting and noticeable change is the new bridge crossing the Fern Valley stream. The old bridge had a daunting approach for some, steps on one side and a narrow trail on the other. The new bridge now meets the trail grade at both ends, joining new and more accommodating trails, and offering even better views of the Fern Valley woodland. Glimpses of the National Capitol Columns are now visible from the higher bridge. Custom railings for the bridges will be installed this summer; when this work is completed, bridges and paths between them will be opened.

Two viewing platforms have also been constructed. One looks over the upper section of the Valley with its ferns and stony slopes. The other is near the pond and offers views of the middle portion of the valley.

Remaining work for the project will be completed in 2009. In the future, the accessible path system in Fern Valley will serve as the gateway for the accessible path system that will allow visitors to stroll all the way to the Asian and Conifer Collections without encountering steep slopes or steps.

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Successful Winter Programs Bring Gardeners In From the Cold

The love of gardening does not stop in the cold, gray days of winter—it just moves inside. Large numbers of area gardeners enjoyed a variety of educational and entertaining programs held at the arboretum during the winter and early spring months. In January, the arboretum welcomed special guests from Japan who provided a program on “The Gardens of the Adachi Museum of Art.” Even though the night was snowy, a determined group turned out to hear about this unique garden designed for harmony between art exhibits and plantings.

In February, large groups of gardeners again braved cold and snow, this time outside, to attend “Pruning for Professionals,” which was taught in both English and Spanish. Arboretum staff and a bilingual certified arborist covered basic pruning techniques for both trees and shrubs, using an illustrated lecture and the arboretum’s plantings to help teach the fundamental principles.

The arboretum once again participated in the annual Environmental Film Festival of D.C. A large and lively audience of gardeners and educators attended the premier of “GardenStory—The Garden as Teacher.” The film was one episode of a series produced for public television, and was introduced by its producer, Rebecca Frishkorn. She was joined by Robin Dougherty, the executive director of the Greater Newark Conservancy, the organization that built the inner city garden for children featured in the film.

Two sold-out programs in March related to native plant communities. Private and professional land managers learned strategies for invasive plant prevention at the “Invasive Plant Management Symposium.” The 22nd annual Lahr Symposium filled quickly with those eager to hear headline speaker Tony Avent and several other distinguished speakers deliver thought-provoking presentations on native plant cultivars. Mr. Avent’s participation was made possible through funds for distinguished speakers given by the Friends of the National Arboretum. FONA also sponsored the successful native plant sale held in conjunction with the symposium, and provided the means to pay for lunches for symposium participants.

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Visitors Appreciate Cherry Blossoms at the Arboretum

Flowering cherries were popular again this year as arboretum visitors seemed to be grateful for ways to appreciate the blossoms without fighting crowds at the Tidal Basin. As in previous years, the arboretum was a participating organization in the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Throughout the festival period, visitors could explore the arboretum’s flowering cherry plantings by following a self-guided tour. A new offering this year was a presentation by Dr. Margaret Pooler, arboretum research geneticist, who shared the history of the arboretum’s flowering cherry research program and guided participants on a tour of some of the arboretum’s cherry trees. Arboretum staff and members of Ikebana International, Chapter No. 1 staffed a booth at the Sakura Matsuri, or Cherry Blossom Street Festival, sharing information about the arboretum, bonsai, and ikebana with thousands of passersby. The National Bonsai Foundation generously sponsored the booth.


Prunus 'Dream Catcher'

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Arboretum Research on Display at Baltimore Trade Show

The National Arboretum’s research programs were on display to over 12,000 green industry participants from throughout the U.S. at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS), held in January at the Baltimore Convention Center. The show, featuring 950 exhibiting companies in 1500 booths, is known for providing nursery professionals with a networking forum and a marketplace for finding plants, equipment, and tools, and other green goods. In its first double-booth display, the National Arboretum showcased its work on germplasm collection and cultivar release. It also featured a special “anniversary” exhibit celebrating 50 years of crapemyrtle research at the National Arboretum and the 30th birthday of ‘Natchez’ crapemyrtle. The display included the unveiling of a new full-color crapemyrtle poster highlighting 25 of the arboretum’s best crapemyrtles, which was distributed along with commemorative magnets to MANTS attendees.

In conjunction with MANTS, arboretum scientists met with industry representatives at the second stakeholder reception held on the evening of January 8. This reception serves as an informal mechanism to encourage open dialogue between scientists and professionals in the nursery and landscape industries. Following brief presentations by arboretum staff and members of the Stakeholder Liaison committee, invitees had an opportunity to discuss green industry challenges that could be addressed by scientific research.


Arboretum scientists Mark Roh, Donna Fare, and Richard
Olsen prepare to meet stakeholders at the MANTS booth.

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Outreach to Beltsville Elementary School

Several of the National Arboretum’s staff tested their teaching techniques during a special science enrichment program for Beltsville Elementary School in Beltsville, Maryland. The program, sponsored for the past five years by the Friends of Agricultural Research at Beltsville (FAR-B), was held in the school’s gymnasium in April and focused on the theme “Exploring Environmental Science.” Over the three-day period, all students in grades one through six participated in hands-on activities at four stations—ecology basics, waste generation and recycling, good insects/bad insects, and plants have problems too. The arboretum’s Ron Beck, Sue Bentz, and Margaret Pooler, along with other staff from the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, interacted with students at the Ecology Basics station where students learned about ecosystems and some of the things each of them could do to protect the environment. In the next few weeks, students will submit posters on what they learned from the program, with special prizes from FAR-B for the best in each grade.


BARC volunteers teach students at Beltsville Elementary
School about what they can do to protect the environment.

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Last Updated   May 19, 2008 3:04 PM