From Summer Home to Central Park

(Photos by Bryan Thompson-Nowak)

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Believe it or not, the tranquil, wooded grounds of Morris Arboretum are within the city limits of booming Philadelphia. In fact, it is just 12 miles from the University of Pennsylvania campus and 9 miles from King of Prussia. This gem, paired with gorgeous autumn-like weather, made for a memorable field trip for the first-year Fellows.

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Upon arrival, Morris Arboretum’s Director, Paul Meyer, greeted us and shared a bit of Morris’s history. The Arboretum recently celebrated its 125th anniversary: a brother and sister pair, John and Lydia Morris, founded it in 1887 as their summer home. The Arboretum officially opened to the public in 1933, but it wasn’t until 1977 when former director Bill Klein spearheaded a master planning process that made Morris Arboretum into the destination that it is today. Affectionately known these days as the “Central Park of southeastern Pennsylvania,” Morris is looking ahead to the future and working on plans to renovate the front area of the George D. Widener Education and Visitor Center as well as several other improvement projects.

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Paul led us on an intimate tour of the grounds, sharing both facts and stories that most guests will never have the opportunity to hear! As we passed a modest Chinese hemlock (Tsuga chinensis) specimen, Paul paused and pointed out the lack of hemlock woolly adelgid damage. Canadian hemlocks have recently succumbed to this pest on quite a large scale, but its Chinese cousins were observed to be resistant. Paul told us that Morris Arboretum led expeditions to China to collect more specimens of the hemlock and introduce it more widely in the United States.

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The Chinese hemlock is only one example of the impact that Morris has had in collecting and distributing significant new plant species in the US. Another interesting discovery from a Chinese expedition trip came from a surprising species: seeds of the oft-used Liriope muscari, collected from a specimen in China. It provided for some interesting genetic diversity when Morris grew the seeds out. With uniquely wide foliage, as well as a tall, spindly inflorescence, this variation will definitely make visitors to the Arboretum do a double take!

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Our trip to Morris would not be complete without a group photo with the wildly popular “Big Bugs,” which will be on display until the end of August. These giant bug sculptures, created by David Rogers, have been an amazing asset for Morris this year. With their arrival on April 1, the “bugs” helped Morris have their biggest attendance month ever in its history! The local media loved the exhibit, and Morris experienced incredible exposure in the greater Philadelphia area. It has been a win-win all around!

We had a fantastic visit with Paul and his staff, enjoyed amazing weather in a beautiful setting, and learned exciting “insider info” about some of Morris’s plant collections. For more information about planning a visit for yourself, just check out the Arboretum’s web site!

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