Category Archives: Arnold Arboretum

Images from my close-up photography workshop

Native Flowering Dogwood ~ Cornus florida rubra

I am so excited to be teaching my photography workshop. I’ve created an over arching superstructure for the class, from covering camera and photography basics, relevant to close-up photography, onto very specific techniques for capturing wildlife, and even more specific tips for individual species of butterflies.

I’ve been pouring over thousands upon thousands of photos and with over one hundred photos for the slide presentation, each technique will be comprehensively illustrated.

Several of the students have emailed and I am looking forward to meeting everyone. I hope to see you there.  Nature in Focus.

Eastern Tailed-blues ~ Everes comyntas

The Eastern Tailed-blue is a relatively small species of butterfly with a total wingspan of approximately one inch. It was at first very surprising to find a little group, of about a dozen or so, wandering around this pink zinnia. Eastern Tailed-blues are very skittish and generally a challenge to photograph well. I quickly realized that they had all recently emerged from their pupal cases. Butterflies emerge from their chrysalides with wet crumpled wings and generally cannot fly until their wings are thoroughly dry. I took advantage of this fact and just snapped away while this unique opportunity presented itself.

Register Now for My Photography Class

Registration is now open for my close-up photography workshop, Nature in Focus, which will be held at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard, at the Hunnewell Building, on Sunday September 3oth, at 9:00 am.  I especially love teaching at the Arnold Arboretum. The facilities are beautiful, the staff wonderfully helpful, and September is a particularly gorgeous month to visit the gardens of the Arboretum. I hope you can join me!

Nature in Focus: Taking Great Close-ups  Kim Smith, Photographer and Filmmaker1 Session: Sunday, September 30, 9:00am–NoonLocation: Hunnewell BuildingLearn tips for taking great close-up photographs from celebrated butterfly and garden photographer Kim Smith. Through slides and hands on demonstrations, Kim will guide you in capturing the beauty of the flora and fauna found in nature. Bring your camera and questions, and a tripod if you have one. You will gain more from the class if first you familiarize yourself with your camera’s manual. (Note: This is not a macro-photography class.) See examples of Kim’s great images.

Fee $40 member, $55 nonmemb

Male and Female Monarch Butterflies

Magnolia virginiana in Gloucester, Massachusetts

Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts written by Peter Del Tredici.

Sweetbay Magnolia virginiana Gloucester Massachusetts Fujifilm x100


The sweet bay magnolia swamp in Gloucester, Massachusetts has been a botanical shrine since its discovery in 1806. Early New England naturalists and botanists of all types, from Henry David Thoreau to Asa Gray, made pilgrimages to the site of this northern- most colony of Magnolza virginiana. The local residents of Gloucester were so impressed with a “southern”plant growing this far north that they changed the name oft he Kettle Cove section of the town to Magnolia in the mid-1800s. It is probably no coincidence that this name change occurred at the same time the area was starting up its tourist trade.

In addition to its isolation, the Gloucester Magnolia population was remarkable for having escaped notice until 1806 in an area that was settled in 1623. This fact has led at least one author to speculate that the colony was not wild but escaped from a cultivated plant (Anonymous, 1889). However, the overwhelming consensus of earlier botanists is that the population is, in fact, native. Whatever its origin, the swamp remains today the unique and mysterious place it has been for almost 200 years.

Very little has been written about the magnolia swamp in recent years. The latest, and best, article about it was wntten by Dr George Kennedy, and appeared in 1916 in Rhodora, the Journal of the New England Botanical Club. Dr. Kennedy summarized the history of the stand, and cleared up the confusion about who discovered it by publishing a letter he found, written by the Honorable Theophilus Parsons to the Reverend Manassah Cutler in 1806. The letter captures the emotion of the moment of discovery:

Reverend and Dear Sir:

In riding through the woods in Gloucester, that are between Kettle Cove and Fresh Water Cove I discovered a flower to me quite new and unexpected in our forests. This was last Tuesday week [July 22, 1806]. A shower approaching prevented my leaving the carriage for examination, but on my return, on Friday last, I collected several of the flowers, in different stages, with the branches and leaves, and on inspection it is unquestionably the Magnolia glauca Mr. Epes Sargent has traversed these woods for flowers and not having discovered it, supposes it could not have been there many years. It was unknown to the people of Gloucester and Manchester until I showed it to them. I think you have traversed the same woods herborizing. Did you dis-cover it? If not, how long has it been there? It grows in a swamp on the western or left side of the road as you go from Manchester to Gloucester, and before you come to a large hill over which the road formerly passed. It is so near the road as to be visible even to the careless eye of the traveler. Supposing the knowledge of this flower, growing so far north, might gratify you, I have made this hasty communication.

Your humble servant, Theoph. Parsons

To read Mr. Del Tredici’s fascinating article in full click here Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts, including an excerpt from when Henry David Thoreau visited the swamp and wrote about it in his Journal.

Peter Del Tredici is a Senior Research Assistant at the Arnold Arboretum and Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Peter writes the following for the Arnold Arboretum: “My research interests are wide ranging and mainly involve the interaction between woody plants and their environment. Over the course of thirty plus years at the Arnold Arboretum, I have worked with a number of plants, most notably Ginkgo biloba, conifers in the genera Tsuga and Sequoia, various magnolias, and several Stewartia species (family Theaceae). In all of my work, I attempt to integrate various aspects of the botany and ecology of a given species with the horticultural issues surrounding its propagation and cultivation. This fusion of science and practice has also formed the basis of my teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (since 1992), especially as it relates to understanding the impacts of climate change and urbanization on plants in both native and designed landscapes. Most recently, the focus of my research has expanded to the subject of spontaneous urban vegetation which resulted in the publication of “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide” (Cornell University Press, 2010).”

Silversword Alliance

Haleakalā Silversword

Photos Courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr

Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum ~ Last night I had the pleasure of attending Robert Robichaux’s splendid lecture Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented at the Hunnewell Building of the Arnold Arboretum. Especially fascinating are examples of adaptive radiation, in which a singular North American mainland plant arrived on the islands and evolved into an array of different species, exhibiting fantastic variation in form and habitat.

See related post What is Adaptive Radiation?

Haleakalā Silversword

Mr. Robchauxi gave detailed information on the restoration efforts of the Haleakalā Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum), perhaps Hawaii’s most famous native flowering plant, along with providng examples of other silversword species and lobeliads.

Haleakalā Silversword

A relative of the sunflower, Haleakalā Silversword may live for several decades, however it is monocarpic, meaning once-flowering, after which it dies. Flowering usually occurs from June through October and the single stalk may contain as many as 600 heads with up to 40 ray flowers surrounding approximately 600 disk florets. Haleakalā Silversword is found only on the island of Maui. The plant’s common name is derived from the genera’s numerous sword-like succulent leaves, which are covered with silver hairs. Since May of 1992, the Haleakalā Silversword  has been considered a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The silversword alliance refers to an adaptive radiation of over 5o Hawaiian species in the composite or sunflower family, Asteraceae, Tribe: Madieae (genera Dubautia, Wilkesia, and Agyroxiphium), and also to the Hawaiian Silversword Alliance Project (HSA), an adaptive evolution study project that is a collaborative effort among scientists at multiple public, private, and government institutions.

Kingdom: Plantae

Order: Asterales

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Argyroxiphium

Species: A. sandwicense

Subspecies: A. s. subs. macrocephalum

Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Tulip Tree (Lirodendron tulipfera) American native tulip tree on the front lawn of the Hunnewell Building at the Arnold Arboretum

A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Ned Friedman, the new Director at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about the early history of evolutuonary thought. Well-spoken, passionate, and comprehensive in his presentaion, Friedman answers the question “Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history?” Although approximately fifty naturalists, horticulturalists, arborists, theologians, philosophers, poets, and medical practitoners had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life, it was Darwin who wrote about and developed the concept most exhaustively and comprehensively (most notably, On the Origins of Species, 1859) and conclusively, and it was Darwin who convinced the rest of the scientific world. Interestingly, we learn that Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and naturalist Erasmus Darwin (a great friend of our forefather Benjamin Franklin– are you listening tea party creationists?) most certainly planted the seed and devolped the foundation for his grandson’s theories on evolution, through his own writing Zoonomia (or the Laws of Organic Life, 1794).

Erasmus Darwin writes “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”

It is not easy leaving my cozy home on a frigid New England evenning. I usually have to depart a full two to two and half hours prior to any event in the city when it is scheduled anywhere near rush hour. This makes for a very long evening, however, I find all the progams that the Arnold Arboretum has to offer entirely worth my while and last night’s presentaion was no exception. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming lecture topic Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented by Robert Robichaux, scheduled for Monday, February 7 at 6:30.

All programs in the Directors Lecture series are free but you must register ahead of time online or call 617.384.5277.

Tulip tree (Lirodendron tulipfera). Lirodendron is a genus of only two species of trees in the Magnoliaceae; both are known under the common name tulip tree. Lirodendron tulipfera is native to eastern North America, while Lirodendron chinese is native to China and Vietnam.

New Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Magnolia 'Betty' Arnold ArboretumMagnolia ‘Betty’

In this new lecture series, nationally recognized experts will examine an array of contemporary topics related to Earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history, the environment, conservation biology, and key social issues associated with current science. Opportunities to informally chat with the speaker will follow each lecture.

Lectures are free, but registration is required. All lectures held in the Hunnewell Building, Arnold Arboretum.

Register online or call 617.384.5277

A note about the photo above: I love taking photos at the Arnold Arboretum. Not only does every turn along the sweeping paths lead to a beautiful vista, with gorgeous and beautifully cared-for examples of individual plant specimens, but also because the garden is organized by plant family. As as example, surrounding the Hunnewell Building is a stunning collection of members of the Magnoliaceae, or Magnolia Family, both cultivars and species from around the globe. This allows you to more easily compare and comprehend some of the similarities and differences between, for instance, native sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginina), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and hybrid ‘Magnolia ‘Elizabeth.’ When photographing at the Arnold I also take a photo of the identifying tag attached to the tree or shrub, which allows me to continue photographing without having to stop and write down the information. Later I can easily look up the plant to find out all I can.

A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors
Ned Friedman, Director, Arnold Arboretum
NEW DATE ADDED: Monday, January 31, 6:30–8:30pm

For over a century before the publication of On the Origin of Species, naturalists, theologians, atheists, horticulturalists, medical practitioners, poets, and philosophers had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life through descent with modification. The early history of evolutionary thought will be examined through the lens of Charles Darwin’s highly personal views of his evolutionist ancestors. We will examine the question of what set Darwin apart from the dozens of advocates of evolution who preceded him. Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history? Come find out!

Register online or call 617.384.5277

Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution

Robert Robichaux, University of Arizona
Monday, February 7, 6:30–8:30pm

Evolving in splendid isolation over millions of years, Hawaii’s native plants exhibit patterns of diversity that are unrivaled elsewhere on Earth. Especially striking are the many examples of adaptive radiation, in which original immigrants to the islands evolved into dazzling arrays of plants exhibiting great variation in form and habitat preference. Yet Hawaii’s native plants face an uncertain future. Many native plants, such as the exquisitely beautiful silverswords and lobeliads, now teeter on the edge of extinction. Join botanist Robert Robichaux of the University of Arizona and the Hawaiian Silversword Foundation as he discusses recent efforts to restore Hawaii’s marvels of plant evolution.

Register online or call 617.384.5277