Dear Friends Of The Arboretum

Spring has sprung early in the Arboretum, by a month or more, and the wildflowers are popping up everywhere in the woodlands here!

Along with the wildflowers, the migrating birds are returning as they make their way north through the valley. If you missed last month’s excellent and passionate presentation, Wings of Spring, by Rich Wood, we learned that red-tailed hawks and great horned owls feed in highway median strips where an abundance of small critters live. We learned that cat birds love elderberries, and we viewed and listened to a sampling of the 33 species of warblers that migrate north through the Arboretum in March, found mostly high up in the tree canopy. Such beauties as the scarlet tanager are living in the high canopy of the Arboretum too and these high feeders are eating insects, primarily caterpillars. The Arboretum serves as a critical oasis and “rest-stop” for these feathered fly-overs. Bring your binoculars with you on your next walk and see if you can spot them!

Scarlet tanager

Good news… the Arboretum received an anonymous $20,000 gift to the Arboretum Endowment last month! We are excited and so grateful for this gift that allows the account to build to a level that will more fully sustain the Arboretum in future years. Thank you to all who’ve given to this endeavor of ensuring the Arboretum’s future!

Did you know that becoming a Friend of the Arboretum allows you 10% off at all Arboretum plant sales and reciprocal admission to other gardens across the state and country? For instance, with your $35 membership fee here simply present your card and receive free entry to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, with an additional 10% off of gift store purchases too. At the Norfolk Botanical Garden you and six guests receive free admission. What a bargain!

If you’d like to give to the Endowment in any amount or become a friend of the Arboretum with a $35 gift, please click on the Give Now button below.

Thank you for your support,

Jan Sievers Mahon

The Forest as Organism

“There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet. A mere teaspoon contains many miles of fungal filaments. All these work the soil, transform it, and make it so valuable for the trees.”

~ Peter Wohlleben, "The Hidden Life of Trees"

It is thought that one of the largest and oldest living organisms is a stand or clonal colony of quaking aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, in south-central Utah, called Pando, Latin for “I spread,” and also called the Trembling Giant. This colony, stretching 106 acres, has been determined by DNA analysis to be a single living organism or one genetic individual that has been reproducing itself for over 80,000 years via root suckering. The average age of a single stem is 130 years old. Such a system doesn’t reproduce itself for up to a million years without a resilient and deep interdependent support system in place. Even the US Postal Service offered a stamp in 2006 commemorating this stand of trees calling Pando one of the forty “Wonders of America.”

Humans are beginning to understand that nature is intelligent with a large network of communication occurring in soils between mycorrhizal mats and root systems, linking several stands of trees and acting as pipelines for nutrient, water and message exchanges. Now many researchers, educators and forest stewards are comprehending that it is more accurate to see the forest, with a multitude of genetic diversity, as a complete being, a whole organism unto itself operating as one family, or a community of intelligences that are working together in support of the whole, acting as a complex system that can maintain and regulate itself. Nature knows what is needed and provides for itself to support the greater good. The ability of a forest to communicate with itself between many tree species has been coined the Wood Wide Web.

Wood Wide Web

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany believe that root tips of plants contain brain-like structures that have signaling pathways very similar to those found in animals. Not only do these root tips use chemical signals sent through fungal networks to communicate with other roots and thus the trees all year ‘round, but they also use slow electrical impulses to send warning messages out and communicate needed information. And so a stand of a single species or the entire community of trees under attack can be alerted. Then the whole stand can respond by producing extra tannins that can repel the feeding of certain organisms. Trees even have the ability to know who exactly is eating on their leaves and send the signal that will attract predators of that munching insect.

Through study of this wood wide web it is now known that mother trees recognize and communicate with their kin. Trees know how to funnel resources to trees in need and not only their own species but different species that live in community with one another. Injured trees are able to communicate with their neighbors affecting future mature stands through gene regulation, adaptive chemical defenses, and a “learned” resiliency found among forest members. Old mother stumps are kept alive by the surrounding community of trees intentionally, possibly ensuring the longevity of the community. And thus some have theorized that the forest trees’ stumps and related complex of roots beneath, that may stay alive for hundreds of years, are the information storage systems of the forest.

The forest as a network

And so it becomes clear that trees are social in nature. And nature knows that collaborating in numbers provides advantages to the group. A single tree does not a forest make. Alone it does not have the ability to create a consistent local microclimate but is at the mercy of any weather pattern passing through. Together, a forest can moderate the extremes of climate, store large amounts of water, generate food and humidity and create a protected habitat for all that live within. Such a protected environment allows for the trees to live into maturity and old age, and provide for one another, sharing their resources in ways that a single tree simply cannot muster. There is much that we humans can learn from a community of trees and all that grows on, within, around, and under such an organism as the forest.

“A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

~ Peter Wohlleben, "The Hidden Life of Trees"

The Children's Garden Archway

A new addition to the gardens marks the entry to the Children’s Garden and was created by Glenn Richardson, a local chainsaw artist. He has created a beautiful welcoming sculpture from one piece of a very large log of dead chestnut oak from the Arboretum inviting you to come GROW with us this spring! Huge thanks to Nancie Roop Kennedy and Patterson Roop Webster who made this project possible!

Our new children's garden wooden gateway looks like it walked into the forest and found a home next to the hemlock, dogwood and japanese maple trees under the oak canopy above.
The gateway installation and a close-up of the top arch invitation to enter the area.

Cover Boards in the Arboretum

Ever wonder what lives under a rock? Ever been surprised by creatures scurrying away when you move a piece of debris? Just beneath the leaves, rocks, and logs that accumulate in nature, there's a diverse universe of life awaiting discovery. A new project in the EJC Arboretum focuses visitors’ attention on this diversity using artificial cover boards.

Cover boards ― made from rubber, wood, or metal ― serve as artificial habitats for the many different insects, snails, rodents, and even amphibians and reptiles living (or hiding) beneath objects where it's warm, wet and dark. Cover boards are an effective and passive sampling method used to study many aspects of biodiversity, ecology and conservation. There are currently 12 black rubber cover boards placed along the paths to the children’s area at the Arboretum. Educational brochures providing information about cover boards, what might be living beneath them, and a map of the locations will soon be available. The cover boards are intended for public use. The aim of this project is to motivate citizens to engage with their surroundings, discover the diversity in their own back yard, and foster a curiosity for the natural world.

Amphibians like frogs and salamanders, and reptiles such as snakes and lizards can be difficult to find. Even more challenging is the ability to find these secretive animals predictably when teaching a course, or doing research. Dr. David McLeod, JMU Biology faculty and Arboretum Advisory Board Member, and his lab classes study amphibian and reptile diversity. They promote understanding of these animals through the JMU Herpetology Outreach Program. Dr. McLeod’s lab, in collaboration with the arboretum, established the cover board project as a means for citizens of the university and community to engage with amphibians and reptiles during classes, school field trips, summer camps, and casual hikes. If you're interested in learning more, visit the program's Facebook page.

Each cover board in the Arboretum has a rope handle attached to it. Make sure to lift the board as seen in this picture so that any creatures underneath have a clear getaway in the opposite direction from you should they want to scurry off. Lift the board using the handle, but remember to set it down gently so you don’t harm any creatures underneath, and of course, replace it where you found it. The cover board is like the roof of a house; you wouldn’t want your roof left in the neighbor’s yard!

Matt Graziano, JMU Biology student who collaborates with the cover board project with Dr. McLeod, demonstrates how to lift the board.

Document what you find by submitting a photo to the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum project on iNaturalist. This site allows you record your observation and offers a community of experts to identify the plants and animals you may not know. Come out to the Arboretum and discover who may be living beneath the cover boards!

Thank you!

Virginia Bluebird Society for their donation of five new bird boxes with predator guards! Our Arboretum volunteer Martha will be monitoring the boxes throughout the year!

(Rich Wood, Martha Clymer, and Anne Little)

Meet Our Interpretive Interns

The Arboretum interpretive interns lead guided tours for small groups of elementary school students in the spring and summer and assist with educational children's programs and events.

Courtney Neumeyer

What projects are you currently working on?

"First, I have developed an official iNaturalist project for the Arboretum called 'Edith J. Carrier at James Madison University.' I am also creating fliers for the iNaturalist project so that people know that they can contribute to it. This will help the Arboretum know the diversity of plants and animals in the arboretum. Second, I am developing a new herpetology program in association with biology professor Dr. McLeod’s lab. Here we will teach children of all ages about amphibians and reptiles using a variety of hands-on activities. Third, I am creating new hands-on activities to incorporate with our guided tours of the arboretum. These tours can be geared toward Pre-K through high school students."

What are you most looking forward to about leading guided children's tours in the spring?

"I really enjoy seeing the excitement the learners express when they are engaged in material that they are learning because they are experiencing it through hands-on activities."

What do you love most about the Arboretum?

"The Arboretum is a wonderful place to enjoy nature without having to leave Harrisonburg. There are nice trails to hike on with lots of native plants to identify."

Kaitlin King

What projects are you currently working on?

"I've been assigned to the Backpack Project, and Fairy Houses & Gnome Homes. The backpacks will be useful to families who visit the Arboretum that want to give them and their kids a self-guided tour with fun activities. These projects are all designed to help kids in the community become more involved with the environment around them, and to also have a fun time while learning."

What have you been learning so far at the Arboretum?

"I've been learning a lot and have become really interested in the native species of trees and animals in the Harrisonburg community. The Arboretum has really awesome trees like the Redbud and the classic Dogwood."

What are you most looking forward to about leading guided children's tours in the spring?

"I'm mostly looking forward to giving a tour to these children in a way that keeps them engaged. I want to see the kids having fun about what they're learning."

Thank you to our student staff!

Top left-bottom right: Jillian, Brooke, Ashley, Joe, Miriam

A huge thank you and best wishes to our graduating student staff: Jillian Wright, Graphics Intern, and Ashley Jordan, Botany Intern and Landscape Worker, and Brooke Thompson, GIS/Mapping Intern, who’ve contributed weekly to the projects and operations at the Arboretum. We are grateful for their help and send them off into their next chapter of life with fond regards, knowing that they will continue to contribute their wonderful talents and skills out in the big world or at graduate school.

And many thanks to all of our other student staff, including Miriam Molini, Joe Stephens, and Eve Williamson who have done so much to help us throughout the year!

Thank you!

Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society for volunteering their time and helping prune and maintain our diverse collection!


Artist, Kelli Hertzler (March-April)

Visit the Frances Plecker Education Center now through April to see Kelli's collection of paintings and drawings.

Spring Children’s Art Workshops

Fridays (March 23, April 6, April 13) 4 - 5:15 PM, $10/family per class. Registration required.

Frances Plecker Education Center.


Spring Wildflower Walks

Wednesdays (April 4, April 11, April 25, May 2), 10 - 11 AM. Free, no registration required.

Meet at Frances Plecker Education Center.


Spring Bird Walks

Wednesday, April 11, 8:30 – 9:30 AM with Rich Wood | Saturday, April 21, 8 – 9 AM with Greg Moyers

Free. Registration required. Meet at the Arboretum Pavilion.


Guided Meditation Labyrinth Walk With Pat Cheeks

Monday, April 16, 12 – 1 PM. $10 registration required. Meet at FPEC


Poet-Tree Workshop & Tree Dedication

Tuesday, April 17, 1:30 – 4 PM (workshop) 4 – 5 PM (dedication)

Free. Registration required. Frances Plecker Education Center.


Spring Tai Chi

Friday, April 20, 12:30 – 1:30 PM

Guided Tai Chi with Grayson Pritchard of Blue Heron Healing Arts. $10. Registration required.

Meet at Frances Plecker Education Center


Spring Plant Sale

Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21, 9 AM – 3 PM

Frances Plecker Education Center.


The Herp Hop

A Children's Workshop about Reptiles and Amphibians

Saturday, April 21, 11:30 AM - 1 PM. Free, however, registration required.


Fairy Houses & Gnome Homes

Tuesday, April 24, 11 AM – 12 PM. Free, no registration required.


For more details, please visit our event page.

(540) 568-3194

780 University Blvd, Harrisonburg, VA 22807

Visit us today! Grounds are open free to the public, dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.

The Frances Plecker Ed Center is open Monday-Friday, 8AM-4PM.

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