Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blackwell Foothpath through Bussey Brook Meadow, a 1996-addition to the Arnold Arboretum

Blackwell footpath trailheadThe Blackwell Footpath connects the South Street Gate in Boston's Arnold Arboretum with the Washington Street Gate southwest of the Forest Hills MBTA Station. Within minutes, you can be in an urban ecosystem and protected landscape, while leaving the train station. After passing the Blackwell Footpath rock, shown above, the trail descends into Bussey Brook Meadow. A Welcome panel describes the meadow path as follows:

As you walk the Blackwell Footpath notice this urban wild is different from the rest of the Arnold Arboretum landscape. The Arboretum is managed through a unique public-private partnership between the City of Boston and Harvard University. Bussey Brook Meadow was added to the Arboretum in 1996 through the generosity and dedication of the Arboretum Park Conservancy.

Blackwell Footpath
The Arnold Arboretum is an urban park dedicated to nature studying. Alongside the Blackwell Footpath you will find a few display panels featuring birds of Bussey Brook Meadow, vines and plants gone to seed in the meadow, including Queen Anne's lace, milkweed, tansy, bittersweet, hickory, porcelain berry, crabapple, virginia creeper and staghorn sumac (also written stag-horn sumac or stag's horn sumach). The latter, Rhus typhina, is a flowering plant of southeastern Canada, the northeastern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. Small trees grow next to the footpath. The picture below shows a plants with its alternate, pinnately compound leaves, hairy stems and velvet twigs, and a cone-shaped cluster of fuzzy, red berries.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) next to Blackwell Footpath

What is now the Arboretum landscape were farms and orchards in the past. Then and now, the north-facing slope of Peters Hill features fruit trees. The Welcome panel says:

In the past this land was farmed , then  abandoned, then used as a dump. Plants here are historically native to this area, many are invasive, and some are exotics that have self-seeded from across the street. Many birds and animals inhabit this place as well.

The urban wild continues east of Bussey Brook Meadow as a patchwork of forest-like tree stands with cultivated areas including special gardens and plant collections. Farther northwest you'll find another beautiful path, the Linden Path, cultivated areas such as the Leventritt Garden and the Hunnewell Building housing the Arboretum's visitor center.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A drumlin in the Arnold Arboretum: Peters Hill—the third-largest hill in the Boston area of Massachusetts

Peters Hill summit
A vista point in the Arnold Arboretum: Peters Hill summit

Boston's Peters Hill in the south part of the Arnold Arboretum is a 240-feet-high drumlin. To get there from the Hunnewell Visitor Center at the other end of the park, you may want to walk southbound via Linden Path, Leventritt Shrub & Vine Garden, Bussey Hill Road, Valley Road, and Conifer Path to the Walter Street Gate, from where you can access Peters Hill Road surrounding Peters Hill. Various small trails lead up to the top and over the hill sides.

From the top of Peters Hill, Boston's skyline is visible. On a clear day high-rises such as the Prudential Tower, Hancock Tower, One Boston Place and the Federal Reserve Bank building can be seen. The distance between the Peters Hill summit to the Hancock Tower is 4.23 miles, according to an information panel.

Various fruit trees including crabapples grow on the gentile slope just downhill from the summit. The panel explains:

They were mostly planted in the 1940s and '50s. Before this was the Arnold Arboretum, colonial farmers planted fruit tree orchards on this same hill. They made cider and fed their animals on the fruit that fell from the trees.

Switching from agricultural history to geology, we also learn that beneath Peters Hill a probably unique type of rock is present, called Roxbury puddingstone. Peters Hill and other hills in the Arboretum were formed when glaciers altered the landscape. These drumlins consist of debris—sand, rocks, gravel, boulders—piled up thousands of years when glaciers melted. Peters Hill is merely one of many sites in and around Boston that gives evidence of ice age activity in this area [1]. Estate gardener and garden writer Danial Mount mentions three drumlins. He explored a drumlin a day [2]:

I gave  myself a generous three days to wander over and around the three drumlins that punctuate the topography of the Arnold Arboretum. It is a landscape shaped by glaciers, with outcroppings of Roxbury puddingstone and swampy lowlands, and has the third-largest hill in the Boston area, Peter's Hill, with a 180-dgree view of downtown Boston.

References and more to explore
[1] Arnold Arboretum - teacher guide [].
[2] Daniel Mount: Boston's Arnold Arboretum: A Multihued Jewel. Summer 2012, page 13 [].

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Linden Path in the Arnold Arboretum

Linden Path in the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts
The quarter-mile-long Linden Path in the Arnold Arboretum is a beautiful trail that connects the Hunnewell Visitor Center at the northern tip of the tree park with the Leventritt Shrub & Vine Garden. It starts on the right side of Meadow Road southwest of the Hunnewell Building. First-time visitors of the Arboretum often begin their park exploration along this path, at the end of which the agriculturally landscaped Leventritt Garden, an open-air pavilion and the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection await them.

Various linden trees (genus: Tilia) from around the temperate Northern Hemisphere can be found alongside the Linden Path. Grown Tilia trees are typically tall— sometimes over 100 feet. They have a sturdy trunk with dividing and subdividing branches ending in twigs along which heart-shaped leaves move in the wind and reflect the sunshine. The abundant foliage of summer trees gives plenty of shade on sunny days, but spending too much time underneath a fragrant tree can result in a sticky coating of body parts and accessoires, due to the sap dripping off the tree.

Moltka-Linden, Arnold Arboretum
The Moltka-Linden (Tilia x moltkei) shown above is a great example of a space-demanding tree with a strong branch structure. It is a cross breed of the American linden (Tilia americana) species and the silver linden (Tilia tomentosa) of southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, interbred in the 19th century at a tree nursery (Baumschule Sp├Ąth) in Berlin, Germany. The hybrid is named after the German Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, who, for some time, served with the Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor, where he may have temporarily retreated under a Silber-Linde from military duties. 

The Caucasian Linden (Tilia dasystyla) picture below features a twig hugging the lower part of the central trunk. The leaves show signs of insect attacks.  The label attached to the tree bark says this species is native to Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus (therefore its common name!), and Iran.

Caucasian Linden twig hugging tree trunk

Keywords: tree walk, Tiliacea, Tilioideae, Malvaceae, botany.

Von Moltke Linden:
Moltke-Linde (in German):

Friday, April 1, 2016

Trails, trees and tranquility: the Arnold Arboretum has it all

Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts
The Harvard-managed Arnold Arboretum is a park, forest and botanical garden all in one. This Boston landmark is large enough to get lost therein, to find a quiet place or to perform your work-out routine. Park roads, trails and narrow paths connect the points of interest, including the Hunnewell Visitor Center, special gardens and plant selections, research areas, meadows, ponds and hills. Arboretum rules allow climbing the hills, but forbid climbing the trees. The Arnold Arboretum map provides an overview of the arboretum landscape and its sites, which you may want to explore on your own by self-guided tours.

Paperbark maple
Paperbark maple (Acer griseum), native to Central China
According to the City of Boston website, today's Arboretum displays world renowned collections of maples, crabapples, lilacs and rhododendrons [1]. My TimeOut Boston Guide summarizes [2]:
The arboretum, one of the world's leading centres for plant study, was established in 1872. In a beautiful, 265-acre park setting, this living museum is administered by Harvard University. It provides the opportunity to see more than 15,000 specimens of trees and plants from around the world.

The Arnold Arboretum was the first arboretum in the United States [3,4]. It is named for James Arnold (1781-1868), a whaling merchant of New Bedford, Massachusetts, who transferred a portion of his estate to the President and Fellows of Harvard College to establish an arboretum [4]:
Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) was appointed the Arboretum's first director in 1873 and spent the following 54 years shaping the policies and programs of the Arnold Arboretum. Since its inception, it has served as a model and benchmark for similar institutions, both in North America and elsewhere.

White oak
White oak (Quercus alba), native to Eastern North America

Getting to the Arnold Arboretum in south Boston

The Arnold Arboretum is located in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale sections of Boston, Massachusetts. A good starting point for your first exploration of the park is the Hunnewell Building, a National Historic Landmark that houses the Arboretum's visitor center. Address: 125 Arborway, Boston, MA. The arboretum is open to the public every day of the year—from sunrise to sunset. There is no admission for the visitor center/museum.
If you plan to come via commuter rail, take the Orange Line south to its terminal Forest Hills MBTA station. Walk to the south-west side of the station past the bus stops and find the Washington Street Gate across Washington Street. This is the beginning of the Blackwell Footpath. This trail traverses Bussey Brook Meadow and ends at the South Street Gate, a central point within the Arboretum. From there, follow northbound trails to get to the Bradley Rosaceous Collection, the Leventritt Shrub & Vine Garden and the visitor center at the northern tip of the park. Follow southwest-bound trails to get to Peters Hill, a 240-feet drumlin, from where you can overlook the park and see the distant Boston's skyline.

Japanes maple
Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) in the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection

References  and more to explore
[1] City of Boston: Arnold Arboretum, established in 1872 [].
[2] TimeOut Boston. Time Out Guides Ltd, London, United Kingdom, 2015; page 154.
[3] The Establishment of Arnold Arboretum [].
[4] The Arnold Arboretum: Our History [].