"… one of the most important functions of arboreta is to serve as laboratories for the evaluation of new plants that may be pest-resistant or have unusual ornamental merit."

Frequently Asked Questions

Arboreta as Outdoor Classrooms

Source: Rae Dickson Chambers
The rhododendron is widely used to enhance both residential and commercial landscapes because of the size and delicate beauty of its flowers.
The creation of an arboretum at Penn State will place a wonderful educational resource at the fingertips of students of urban forestry and horticulture. Jason M. Veil, an undergraduate student at Penn State, has shared with us some of the academic benefits of having an arboretum near campus. Jason's experiences have included study visits to Longwood Gardens and the Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College (both in suburban Philadelphia) and an internship last summer at The Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio.

According to Jason, one of the benefits of using an arboretum as a classroom is the opportunity for first-hand experience with a wide variety of species and the ways in which they can be used in the landscape. Spending three months at Holden deepened Jason's appreciation of horticultural diversity as a management tool: "Diversity not only adds aesthetic appeal, but it also eliminates the risks of catastrophic insect and disease problems that typically accompany monocultures and low-diversity systems."

At the Holden Arboretum, Jason especially enjoyed their collection of the many native azaleas found in the eastern United States. These include handsome shrubs such as flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), swamp azalea (R. viscosum), plumleaf azalea (R. prunifolium), and dwarf azalea (R. atlanticum). Flame azalea offers bright yellow to orange flowers in early summer, while plumleaf azalea has rich, orange-red flowers much later in the summer when the flowering season has all but ended for most species. Jason also enjoyed seeing in one place the surprising flower variety of Kalmia latifolia, the native mountain-laurel that is the state flower of Pennsylvania. The flowers of cultivated varieties of this species range in shade from white to pink and may be conspicuously banded in deep red or maroon.

Jason believes that one of the most important functions of arboreta is to serve as laboratories for the evaluation of new plants that may be pest-resistant or have unusual ornamental merit. In this category, Jason became acquainted with elm hybrids that boast disease resistance and classic American elm characteristics, including the cultivars 'Pioneer' and 'Frontier,' and several exotic hemlock species such as Japanese hemlock (Tsuga diversifolia) and Chinese hemlock (T. chinensis). He notes that the latter may become more widely used as the impact of the hemlock woolly adelgid on our native eastern hemlock (T. canadensis) becomes more serious. Jason also observed at Holden a collection of many crabapple cultivars that are being monitored to determine their relative susceptibility to disease. Crabapples tend to be very susceptible to pathogens such as fireblight, apple scab, and rust. (Penn State also has a rather famous test plot of crabapple cultivars at its Rock Springs research facility.)

Similarly, being in an arboretum has enabled Jason to acquire practical experience in planning urban landscapes, specifically through the evaluation of certain species for use in lawns and along streets. A few of the species that he believes deserve wider use because of their growth habit, appearance, and general vigor in our region are shantung maple (Acer truncatum), Turkish filbert (Corylus colurna), and the native swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor).

Jason believes that the "working knowledge" he acquired at Holden was an extremely valuable complement to his Penn State coursework, and the internship there helped him to define his career interests. Is he supportive of The Arboretum at Penn State? "Absolutely!" says Jason. "Students in forestry, horticulture, and related majors would benefit tremendously from the concentrated exposure to living plant collections that is only possible in an arboretum."

The rest of the Summer 2001 newsletter is available as a pdf file.

Back to the FAQ page.


Penn State Home Page Arboretum Home Page Arboretum Home Page