UW Botanic Gardens

Opportunities for Exploration, Research, and Discovery

The UW Botanic Gardens offers unique opportunities for exploration, research, and discovery by the general public and by faculty, staff, and students across the UW.  Three recent projects demonstrate the value of its distinct gardens and landscapes — the development of the Pacific Connections Garden Chilean forest in the Washington Park Arboretum, the new climate change monitoring garden at the Center for Urban Horticulture, and the May 21st “Arboretum Bioblitz” that inventoried the Arboretum’s plant and animal species.

Washington Park Arboretum’s Pacific Connections Garden will make it possible for the visitor to “travel” through Cascadia, Australia, China, Chile, and New Zealand all in one day, experiencing amazing plants from these regions connected by the Pacific Ocean.  Entry gardens for each country were completed in 2008. Plans call for trails from those entry gardens to five forests planted with additional plants native to the regions. Currrently, the corner of the Arboretum at Arboretum Drive and Lake Washington Boulevard is being remade with trees and other plants native to Chile as part of this ongoing project.  Chilean species that will be planted include Fuchsia magellanica, or hardy fuchsia; drimys winteri varandina, or winter's bark; embothrium coccineum, or Chilean fire bush; the endangered conifer Austrocedrus chilensis; and Pilgerodendron uviferum, a tree that can grow to be 500 years old.  The new display will be visible to people in the18,000 cars going by each day on Lake Washington Boulevard, and will introduce Arboretum visitors to plants found in temperate regions like our own.  Funding for the project came from the Arboretum Foundation and Seattle's 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy.

The Climate Change Garden, south of Merrill Hall at the Center for Urban Horticulture, is monitoring the effects of a changing climate on plant growth and survival.  It is also part of a nationwide climate change education initiative entitled Floral Report Card. The initiative aims to integrate existing phenology citizen science programs into the elementary, middle, and high school classroom through garden replication on school grounds. It will create a nationwide "ecological antenna" to monitor the effects of a changing climate on plant growth and survival. Each climate change garden features genetically identical plant species selected for their biological responsiveness to temperature. Garden monitors will record climate data and a set of standard phenological events, from first leaf to flower to fruit set. This data will be used to help predict the impacts of climate change on plants and the services they provide to people and wildlife. The principal investigator on the project, which is funded by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is Assistant Professor Soo-Hyung Kim.

Seattle's first-ever "bioblitz" on May 21, 2010 engaged volunteers  to look for as many plant and animal species as possible in Washington Park Arboretum. The term bioblitz emerged more than 10 years ago and has come to mean a field study by scientists and volunteers, usually conducted over an intense 24-hour period, to record all the species in a given area. Bioblitzes are conducted over 24 hours because different organisms are likely to be found at different times of day. The Arboretum includes a collection of trees and plants from around the world, all of which have been cataloged, so that work wasn’t repeated. Instead, the kinds of plants identified included weeds, native plants, and invasives. With funding from the Arboretum Foundation, the bioblitz was sponsored by UW Botanic Gardens and the UW-based NatureMapping program. Bioblitzes have taken place in locations ranging from the Nisqually Delta to Cape Cod and New York City’s Central Park.  Nobody has ever conducted a bioblitz in Seattle before, say organizers Associate Professor Sarah Reichard and NatureMapping program director Karen Dvornich.  

At the Arboretum, volunteers converged first on the wilder areas: Foster Island, Duck Bay, and Arboretum Creek, which runs ditch-like along Lake Washington Boulevard. One member per volunteer team was issued a pocket PC equipped with a GPS unit that linked to the global positioning system to record what and where species were seen.  The devices are part of a system developed for the NatureMapping program to readily download data to a computer.  

What did the bioblitz find?  With more than 100 volunteers scrutinizing the Arboretum’s nooks and crannies, there were bound to be a few surprises. A potentially rare native stinging ant, a potentially rare Amanita (mushroom) not often seen on the west coast, a potentially new species of spider, and a couple of unexpected plants displaying suspicious behavior were just a few of the discoveries. On the “nocturnal” shift, participants collected regurgitated barred owl pellets, dissolved all of the material but bones, and identified bones and skulls to determine that the Arboretum’s owls dine primarily on Norway rats.  Although insects were underrepresented due to cold weather and no bats were netted, more than 400 species of plants, animals, lichens, and fungi were recorded. View the species tally to date and a list of predicted vs. observed birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. As a followup, plant and invertebrate identification continues and rare species are being confirmed. Plants such as Lonicera periclymenum, an ornamental Eurasian vine not known to be invasive here but found scrambling over plants, will be investigated to see whether they are potential new invaders in this region.

The new "Gateway to Chile" garden in the Washington Park Arboretum will feature plants and 72 trees from parts of Chile where the climate is temperate like Seattle's.

Assistant Professor Soo-Hyung Kim plants Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot or bee balm, in the climate change monitoring garden.

Washington Park Arboretum Bioblitz 2010 Final Resuls.