Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

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Ecosystem services provided by Tyler Arboretum’s historic tulip tree

(The following is a guest post by Penn State Brandywine undergraduate student researcher Ami Iannello)

Penn State Brandywine student researchers Ami, Erin and Ben (left to right).

Penn State Brandywine student researchers Ami, Erin and Ben (left to right).

Three students at Penn State Brandywine were given the opportunity to do a six-week engaged scholarship project at Tyler Arboretum. Students Erin Hawk, Ami Iannello, and Ben Coon have been visiting Tyler Arboretum weekly to collect data for their research project. Erin and Ami have been collecting measurements such as the height and circumference of the historic trees in the Painter Collection, while Ben has been taking photos of the same trees and collecting the GPS coordinates in order to work with generating a custom Google Map for the project. Erin and Ami have entered their measurement into a site called “PhillyTreeMap.” This site is a crowd-sourced database which utilizes the tree height and circumference from a measured tree and computes the “ecobenefits” and how many dollars per year a specific tree (example: energy conserved, stormwater filtered, etc.), is saving our community, just by simply being there.

It may be a little confusing as to what “measuring” the trees really means. To collect their data, Erin and Ami have been using numerous tools and techniques in order to communicate the most accurate information to their audience.

To measure the tree circumference, the girls identified where they would measure around the tree trunk at four feet six inches off of the ground. They then used a tape measure, being sure the tape measure stayed level around the trunk, to measure each tree circumference. For bumpy trees, Erin and Ami measured the narrowest point anywhere below the four feet six inches. For leaning trees, they measure the four feet six inches in a diagonal with the lean. Finally, with multi-trunk trees, the girls measured each trunk separately, being sure not to add the circumferences together.

Erin (left) and Ami (right) measuring around a tulip tree.

Erin (left) and Ami (right) measuring around a tulip tree.

To measure tree height, Erin and Ami had to take a different approach, because, of course, they could not simply use a tape measure for this portion of their project. The girls used a method described by Utah State University Extension with a yardstick in which they measured the distance from their eye to the tips of their fingers along a yardstick on themselves and made a line. Next, one of the girls walked backwards, however many feet, holding the yardstick straight with her line at the bottom of the tree until the yardstick was the height of the tree. With a rolling distance measuring wheel, the other girl started walking from the base of the tree to the heel of her partner in order to calculate the height. Erin and Ami preformed this task three times from multiple angles around the tree and took the average of the three numbers in order to record the most accurate height of each tree.


Erin lining up the yardstick with the height of the tree, while Ben documents the research process with photos.

Erin lining up the yardstick with the height of the tree, while Ben documents the research process with photos.

The historic tulip tree that we measured, with the ecohealth data presented in this blog post.

The historic tulip tree that we measured, with the ecobenefit data presented in this blog post.

Here is an example of one of the historic trees at Tyler Arboretum that was measured along the Scenic Loop and the “Yearly Ecosystem Services” in which it provides:

Yearly Ecosystem Services for the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), as calculated by PhillyTreeMap

A part of the Historic Tree Collection at Tyler Arboretum

Carbon dioxide stored to date 7,683.9 lbs $25
Energy conserved 2,262.3 kwh/year $285
Carbon dioxide removed 674.2 lbs/year $2
Air quality improved 6.0 lbs/year $28
Stormwater filtered 6,213.3 gal/year $61


This information highlights that historic trees at Tyler Arboretum, such as this tulip tree, are not only beautiful to admire and historic in value, but all of Tyler’s trees have a positive impact on the environment and society around them.

We will be continuing to work on collecting our data, and we will share our results, along with Ben’s Google Map, at the end of the summer – stay tuned!


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Make Tyler Arboretum your next microadventure!

Many teachers and families are soon transitioning from a school year to summer schedule.  If your schedule is too packed to get that extended getaway to refresh and reconnect with the outdoors, why not make sure you can at least make time for a microadventure?

2012 National Geographic Adventurer Alastair Humphreys is credited with promoting the term “microadventure.”  Microadventures are affordable, local trips, what Alastair refers to as “short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home” (see NYT article).  These adventures might be a hike through a local state park you just never made the time to visit, or a stroll through a local city by moonlight, a canoe trip in a local river – however you want to define your adventure!

Penn State Brandywine finished with its spring semester in May, and the campus walking club decided to celebrate by spending a Friday afternoon lunch hour strolling along the Scenic Loop and through the Rhododendron Garden.  We had a WONDERFUL time not just escaping the office for an hour, but spending some time connecting with nature and with each other.  The new signage Tyler has been installing by the Painter Trees provided some informative historical information, and with each tree tagged and labeled, we could easily identify each of the trees we were looking at!

I recommend everyone kick off their summer with a microadventure at Tyler!  Why not take a microadventure with friends, family visiting from out-of-town, your co-workers, your neighbors, and anyone else that has a desire to explore the outdoors?

Members of Penn State Brandywine's walking club, spending their lunch hour strolling through Tyler Arboretum!

Members of Penn State Brandywine’s walking club, spending their lunch hour strolling through Tyler Arboretum!  Photo taken by S. Allinson.

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Promoting and protecting the historic Painter trees

There is no doubt that the winter season is in full swing, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the Tyler staff have gone in to hibernation!  There are so many winter-themed hikes and programs taking place (have you marked your calendar for the annual Pancake Breakfast on February 28th? (see Upcoming Events)), as well as improvements to the grounds.

For example, if you bundle up and take a quick stroll inside the fence, you will notice some exciting new educational signage near the historic Painter Trees.  Before, we had were the small blue markers on the trees that called our attention to the location of these trees.  These signs provide some additional information about the collection and its significance.

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Around three of the historic Painter Trees, you will see a fence constructed around the base.  The fencing is there to protect the root system of these valuable trees, to make sure the trees are preserved for visitors to enjoy for years to come.


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And the fencing does not prevent us from capturing some excellent photos of and with the trees.  Check out my “selfie with the sequoia,” taken while standing right next to the fence!


Showing my love for this State Champion Giant Sequoia with a selfie!

Showing my love for this State Champion Giant Sequoia with a selfie!




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A Case Study with Toilet Paper Roll Volunteers, Part 2



Left: One of the many festive outdoor decorations at Tyler Arboretum this season.  This snowflake was made of recycled plant labels/tags!

Earlier in the week, I posted Part 1 of this topic, where my campus conducted a paper roll collection drive for a recycled art project at Tyler Arboretum’s Winter Wonderland event on Saturday, December 6 (see blog post).  Today, I was able to see the transformation and clever outcome of all our efforts!  See this slideshow below for the stages of development of the ornament.

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But the Winter Wonderland event was much more than cardboard tubes and glitter!  There were hayrides (yes, even in the rain!).  One visitor shared with me that you haven’t seen Tyler Arboretum until you’ve seen it in the rain (and I agree!).  There were other craft activities, hot chocolate and cookies, and a beautiful sled for people in which people were having their photos taken.  Even Lachford Hall was open for historic tours.

And I could not help but attempt to complete the Reindeer Scavenger Hunt – the photos below document my success in finding all six of the wooden reindeer!  I look forward to more winter fun at Tyler Arboretum real soon.


If you missed Winter Wonderland event, not to worry – you can mark these other Tyler winter events on your calendar!

  • Family Night Hike, Saturday, January 10, 6:30PM – 8PM
  • Maple Surgaring Exploration, Saturday, January 31, 10AM – 11AM, or Sunday, February 1, 1PM – 2PM
  • Winter Nature Hike, Monday, February 16, 10AM – 11:30AM
  • Pancake Breakfast and Maple Sugaring Celebration, Saturday, February 28, 8AM – 1PM (Snow Date: March 7)

To view full details on these and other Tyler events, visit


A Case Study with Toilet Paper Roll Volunteers, Part 1

flowerTyler’s Volunteer Coordinator Julia Lo Ehrhardt sent out via email her Volunteer Newsletter in Late November with a simple request:

We need your toilet paper or paper towel rolls. Our programmers are dreaming up ways to engage children and they came up with this beautiful work of recycled art. Save us your rolls and bring them to the Visitor Center by December 1.

Included in the newsletter was a wonderful photo (displayed to the right) for volunteers to see an example of the clever art that kids will be making at Tyler’s programs, such as the upcoming Woodland Winter Wonderland event on December 6.  I knew that I had some toilet paper rolls that I hadn’t yet recycled, and I knew we would be emptying paper towel rolls with our baking for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I was ready to start my collection to donate to the cause!

But then I started thinking… certainly, I’m not the only person with empty cardboard rolls in the house.  Why not engage my fellow faculty and staff members where I work (Penn State Brandywine) to donate their “empties” from the holidays?  The students were already gone for Thanksgiving break, so it was difficult to get the word out to them.  But I quickly connected with Dr. Lynn Hartle, the coordinator of our campus Laboratory for Civic Engagement, and we decided to do a joint collection drive on campus between the Laboratory and the Environmental Inquiry Minor (an academic program I advise for).  Within minutes, I drafted a flyer (this is a PDF of the flyer), emailed the flyer to the entire campus, and kept my fingers crossed that by December 1st, we would have some rolls to donate.

The “buzz” that this collection drive generated was immediate.  I saw that others printed off the flyer and posted it on bulletin boards and office doors.  An announcement went up on the campus Facebook page and on Twitter:

One of the bags of rolls that came in - and there were many more!

One of the bags of rolls that came in – and there were many more!

And wow, did the rolls come rolling in!  We had a full lawn-and-leaf garbage bag filled with cardboard rolls, and then even more came in today.  I was so pleased to see and hear the enthusiasm from my co-workers for helping Tyler Arboretum.  One interesting side effect was the “visual” of just how many cardboard rolls we generate and go through in such a short time (a possible future environmental project for a student to investigate!).

So here is my take-home message to all volunteers and friends of Tyler – reach out to your family, your friends,  your co-workers, your schools, etc., and get them involved in helping Tyler Arboretum!  I don’t know anyone that has the time or the funds to help to the extent that he/she wishes, but by mobilizing our own little circles of family and friends with these types of collection drives, simple acts of kindness can make a big difference for Tyler (in this case, for the art/nature programs for children).

This makes me want to make some recycled art, too!  My next post, Part 2, will be a full description of what Tyler did with all of these toilet paper and paper towel rolls…



A celebration of volunteering at Tyler Arboretum

President Award logoAlthough it has been some time since I have blogged on this site, it is not because things are “quiet” at Tyler Arboretum!  In transitioning back from sabbatical and then immediately heading out to sea for a 3-week field experience, I finally have my “land legs” back and am getting back “out and about” on the pathways and trails at the Arboretum this November.  One of the events I recently attended was an evening to celebrate and recognize the efforts of Tyler’s volunteers.

The volunteers at Tyler Arboretum are some of the most passionate volunteers I have met, always so generous with their time and energy, and always with a smile on their faces!  Each year, Tyler hosts a lovely reception with excellent food, delightful conversations, and recognition of volunteers that have donated enough hours of their time to earn The President’s Volunteer Service Award (this website will provide more information about the award).  See my previous blog posts about the 2012 and 2013 Volunteer Recognition ceremonies.

Julia Lo Ehrhardt, Tyler’s volunteer coordinator, was an excellent “master of ceremonies,” providing a fascinating overview of the history of volunteering at the Arboretum.  Presidential Volunteer Service Awards were earned at the Silver and Bronze level by six youth and seventeen adults for their work with summer camps, public programs, and the horticulture department.  Below are some photos I took at the event in the Sequoia Room of The Barn, but the photos on the Tyler Arboretum Facebook page are much better (nice job, Laura McPhail, Tyler’s Communications Coordinator!).

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Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 5.36.21 PMThis year, there were no Presidential Lifetime Award winners (volunteers that have contributed 4,000 volunteer hours or more).  But I was thrilled to hear that two volunteers are “banking” their volunteer hours to achieve this recognition!  And I must give a shout-out to the previous Lifetime volunteers and thank them for their time, dedication, and passion for making Tyler Arboretum the gem that it is!  Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do, Joe Cultrara, Nick Greene, Wayne Keller, Michael Lenzi, Jack Nixon, Tom Reeves, Doug Robinson, and Pat Vaul.

Interested in volunteering for Tyler Arboretum? See Tyler’s Volunteer webpage for the range of opportunities available!

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Tyler Arboretum contributes to Smithsonian tree biomass research

DSCN4704Early yesterday morning I headed out to Tyler Arboretum, taking a brief stroll along the Scenic Loop with a chorus of birds and seeing various critters scurry across the pathway (some scurrying not-so-fast, as this friendly slug).  But as I started my journey and walked by the pond, a shiny silver band caught my eye, and I’m hoping this blog post will encourage more of you to take a look at this band and realize its significance.

If you walk towards the pond, and if you stand with the pond on your left, look towards the right and you will see this bench, with this tree right next to it:


The silver band is a dendrometer, a metal band with a spring that allows us to measure an increase in the tree diameter – in effect, measuring tree growth.  The tree band and the data it will provide from measurements are all part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Tree Banding Project.  Scientists from the Smithsonian are starting the first global database to see how trees respond to our planet’s changing climate.  With increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, are trees growing faster?  Is the rate of growth linear?  Is the growth the same across different regions?  The answer will be in the data, and what the Smithsonian needs now is more data!

This is where Tyler Arboretum and other schools and public gardens come in.  The Smithsonian sent Tyler Arboretum a kit to set up these tree bands on different trees scattered around the Arboretum.  Below is a close-up of the tree by the pond with its band.  The spring on the back side allows the band to expand and the tree continues to grow.



It is the space within the “notch” under the tree label where Tyler’s horticulture staff will be measuring the increasing gap with digital calipers over time.  It is incredibly exciting to see that Tyler’s trees are not just for our own enjoyment but are also contributing to significant climate research.  To learn more about the Smithsonian research and the tree bands, check out this YouTube video.

Most importantly, please do not touch the band!  The tree needs to expand and grow on its own, and any human fingers/hands that touch the band can throw off the band placement and therefore impact the measurement.

The Smithsonian Tree Banding Project is just one example of the citizen science projects that are taking off at Tyler.  I encourage everyone to go back and check out Director of Public Programs Amy Mawby’s column titled “Engaging in Science at Tyler” on page 4 in the Summer 2014 Tyler Topics Newsletter.  Read about the other scientific data being collected at Tyler, and how YOU as a citizen scientist and help with these projects!