Botany in a Box

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This past weekend my wife Laura came inside with a Botany in a Box she had collected and arranged from our backyard, a delightful mixture of flowers and miniature eggplants and melons, kousa dogwood fruits, crabapples, Korean maple fruits and more treasures. It is for her new 2nd grade class that started Monday.


  It reminded me of the simple joys of collecting and sharing these miniaturizations of horticultural and woodland nature. So, along with her welcome for her students, here are a few thoughts from an Akron Beacon Journal article I wrote eight years ago, with a box or two along the way.


  Nothing original here  – Sam Gamgee carried Galadriel’s soil and seeds from Lothlorien through Mordor and back to Hobbiton. George Washington Carver had boxes of plant curiosities for his students at Tuskegee.  Oak lovers have boxes of acorns, pine lovers boxes of cones, but it is something you can make your own, from any habitat. So, the article:


an organized botany in a box
A highly organized Botany in a Box created by Sharon Treaster


  “When there is not enough time for a full tour of Secrest Arboretum I sometimes prepare an Arboretum in a Box for visitors. The boxes are nothing fancy, just simple plastic tackle boxes with compartments and little sprigs of what is currently showing and on display in the Arboretum. Over the years, I have learned a lot from this exercise.


botany in a box mostly of fruits
Found this image on my desktop. From random Arboretum in a Box from years ago: note winterberry hollies.


  “At first, I thought of it as a necessary but lesser substitute for the real thing of walking to observe nature and nurture’s wonders. But Secrest curator Kenny Cochran has convinced me over the years that these little arboreta in miniature stand, or sit, on their own in their little compartments, showing exquisite details otherwise missed when seeing the bigger picture.  A cannot see the trees for the forests sort of thing.  


  “The smells of concolor fir needles, the contrasting red, orange and yellow colors of winterberry holly fruits from different cultivars, the exquisite patterned detail of Japanese red pine cones, the different sizes of dawnredwood cones collected from trees from diverse geographic provenances throughout the country – all these are in some ways more telling in these little boxes.


  “The past ten days {In 2009} illustrated another example of how Arboretum In a Box is useful. The boxes allowed us to engage two distinguished visitors to OSU’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Secrest Arboretum in Wooster. President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson of Iceland and Ohio’s own First Lady Frances Strickland both visited OARDC to learn of all the marvelous research and development there, from agricultural job creation to soil microbiology and composting, from food safety and local food distribution  systems to biofuel development.


President Grimmson and Botany in a Box in 2009
President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson enjoys Botany in a Box when visiting OSU in 2009


First Lady Frances Strickland and Botany in a Box
First Lady of Ohio Frances Strickland enjoys a Box out in Secrest Arboretum


  “Time was an element and at times the elements themselves, wind and cold and rain intervened and full tours of the Arboretum were not possible. To the rescue – Arboretum in a Box. Here are a few plants in less-than-full we enjoyed:     



  “Oaks.  Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and as you might imagine, acorns fit in the box better than 2-3 feet in diameter majestic oaks trees. Yet acorns symbolize the story of their prowess, a powerful story of over $200 apiece in annual environmental services for many of the oaks in the Arboretum. These storied oaks resonated very well with President Grimsson, whose country is on the front of climate consequences and who is quite a player in the climate change scene internationally.




Oak acorns
These acorns were collected days after the Wooster Tornado of 2010. Come visit Secrest today and enjoy the thousands of trees added since the thousands were lost September 16, 2010


  “The environmental tree-stories also are quite meaningful to Frances Strickland. We have a project with the Heritage Gardens at the Governor’s Residence in Bexley with both Frances and Former First Lady Hope Taft, documenting the energy savings, carbon sequestration benefits, and stormwater remediation and air quality benefits of trees in the Heritage Garden and surrounding Bexley streets.


  “Birch bark. The cinnamon colors of exfoliating bark of our native river birch (Betula nigra) is an attractive addition to the Secrest box and fortunately removal of this ornamental, peeling outer bark on birches does not harm the tree. Birches also resonate with President Grimmson since they are a major part of the reforestation efforts in Iceland. In fact, he agreed with a report I had found from their forestry commission that “the future of forestry in Iceland is very bright”. Iceland once had birch forests that were largely denuded by settlers, and now are being replanted. Not river birches, native here, but Betula pubescens, an Old World birch species.


River birch and its bark


  “An interesting story from OARDC research by OSU entomologists Dave Nielsen and Dan Herms tells the story of evolutionary adaptation of these two birches. Our native birches such as Betula nigra do not die from infestations of the bronze birch borer insect, which is itself native to North America. These natural selection survivors over long periods of time thrive because of evolved mutations making them resistant to this native insect. European birches such as Betula pubescens and Asian birches died early in the studies: not many years of evolutionary history – not enough genetic resistance to the insect.    


  “We shared much more in our Arboretum in A Boxes with our curious, accomplished and gracious visitors these past few days, from the delicate flower bud panicles developing on Pieris shrubs to the small but stout chambered cones of Metasequoia (dawnredwoods) found in the fossil records of both Iceland and Ohio.  Metasequoia then declined worldwide except in remote mountain valleys in China, but for the past years are now being replanted again throughout the world. Dawnredwoods now grace both Secrest and the Heritage Garden – and are pleasing to look at in isolation – as cones in the Arboretum in a Box.


Arboretum in a box including dawnredwood cones
Female dawnredwood cones in the upper left; male dawnredwood cones in the upper right


Chadwick Arboretum in an Egg Container
Chadwick Arboretum in an Egg Container by the incomparable Sharon Treaster for their Tree Campus Arboblitz


  “One last story from Iceland, an appropriate land to feature as we move toward our just- around-the-weekend winter wonderland arrival. President Grimsson noted that one of the challenges of reforestation efforts in Iceland is that when the trees grow higher, which is also when they grow and grow in their environmental benefits, some people want them cut down because they obscure their vast panoramic Icelandic views. Which brings us to this poem by Tess Gallagher:”


“I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountains. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
An unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.”