Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Stop Links Matthaei Botanical Gardens with MDetroit Center, U-M Central Campus

Beginning May 8, the MDetroit Center Connector (MDCC) will add the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens as a new weekly bus stop between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

In addition to five bus stops in Detroit, Matthaei Botanical Gardens will be the first new Ann Arbor bus stop since the service was launched in September 2013.

The added route is a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan Detroit Center, Semester in Detroit program, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum.

"We're grateful for this new partnership with Matthei Botanical Gardens which we see as a sign of both the University's growing demand for creative collaboration and the southeast Michigan region's need for greater transportation connectedness,” says Dr. Addell Anderson, Co-Director of the MDetroit Center Connector.

“Stopping at the Botanical Gardens offers many benefits,” says Karen Sikkenga, Associate Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum. “I see great potential for programmatic cross-pollination. Our Cultivating Community student gardening group can use the shuttle to travel to Detroit, while Detroit schoolchildren can take field trips to the Gardens.” A combined shuttle service is more cost effective, too,” Sikkenga adds. “We can run the shuttle more often instead of administering two parallel services.”

The MDetroit Center Connector currently offers round-trip transportation for U-M students, faculty, staff and their guests from central campus in Ann Arbor to multiple locations in the City of Detroit.

As the busy spring season begins, excitement about the new stop is running high at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, says Sikkenga. “Joining forces with the MDetroit Center Connector and Semester in Detroit is a perfect opportunity to show the U-M communities in Ann Arbor and Detroit what we have to offer.”

Interested riders can visit the Detroit Center Connector web page to make reservations, view bus schedules, get service updates, and find out additional information on all MDetroit Center Connector stops.

Reservations and a valid MCard are required; riders must present their U-M ID cards to ride the bus.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum offer nature-based programming, classroom/rental space, adult/youth programs, and major annual events such as Shakespeare in the Arb, Music in the Arb, conservatory exhibits, and more). Nichols Arboretum is home to the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America.
The MDetroit Center Connector received funding in the first round of the Transforming Learning for the Third Century Fund - a five-year, $50 million internal grant campaign challenging U-M faculty and staff to rethink teaching and learning, as the University grows closer to its bicentennial in 2017. Additional funding for this transit initiative was provided by the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.


The University of Michigan's Detroit Center offers instruction and provides a central base to support and sustain research and partnerships among the University, civic leaders, arts groups, and community organizations. The Center recognizes Detroit for its rich urban arts and cultural context and opportunities for meaningful education and scholarship. The Center also embodies the University's commitment to the City, and serves as a visible and accessible community center gateway to the University for Detroit's residents and its institutions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nichols Arboretum Trails Still Locked in Ice


Winter’s not letting go of the Arb just yet. So walk—don’t run—says one Matthaei-Nichols student caretaker

By Brad Kasberg

The Nichols Arboretum caretakers don’t just help run the Arboretum—they run in the Arboretum, too. Last Saturday (March 22), after a long winter of hibernation, I donned my running shoes, stepped outside the caretaker cottage, and went for my first outdoor run of the year. I was set for an enjoyable voyage through the Arb in early “spring”: the air was crisp, a few birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and the river was beautiful and flowing quickly from all that melting snow and ice.


Nichols Arboretum trails are still locked in ice
late March 2014.
As it turns out, all that snow and ice hadn’t melted as much as I'd have liked. I was prepared for a mixture of small puddles, slush, and ice, but I wasn’t prepared for trails still almost entirely covered in snow and ice. The less-used trails and those on north-facing slopes were still frozen over, with frozen footprints making the trail both uneven and slippery. I had to slow down my run and jog/walk carefully along the trail, making sure to step carefully.

Trails conditions are still icy enough that the Ann Arbor Marathon, which is scheduled for Sunday, March 30, and usually travels through Nichols Arboretum, has changed the route to avoid the Arb.

While the trails aren’t too hospitable for a brief jog or a marathon, slowing down and walking through the Arb was still a wonderful experience. I find something beautiful about the process of our changing seasons and the anticipation of new life and activity. Fairly soon the trails will melt, the redbuds will bloom, and the spring ephemerals will start to pop. Until then, I’ll walk.

Update: A few 50+-degree days and the trails will thaw soon enough. Hopefully the long winter won't delay the Peony Garden, Laurel Ridge, Centennial Shrub Collection, or the spring ephemerals.

Brad Kasberg is a Master's in Landscape Architecture/Master's in Urban Planning candidate in the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Spring Break on the Prairie Proves Transformative for Michigan Student

Nichols Arboretum caretaker and University of Michigan student Julie McLaughlin  talks about how working outdoors led her to study ecology and the environment.

How did I end up in the Conservation Ecology graduate program at Michigan?

I didn’t begin working outdoors until my senior year of college. As part of Michigan’s Alternative Spring Break program, I spent a week working on oak savanna and tallgrass prairie restoration with an AmeriCorps group in Indiana instead of laying on a beach in Mexico (or, more likely, watching TV in my parents’ basement.)

This was my first exposure to the unique ecosystems of savanna and prairie, of which very few remnants remain in the Midwest, and which many conservation ecologists are scrambling to protect, as less than 1% of this habitat remains. I spent my post-graduation year with the same AmeriCorps team, traveling across the state year-round, exploring Nature Conservancy sites and learning how ecosystem health was measured and restored. I also learned what would become my life motto: there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.

I then moved to a totally different region: the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado. I enjoyed the dry and sunny weather, the different species of plants and wildlife, the culture of open space, and the thrills of summiting high peaks. But despite all of these differences, my experience in the Midwest was quite useful: it turns out that if you travel southwest from Michigan, the tallgrass prairie recedes and then disappears throughout Kansas and Nebraska, right up until you reach the Rocky Mountain foothills. Here, in the ecotone—the transition area between two biomes—where the plains and the mountains collide, are pockets of tallgrass prairie that are remnants from the last ice-age.

After years of seasonal jobs, I realized that I would need to pursue an advanced degree if I really wanted to commit myself to ecology as a career. Despite my experience out west, it was the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan that appealed to me most, and that’s how I ended up back in Ann Arbor, where Conservation Biology as a discipline was formally founded almost 30 years ago.

The author participates in a prescribed burn in 2007 at the Northern Indiana Public Service Company savanna, which is a Nature Conservancy property in Jasper County, IN.


One of the best parts of my graduate studies so far is how integrated my studies are with my work and personal life. As a resident caretaker in the Arboretum, I live in the same place where I work and study. I get to lead volunteers in restoring a prairie that is many things: a valuable research site, a rare ecosystem I'm deeply invested in conserving, and a place that's right in my own backyard. I’ve also come to learn that, despite working with vastly different species and ecosystems, and in different parts of the world, our goals as students of conservation are the same: to understand the diversity of the human and natural worlds, and how to ensure that these worlds will exist long into the future.

Julie McLaughlin is a master's student in Conservation Ecology with interests relating to restoration ecology. She hopes to work on projects focused on invasive species ecology, removal, and post-treatment monitoring, including the use of prescribed burning as a treatment tool. Julie is also interested in prairie and oak savanna restoration in the Midwest and Mountain Pine Beetle issues in the Rockies.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Skunk Cabbage - A Sure Sign of Spring!

In case you hadn't noticed it's been a groundbreaking winter season with record low temperatures and record high snowfalls. But leave it to the natural springs to break the ground in their own way and provide us with our first hint of spring!

Last Saturday (February 22), Nichols Arboretum caretakers discovered the first signs of spring life down by the Huron River banks near a natural spring - skunk cabbage! Skunk cabbage, or Symplocarpus foetidus, is one of the first plants to emerge in spring. It's a thermogenic plant, which means it is able to generate heat at the cellular level, specifically in the mitochondria cells. This process melts the frozen ground around the plant, allowing growth to occur. Characteristics of the plant include an early spring bloom of mottled purple flowers at 4-6 inches tall that produce a pungent but harmless odor - the root of this plant's common name.  Leaves emerge slightly later than the bloom and can reach 21.5" long by 16" wide. Get your hiking boots ready, because spring is right around the corner!

Skunk cabbage pushing up through the snow in Nichols Arboretum


Guest post by Nichols Arboretum caretaker Jacob Hamilton, part of a series of posts written by our student workers.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A New Coconut Palm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

We recently added a coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) to the tropical house of the Conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The former coconut plant (tree) was removed more than 10 years ago because it had grown tall enough to brush against the roof glass of the Conservatory. The new palm will begin its residence in a large pot. This way we can control the root zone area for optimum culture and move the plant around to figure out the best placement before it is finally planted. Coconut palms need a lot of light.

The new coconut palm in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Some fun facts about the coconut tree and fruit:

·         The botanical name “Cocos” refers to the seed’s resemblance to a monkey face, skull, or head, while “nucifera” is Latin for nut.
·         A coconut tree can live to be 100 years old and nearly that many feet tall.
·         Almost every part of the coconut tree is used by some human culture in the world.
·         The coconut seed is not a true (botanically speaking) nut.
·         The coconut seed is the only seed containing free “water” (coconut water). Don’t confuse this thin, translucent liquid with coconut milk, which is the result of a manmade process. 
·         The coconut palm seed is not the largest plant seed. That distinction belongs to the double coconut – also known as Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica).

Enjoy a tropical visit to the conservatory at Matthaei, where you'll find our new coconut tree—just in time for our conservatory exhibit, “The Garden of India”—behind the pineapple plants on the right side of the central walkway as you enter the tropical house.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kudos to Matthaei-Nichols Caretakers

We hire many students throughout the year to work outside and inside in every department. Caretakers, who generally look after the Arboretum, are the unsung heroes of our student workers. So we're taking this opportunity to give a shout to these incredibly hard-working and dedicated students. Did you know that---

*  Caretakers led 20 volunteer workdays this past fall semester. These were our public eco-restoration workdays held at Matthaei and at the Arb on the second and third Saturday of each month, year-round, plus many special/private workdays.

*  Caretakers worked with 269 volunteers (most of them U-M students) and logged 833 hours!

These numbers are very impressive, and we couldn't welcome so many students and community members to the Arb and Gardens without caretaker leadership. They not only lead these groups but also provide education about our natural areas and the importance of restoration.

In keeping with the Matthaei-Nichols' mission, we hope that this work helps the volunteers to connect with nature on a deeper level and inspires them to participate future stewardship activities.

Thank you, caretakers!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mentor, Advisor, and Professor: A Student’s Impression of Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese

Guest post by Dan Buckley

I met Bob Grese two years ago while researching master’s programs in landscape architecture (MLA). After a few back-and-forth emails, Professor Grese graciously invited me to his office at Matthaei Botanical Gardens to discuss the MLA program at the University and, of course, to give me a tour of the grounds. I applied to the University’s MLA program a month later with the request that he be my advisor. Since then, Bob—as he prefers to be called—has been my advisor, professor and twice my supervisor during my summer internships at Matthaei-Nichols.

Bob’s passion for nature and the environment shows in every facet of his work—professor, director, and author alike. With a rich portfolio inspired by the works of influential landscape architects such as Jens Jensen and O.C. Simonds, Bob has been exploring the aesthetic potential of ecosystem restoration and management at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum for over fourteen years. Through the cataloguing and mapping of the various ecosystems and collections at each of the Matthaei-Nichols properties, Bob says he hopes to create research opportunities that will “exemplify the University as a leader in field research and teaching and a model for land stewardship and conservation.”
Bob Grese in the Alex Dow Prairie, Nichols Arboretum. Photo courtesy Dave Brenner.

As the newly appointed Theodore Roosevelt Professor in Ecosystem Management, a five-year appointment awarded to one professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE), Bob hopes to work with students and faculty to develop a research and management framework for other natural lands at the U-M. His ultimate goal, he observes, “is to enable much more active integration of the University of Michigan’s natural lands for research and teaching, to build effective programs of stewardship, and to engage neighbors and other supporters who currently use these lands.”

Professor Grese’s experience with ecological restoration in the field and the classroom as professor of landscape architecture certainly qualifies him for this professorship. He believes that landscape architects can play a critical role in ecosystem management. “We have the potential to have much impact in how the built landscape relates to broader ecosystem processes and can use creative design to create a much more positive relationship,” he says.

SNRE held an acceptance ceremony on Tuesday, December 3 at the School of Natural Resources. Students, fellow faculty, and many friends attended a presentation on the history of landscape architecture as it pertains to the Midwest region. Professor Grese is very passionate about his work, and it shows in all that he does. I personally look forward to witnessing the progression of his work over the next few years.


Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum has just started a program of blog posts created by our student interns, work studies, and Arboretum caretakers. Today's guest post was written by Dan Buckley. Dan is a grad student in MLA – graduation deferred for detached study.