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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Vanilla Orchid Blooms in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens Conservatory

Several staff members recently noted that the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia) growing in the tropical house of the conservatory had flower buds.

According to staff horticulturist Mike Palmer, it's been close to 30 years since there's been a blooming vanilla orchid in the conservatory. Mike says he thinks it was former staffer Connie Crancer who planted the orchid. The Vanilla planifolia orchid is native to Mexico.

Two blooming vanilla-orchid flowers in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens seen from the side and from below. It's a beautiful flower in its own right, but not particularly fragrant. And it definitely doesn't smell like vanilla.


It's not widely known that vanilla (the spice/flavoring) comes from an orchid, and a climbing vine at that. The first flowers of this orchid that was planted some 10 years ago are dangling from its vine on the yerba mate tree. Individual flowers only last a day or slightly more. Vanilla flavoring comes from the seed pod of the vanilla orchid. The pod is harvested and cured, which ferments and dries the pod. The result is the vanilla "bean" that we see in stores. Vanilla extract is made from beans that are soaked in an alcohol-based liquid such as brandy, rum, or vodka. 

Mike attempted to pollinate the vanilla flower. In nature, the flower is pollinated by a native bee. In order to ensure a steady supply of pods to meet the demand for this one-of-a-kind flavoring, most vanilla orchids are pollinated by hand. It's an elaborate, complicated process that instills a sense of appreciation for this flower and the bee that does the job in nature. Stay tuned for the result!

Some fun facts on vanilla:


1. It is the only orchid with an "edible" fruit.
2. It is difficult to get a fruit by hand pollination, unless you know the trick.
3. It is the second most expensive spice behind saffron.
4. The flowers or leaves do not smell like vanilla.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Celebrating the University of Michigan Bicentennial and Matthaei-Nichols long-time members by planting an oak tree at Matthaei Botanical Gardens


Long-time members of Matthaei-Nichols joined us on Friday, September 29 for an oak-tree planting that celebrated their support and the University of Michigan Bicentennial. Guests gathered in the auditorium at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for some great food, followed by a trip outside to plant the oak tree, a native white oak. Director Bob Grese, curator David Michener, and others spoke about the tree and our mission, and members and volunteers talked about what it means to be connected to and engage with the Arb and Gardens. Even the desserts were decorated with miniature candy oak leaves and acorns! 

Thanks to everyone for a beautiful evening - see photos below:

Catherine Andrea and Robin Mendenhall
Photo credit: Thor Helgeson
Group photo

The Bicentennial oak tree under the existing black cherry tree
Member Cathy Bach

Bob Grese and Denise Tanguay
Photo credit: Thor Helgeson
Volunteer and Member Dave Wooten

Delicious Desserts


Tree planting preparations



The Bicentennial oak tree


In celebration of the U-M Bicentennial and long-time members of Matthaei-Nichols, 2017.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trail opens linking University of Michigan botanical gardens with campus and area trail systems

On Saturday, October 14, at 10 am, the newly constructed Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail officially opened to the public! 

For directions to the botanical gardens click here.

The paved, 10-foot-wide trail runs approximately 2 miles roughly parallel to Dixboro Rd. Starting
A map showing the trail connecting from the
Washtenaw Border-to-Border trail and Gallup Park
from the botanical gardens, the trail travels through varied landscapes that include parts of the botanical gardens, Radrick Golf course, and the University of Michigan Adventure Leadership program grounds.

The completed trail caps a multi-year collaboration with government entities, corporations, the University of Michigan as well as multiple individuals and donors.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail connects to the Washtenaw Border-to-Border trail system and beyond, and it provides safe, healthful, and nonmotorized transportation options for U-M staff and students and the general public to get to Matthaei from central campus and other areas.

Bikers, walkers, and strollers welcome are welcome on the trail. Dogs on leash are allowed on the trail.

The trail head begins near the U-M Campus Farm at the south entrance to the botanical gardens.

For directions to the botanical gardens click here.

Join us at: 

Matthaei Botanical Gardens
1800 N. Dixboro Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Calling All Artists: Apply for the Holiday Artist Market at Matthaei Botanical Gardens





Holiday Artist Market: Sunday, December 3, 2017, 10 am - 4:30 pm
Application deadline: September 30, 2017 Notifications: October 18, 2017

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum invites you to apply for our holiday artist market in December! Here's how it works: Submit your original, nature-inspired work for consideration---jewelry, sculpture, glass, photography, paintings, fiber, etc. We're looking for a variety of different arts and crafts at an affordable cost range. For a modest fee we supply you with a table and seating. You sell your art directly to the public, keep the proceeds, and garner the exposure to the U-M and local communities. For details read more below.


The details:

  • $30 per table. 
  • Each set-up includes one 6’ or 8’ table and chairs (see below for table size info). We set up the table and chairs prior to your arrival. Participating artists are required to be present at their booth for the duration of the market hours.
Extras: To enhance your booth, you may request to add on these extras. Supplies are limited.
  • Easel - $2 each
  • White table cloth - $5 (supplies limited)
  • An additional  4’ x2’ table, creates L-shaped table configuration  $15 (room 125 and auditorium only)
  • An additional  8’x18” table creates L-shaped table configuration  $15 (room 139 only)
  • An additional 8’ x 30” of floor space (good for sculpture or free standing display). $20


Rooms and tables:

Auditorium: The largest room, it will have 18-20 booths. Each booth has an 8’x30” table. The space behind and to the sides of the booth is very limited. Vendors should plan on keeping their booth and items contained to the table. This space can hold two L-shaped table configurations. with an extra 4” table (+$15) and one booth with extra 8’x30” of floor space ($20).
Room 139: The smallest room, it will have 6 booths. Each booth has a 6’x30” table. While the table is smaller there is more room behind and to the side of the booths. This space is good for easel displays and a less cramped space. This space can hold one L-shaped table configuration with an extra 6’x18” table (+$15).
Classroom 125: Room with 7 booths. Each booth has an 8’x35” table. The tables are directly next to each other but there is more room behind the booths. This space can hold two L-shaped table configuration with an extra 4” table (+$15).

To apply click here to fill out the application. Please fill out the application completely. Required fields are marked with a red asterisk *. Payment required upon acceptance. Once accepted, instructions for payment will be sent to you; payment is expected within a week of acceptance.

We look forward to your submissions!



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Zombie 5K in Nichols Arboretum

A run to die for! 

The unthinkable has happened. Nichols Arboretum is an obstacle course of marauding zombies in this 5K run over the Arb's trails. Can you survive to the finish line? Registration available now. Member discount on registrations. For more information and to register click here
Friday, October 13, 6 pm, University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum, 1610 Washington Hts., Ann Arbor (across from U-M hospitals).

How it works:
Participants run through the Arb for a 5k race unlike any other in the Arb before! Each runner receives a belt with two flags that act as “lives.” On the 5K course zombies attempt to take your lives in order to infect you! 


The goal is to make it out with at least one life flag and be a “survivor.” Survivors are rewarded by being entered into raffles to win gift cards and cool items. Want to up your chances of survival? You can purchase extra flags for $5 or you can ask your friends and family to sponsor you and buy them for you!
All proceeds support the Arb and help keep it a pristine (and zombie free) place for the community to enjoy nature.
Cool t-shirt!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Local Conservation Partners Contribute to Control of Michigan’s First Invasive Japanese Stiltgrass

In early August of this year, the conservation community was made aware of Michigan’s first population of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), a notoriously invasive sprawling grass introduced from Asia in the early 20th century when it was used as packing material for fine china. The population is on private land in Scio Township with important nearby natural areas and public parks from which it could spread quickly throughout Michigan. Stiltgrass can grow in most environments where it can quickly cover the surface and eliminate other species.



Rather than wait for stiltgrass to arrive on their lands, staff from Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, City of Ann Arbor Natural Areas Program, Washtenaw County Parks Natural Areas Preservation Program, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan worked with the Michigan DNR and two private landowners to eradicate all known stiltgrass. Each organization was already part of The Stewardship Network Huron-Arbor Cluster which allowed for the capacity of an immediate control effort in combination with significant on-the-ground efforts by the landowners. Bob Grese, Director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, notes “Japanese stiltgrass is a key example of a highly invasive species where we have a chance to pull together to identify and contain an invasive species while it can still be controlled and before it negatively impacts our native plants and animals.”


Japanese stiltgrass images courtesy invasive.org.
While partners report that stiltgrass will have to be controlled next year from seed that remains in the soil, they have halted the expansion of the population. The organizations are working together to better delimit the population, find it elsewhere, and determine how to restore habitats that have been impacted.

Even if invasive species are first found on private land, prevention, early detection, and quick response is the most cost-effective solution by local governments in managing invasive species. These organizations contributed some resources to the problem now so that they slow the spread, train employees, and raise awareness to reduce the impacts of stiltgrass on lands in their jurisdictions. “The most efficient way to deal with invasive species is to keep them from getting established in the first place. If we can team up to quickly eradicate this new infestation of Japanese stiltgrass, we may be able to keep it out of Michigan, or at least out of Ann Arbor.”

The Jackson and Washtenaw County Conservation Districts and others are heading up an effort to start a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area in Jackson, Washtenaw, and Lenawee Counties. This will make it even easier to conduct surveillance and control of invasive species that seriously impact the quality of our environment. “Finding and removing stiltgrass and other invasive species is one of the best ways to protect our wetlands, prairies and forests”, says Evan Pratt, Water Resources Commissioner for Washtenaw County who is a partner in the effort.


Conservation partners need help from the public in finding stiltgrass that may be out there. For more information on identifying stiltgrass, see: http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1457/ANR-1457.pdf and report it to Greg Norwood, Invasive Species Coordinator, Michigan DNR-Wildlife Division, norwoodg@michigan.gov, 517-342-4514 or Krista Dickerson, Michigan DNR-Wildlife Division at DickersonK1@michigan.gov, 517-284-6168.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Grand Opening Celebration of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail - Saturday, October 14

On Saturday, October 14, the newly constructed Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail officially opens to the public! Please join us from 9:30 am to noon to celebrate the grand opening of the trail. If you plan on joining us, we encourage you to RSVP here.

For directions to the botanical gardens click here.

Below you can find a schedule of morning events:

9:30-11:30 am -- Activities at the trail head (near the Campus Farm off the gardens' south entrance)
10 am -- Ribbon cutting and brief remarks to officially open the trail

A map showing the trail connecting from the
Washtenaw Border-to-Border trail and Gallup Park
10:30 am -- Children's activities in the Gaffield Children's Garden

11:30 am -- Garden tours available 

Bikers, walkers, and strollers welcome. Although pets are allowed on the trail, we ask that you do not bring your pet to the celebration.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens
1800 N. Dixboro Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105