Is this email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser

Christmas tree decorating - Arboretum style!

A colour photograph of two masked women posing with a christmas tree

Our Christmas tree is up in The Arboretum Centre again for another holiday season! The tree was decorated by Marg and Monica, two of our amazing volunteers. It features natural decorations collected from around The Arboretum. There is still plenty to see in our collections even after all our deciduous plants have dropped their leaves and most of our gardens have gone dormant for the season. From brightly coloured fruits and bark to the interesting forms and textures of dried flowers and seed pods, our Christmas tree ornaments demonstrate the diversity of winter in The Arboretum!
Take a closer look at some of our ornaments! As an extra challenge, see if you can identify any of the plant material on our tree. Answers below!

Top: Volunteers Marg and Monica with the Christmas tree in The Arboretum Centre. Bottom: A selection of natural ornaments on The Arboretum Christmas tree.

Holiday and COVID Closures

The University of Guelph campus will be closed starting December 24, 2021. University operations will resume January 4, 2022. Due to the developing situation with the Omicron variant, the University will return in January with a remote start until the 24th. Our buildings will be closed to the public during this period, but our grounds and trails will remain open!

Experience Arb History with a new Adventure Lab!

colour photo of a woman in a pink coat smiling and holding a phone with the Adventure Lab app displayed on the screenAs we come towards the end of our 50th year, we have a new way to celebrate The Arboretum's history! Created by Patricia Bell-Rogers, this new Adventure Lab takes you on a historical tour of The Arboretum. Adventure Lab (AL) is an app that allows you to go on a location-based scavenger hunt. It is similar to geocaching, where you look for hidden containers using GPS co-ordinates, but instead of finding a physical container, you find clues at each AL location. The app gives you an overview of each adventure and a description of each stage (location). A compass icon within the app guides you to the location, and when you are close enough a question is unlocked, and the hunt is on to find the information nearby! Check out the Arb History Adventure Lab here. To take the tour, you will need to create a free account on, then download the Geocaching Adventure Lab app, login, and start adventuring!

Photo: Patricia Bell-Rogers with her Arboretum History Adventure Lab. Photo by Justine Richardson.

Give experiences with Arboretum Workshops!

Looking for meaningful gifts for those last few people on your list? Haven't started at all yet? Either way, The Arboretum has you covered! You can support The Arb and fulfill your holiday needs this year with our workshops.

We offer workshops on a wide array of topics, from bird watching to gardening, mushroom identification to art. Whether they are interested in starting a new hobby or looking to expand on their existing knowledge, our workshops have something to offer to everyone! We offer both in-person and virtual workshops, so you can gift an Arboretum workshop to someone no matter where they are. Check out our upcoming workshops below, including a bunch of new additions!

Upcoming Workshops


colour photo of an owlOwls: A Who's Whoo in Ontario
Discover how to use your eyes and ears to identify Ontario's Owls in this in-person workshop. Through a wide variety of activities participants will learn about owl plumage, calls and behaviour, habitat requirements, migration patterns, and owl folklore. The day will be spent learning in the classroom. Registrants will have the opportunity to participate in an outdoor Owl Prowl on The Arboretum grounds. Date TBA

colour photo of a bird with a speech bubble that reads bring your garden and nature questionsAsk The Arb
Noon-hour session covering Q&A topics from horticulture to birding. Whether you're worried about a plant in your garden or curious about an odd bird behaviour, join interpretive and horticultural staff for a monthly discussion. Jan 25


photo of a night sky framed by silhouettes of treesVirtual Constellation "Walk" with Trevor Chandler
Join us for monthly sessions as we get to know the night sky a little better. Participants will be introduced to prominent stars and constellations, where to look for them and how the motions of planet Earth cause them to appear to shift from hour to hour and month to month. You will receive a downloadable star map to help you make your way through the stars. Jan 27

colour photo of an owl in a treeOwl Prowl
Learn about the behaviour and adaptations of owls in the Guelph area. This in-person program will begin indoors, but participants are encouraged to dress warmly in preparation for a walk outdoors at night. The Adults only program is for adults and teens aged 14+. The Families program is open to everyone, however children must be accompanied by an adult. Families Jan 28, Adults Jan 29

A colour watercolour painting of a snowy landscapeSnow in Watercolour
In this virtual beginner friendly workshop, Candice Leyland will demonstrate a variety of techniques to capture snowy landscapes in watercolour. During the second half of the class, she will work with students step by step to create a simple snowy winter scene. A supply list is provided upon in your confirmation. Please ensure you have the supplies on hand for the workshop. Jan 31

Colour photo of a twig against a sky backgroundVirtual Winter Tree I.D. with Shelley Hunt
No leaves? No problem! In this workshop you will learn about the variety of tree features that are useful for winter identification of deciduous trees as well as evergreens. We will focus on native Ontario tree species. Optional 'homework' assignments will encourage you to get outside and observe trees in between sessions. The program runs once a week for 4 weeks. Starts Feb 3

colour image of a digital rendering of a gardenVirtual Wildlife Garden Design Course
Learn how to design a diverse garden space that attracts native wildlife species through key design elements, plant choices and maintenance needs. This course will draw from concepts found in The Arboretum’s Gosling Wildlife Gardens. Participants discover the relationships between plants and wildlife and how these ideas can be applied to a backyard! Feb 8 and 9

colour photo of a man in a gardenVirtual My First Vegetable Garden With Robert Pavlis
This course is designed for the new gardener or the gardener that has only been growing vegetables for a couple of years. The course starts at the very beginning, with ordering seeds and ends with a detailed discussion of the 10 best vegetables for new gardeners. Robert is a Master Gardener and garden writer who runs two popular gardening blogs and has published several gardening books. Feb 15

colour photo of a japanese garden
Virtual Japanese Garden Design Course
Taught by our Head Gardener Cael Wishart, this introductory course to Japanese garden design covers the traditional techniques used to establish gardens of peace and Zen. These gardens require a high attention to detail in both design and maintenance. Wherever your interest lie, in theory or in practice, this course is intended to help you appreciate and understand this unique tradition. Mar 8

colour photo of a man standing in front of a garden
Virtual Gardening Fundamentals With Robert Pavlis
Garden Fundamentals will focus on ornamental gardens including trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs and grasses. You will learn how these plants grow and their relationship with the soil. The course will cover practical topics such as planting, maintenance, plant selection, sun requirements, and Robert will give you some of his top picks. This course is suitable for the beginner and intermediate gardener. Mar 15

A colour photo of a red handled pair of secateurs held in front of tree barkThe Art and Practice of Pruning
This half-day indoor/outdoor practical in-person workshop teaches the principles of easy and correct pruning in the home landscape. Participants learn how to choose the right equipment and how to keep it sharp and clean. Pruning techniques will be shown and practiced on a variety of shrubs and small trees. Mask, proof of vaccination and screening required to attend this event. Mar 22

All of our virtual programs are offered live on Zoom, and recordings are made available for registrants to access for a limited time. Visit our website to learn more about these and our other programs. Register early to save your spot!

Winter Tracking: Dogs vs. Coyotes

Chris Earley, Interpretive Biologist & Education Co-ordinator  

Colour photo of a coyote standing in the snow behind a wire fence.A colour photo of a brown fluffy dog standing on grass
Tracking is tricky. But, if you spend some time really getting to know tracks, it is amazing what you can find out about the animals in your neighbourhood. One of the trickiest tracks to identify is that of the coyote. Coyotes are common in the Guelph area and we usually have a few hanging out in The Arboretum…even though we rarely get to see one. But tracks, especially in the winter, help us know that they are around. Unfortunately, coyotes and dogs can leave very similar tracks so it can be hard to tell them apart. There are three main details to note for differentiating these two confusing canines.

1. Dogs tend to have tracks that are rounder than a coyote’s oval tracks. Dogs’ toes often spread out more and their claw markings are often large and blunter looking because of how they are trimmed. Most coyote tracks will only show the middle two claws clearly but dogs often show all four. 
COlour photo of a coyote print next two some dog prints in the snow
Coyote prints (upper) next to a dog print (lower).
A colour photo of a dog print in the snow
A dog print in the snow.
2. Coyotes are built to cover long distances while they forage for food. They also want to move as efficiently as possible. There are different gaits that coyotes use, but their main two are a direct register walk and an overstep trot. For the walk, they step their hind foot directly into the place where their front footColour photo of dog tracks in the snow. was. Dogs can do this, too, but they are sloppy about it and rarely have perfect placement. If you think about it, something short-legged like a dachshund or long-legged like a greyhound does not have the proportions of a coyote and so their tracks are not likely to leave the same direct register. When trotting, coyotes leave their hind track ahead of their front track (this is called an overstep) in a repeating pattern. Some dogs can do this, too, but don’t usually keep it consistent for a long distance.                                                      Dog indirect register walk.
Colour photo of coyote tracks in the snow
Coyote direct register walk.
Colour photo of coyote tracks in the snow
Coyote overstep trot.
3. Trail characteristics: A coyote on the move will usually go in straight lines, exploring things here and there but not erratically. A dog will usually galumph all over the place, zigzagging here and there with a “Wahoo, I’m outside!” exuberance that is unlikely to be seen in most coyote trails. As well, dog tracks will likely be associated with human tracks of the same “freshness” and coyotes will be on their own, though could be using the same trails that we do.

Remember that size is important, too. Eastern Coyotes have tracks that are usually between 5 cm and 7.5 cm long so tracks of very large dogs will be way too big for a coyote. As well, tiny canine tracks would be too small, though remember we have Red Fox tracks to watch for, too (maybe we will cover that species in a future enewsletter)! On our next fresh snow fall, see if you can figure out what canine has been on the trail before you.


Top left: A coyote (Canis latrans) seen near the Village By The Arboretum. Photo by Norris Hoag. Top right: A domestic dog (Canis lupis familiaris). Photo by Sadie Campbell. Lower: Coyote and dog paw prints and tracks. Photos by Chris Earley.

What To See

To learn more about what is happening or what to look out for at The Arboretum please follow us on social media. We are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Search for us at @uogarboretum.
[Click on the photos below to see the posts and more on Instagram.]

a colour photo of a white throated sparrow perched on a vine Some spectacular sparrows sampling our seeds! We currently have some White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) and a White-crowned Sparrow hanging a bit later than normal this fall. Maybe they will join our regular wintering Dark-eyed Juncos for the whole winter? Check out our feeders at The Arboretum Centre and the Gosling Wildlife Gardens and see them for yourself!

a colour photo of a new interpretive sign in the gosling wildlife gardens Education and interpretation has always been important to us here at The Arboretum! That’s why we’re so excited by this new sign series created by Horticulturalist and Gardener, Cael Wishart! This sign series will highlight some of the neat features of each garden in our Gosling Wildlife Gardens.The gardens are designed to be inviting for wildlife in different ways, with each garden focusing on a different approach. With these new signs, it’ll be easier than ever for guests to learn why the space is designed the way that it is and how we can help protect our native animals starting in our own backyards!

colour photo of a black capped chickadee perched on snow covered red staghorn sumac berries eating something Here’s lovely pop of colour in our snow-blanketed landscape! Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) fruit clusters often persist through the winter, providing many birds and mammals with a food source.
This chickadee (
Poecile atricapillus) may be feasting on invertebrates, like spiders, that sometimes overwinter in Staghorn Sumac fruit clusters, or it may be snacking on the fruit.


From the Collection: The Balsam Fir

Polly Samland, Horticultural and Plant Records Technologist

Colour photo of a large evergreen tree taken from a low angle As someone who should genuinely not be living in a northern climate, who finds the monochrome landscape of winter and its rind of snow suffocating, there is something sincerely heart-warming about the traditional Christmas tree. Preparing a space in the home for the green tree and animating it with lights: I can appreciate this celebration of life in a dormant time.

So it seems like a fitting moment to re-introduce an excellent conifer (and familiar Christmas tree), Abies balsamea.

Possibly existing since the mid-cretaceous period, Abies balsamea was named in the mid 1700s as explorers sent botanical treasures to England from the new world, to be inspected, sorted and set into place in the emerging scaffolding of taxonomy. The balsam fir, balsamea, is a reference to the healing ‘Balm of Gilead’ of biblical legend, inspired by the species’ naturally fragrant, gummy, and medicinally useful resin. While all Abies produce resin in their bark, the balsam fir -whose thin grey bark is easily damaged by fires and animals- has a trunk speckled and lumped with resin-filled pockets. Scientists speculate that these resin sacs are protective, capturing insects, plugging wounds, and repelling some foragers from feasting on the bark.

Balsam firs root shallowly. Roots of different individuals may graft together in the upper few feet of soil, which they prefer to be moist and cool. Where the location doesn’t allow seed to germinate easily, old trees may layer their branches, which root and send up new apical shoots, forming an encircling colony around the original tree as it ages into death. Incredibly shade tolerant and patient when young, the balsam fir responds quickly to sunlight, rapidly reaching upwards to outgrow the surrounding canopy.

Balsam fir are unlike other conifers native to southern Ontario. A distinctive feature is the seed cone. Hemlocks, which have similar looking soft needles, produce delicate cones, dangling like ornaments throughout the canopy. Spruce, also pyramidal in shape with single needles attached radially on the branch, all have seed cones that hang downwards, mostly in the upper third of the tree, often lingering on branches throughout the winter.
colour photo of the cones and needles of a balsam fir tree
The fir, on the other hand, confines its seed cones to the new growth at the very tip top of the tree, maximizing sunlight and wind exposure. These female cones point upwards, maturing to a lavender-blue colour in late summer, incredibly symmetrical and tidy in appearance. Dispersal begins in the September breezes - almost like a top-down disintegration and vanishing of the cone, which opens into brownish scales, a seed at tucked into the base of each. The seed is wind-blown and can travel exceptionally far, the scale falling away. A woody skeleton of the cone remains, sticking up like a candle, a natural form that could (some speculate) have inspired Germans to add candles to their Tannenbaum decorating tradition (in turn inspiring strings of coloured lights).

When encountering an Abies balsamea, a colour photo showing the flat needles of a balsam fir(there is a small community of balsam fir, surrounded by examples of their fir relatives in our conifer collection) look at the needles, walk all around, and see if they appear different on the lower and upper branches or east and west sides of the tree. You will likely find a sparse, flat, glossy needle in the shade and a plump, paler, upward-curving needle in the sun. Although attached spirally to the stem, the needles twist to grow outward, attempting to organize themselves into rows. They are not prickly to touch and smell sharp and clean and slightly sweet. This is a wild and lively fragrance to bring into the home. I find a reminder that such beings exist is an antidote to the winter blues.

Top: A balsam fir (Abies balsamea) in The Arboretum's Conifer Collection. Photo by Sadie Campbell. Middle: The seed cones of a balsam fir in the process of dispersal. Photo by Arboretum Staff. Bottom: The flat, glossy needles from a balsam fir in the shade. Photo by Sean Fox.

Virtual Wednesday Walks!

colour photo of a snowy field with text that says Wednesday Noon Walks Are Virtual Until Further Notice
As a precaution, in-person Wednesday Noon Walks are on hold until further notice. We look forward to welcoming you all back to in-person walks once it is safe to do so. In the meantime we will shift to virtual video walks.
Our Naturalist Intern Michelle will explore different areas around The Arb and share what she finds online! You can watch past Wednesday Walk videos on our YouTube page. Keep an eye on our Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube channel for weekly virtual walks!

Winter Weddings at The Arboretum

a colour photo of a man and a woman in formal wear standing in the snow surrounded by snow-covered conifers
Did you know weddings take place at The Arboretum year-round? Every season presents a contrasting natural landscape with scenic views of formal gardens, trees, and trails unique to our world-class, newly renovated indoor reception space with barrier-free access.

For availability, rental rates and to schedule a tour, contact Dawn Ann Webster at 519-824-4120 ext. 54110 or

Photo by Brian Limoyo Wedding Photography.

In the Ecosystem

colour photo of rows of christmas trees growing on a tree farm, one with a green tree ornament hanging from its branchesHaving trouble finding a Christmas tree this year? With an increasing demand for trees, fewer farms, and climate change impacting the growing season, some parts of Canada are experiencing tree shortages. Check out this CBC article, where Arboretum Manager of Horticulture and Curator Sean Fox discusses this issue.

colour photo of a poinsettia display featuring white and red flowersLooking for a unique horticultural experience this holiday season? The Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse is hosting their annual Poinsettia Show from November 20th until January 9th! This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Floral Showhouse, and this years display is spectacular, featuring over 35 different varieties of poinsettia and more than 1000 plants! Visit this webpage for more details.

Donation and Dedication Opportunities

colour photo of a girl using an identification chart to identify a cedar with the words Support the Arb Give Today

The Arboretum relies on donations from generous supporters to keep our grounds beautiful and accessible every day, all year round. Gifts to the Arboretum are tax deductible, and enable efforts such as tree recovery, signage, trails, studentships, gardens, educational programs, and more! Join our community of supporters today with a gift through our online donation portal. 

Did you know that we can accept donations of shares and in-kind contributions? A gift of appreciated securities is a great way to support The Arboretum. Use the Notification of Gift of Securities form. Donors receive full tax credit for the fair-market value. Learn more about how you can give at

Donor Stories

Thanks to the generous support of Dr. Jennifercolour photo of a garden bed surrounded by hedges Caspers and Dr. Bob Friendship, our English Garden will be getting an update in 2022! Dedicated in September 1998 by Frank Miller to the memory of his parents, Edna and Frank C. Miller, this garden showcases the British gardening style that influenced North American garden design. The centre of the garden features two perennial flower beds dedicated to Nancy and Dr. Anthony Caspers. Our head gardener is currently working on a plan to expand garden beds and update plantings in line with those found in traditional British gardens. Be sure to keep an eye on this space as it undergoes changes in the coming seasons!

Christmas Tree Ornament Answers

colour photo of red staghorn sumac berries on a fuzzy brancha) Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina
The showy red fruit of the staghorn sumac is popular not only with people, but with birds too! The showy clusters of fuzzy drupes persist on staghorn sumac well into winter, providing visual interest. Though they are not a favourite for most animals, they become an important food source later in winter when food becomes scarce.

a colour photo of white dogwood berries with magenta stems on a dogwood shrub with no leavesb) Roughleaf Dogwood Cornus drummondii
Roughleaf dogwood is another species usually found just south of Ontario. This dogwood forms dense thickets up to 4.5 metres tall! The white, berry-like drupes of roughleaf dogwood are considered one of its most ornamental features and are an important food source for wildlife. The white fruit contrasts with the bright red stems of this species. This year many of our dogwoods have produced plenty of fruit, which is great for birds and mammals!

Colour photo of the red fruit of american bittersweet hanging down from the Arboretum Centre back patio arbourc) American bittersweet Celastrus scandens
This native woody vine is most prized ornamentally for its showy fall and winter fruit display. Greenish-white flowers give way to orange capsules that split open in fall to reveal seeds covered in bright red arils. Though the name “bittersweet” makes this plant seem like it might be edible, it is poisonous to humans – but it’s a favourite among the birds!

A colour photo of purple berries hanging from a stem d) Japanese Beautyberry Callicarpa japonica
This shrub is appropriately named after its showy purple fruit. Though not actually a true berry, the vibrant drupes produced by this species make it a popular choice in gardens. Native to Asia, this species is a relative to the American beautyberry found in the Southeastern U.S. The leaves of the American species are used as a folk remedy to prevent insect bites. Studies have found that they contain a compound that is almost as effective as DEET!

Colour photo of pink coralberries attached to a stem with brown leaves on it, against a snowy backgrounde) Coralberry Symphoricarpos orbiculatus
This dense shrub provides an uncommon colour to the winter landscape. Small,  bell-shaped flowers give way to clusters of bright coral pink drupes that persist through most of the winter. In the wild, this shade-tolerant shrub is found especially in post oak (Quercus stellata) forests in the Southeastern U.S. A relative of the more nothern snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), coralberry is found in the Eastern United States, with Guelph lying just above its northern range.

a colour photo of bright red berries attached to the stem of a shrub in a snowy garden bedf) Winterberry Ilex verticillata
This native deciduous holly makes quite an impact once its foliage drops in fall, revealing bright red berry-like drupes that persist through winter – depending on bird populations! Winterberry prefers moist or wet soils and has good tolerance for boggy conditions, as it is native to the swampy areas of Eastern North America. The bright red fruits have significant visual impact against snowy a snowy backdrop.

colour photo of red fruit with black spots on them attached to the stem of a leafless treeg) Washington Hawthorn Crataegus phaenopyrum
With its fragrant, showy white flowers in spring, glossy dark green summer leaves, brilliant scarlet-orange fall colour, and bright red winter fruit, the Washington Hawthorn puts on a show in every season. The fruit, sometimes call haws, are shiny red pomes that persist on the tree throughout winter, brightening up grey and snowy days.

Colour photo of the brown dried seed capsules of pearlbush attached to a stem on a leafless shrub in winterh) Pearlbush Exochorda racemosa
This large shrub gets its name from its round, white flower buds that resemble pearls. With its medium green foliage and negligible fall colour, pearlbush is most valued for its beautiful white spring flowers. These flowers give way to capsules that ripen in fall, bursting open to release the seeds. The dry capsules persist on the shrub into winter. With their star shape, these capsules provide winter interest to this shrub, and look pretty festive on our Christmas tree too!

Colour photo of the dried brown flower heads of a hydrangea in winteri) Oak-leaved Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
This deciduous shrub has showy erect panicles of white flowers that mature to pink before turning dry and papery in the fall. These flowers persist on the shrub well into winter, creating an interesting dry floral display. This hydrangea’s most identifiable feature are its lobed leaves that look similar to oak leaves. Oak-leaved hydrangea has spectacular fall colour, turning shades of red, orange-brown, and purple that can persist well into winter.


Ways you can connect with The Arboretum

Make sure to keep in touch with us on social media -  follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.
Make a Donation Download & Print an Arboretum Map Think About Volunteering
email us!
Would you like to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.
camera icon for photo creditThe header of this month's newsletter is a northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Photo by Chris Earley.