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Colour graphic banner with The Arboretum Logo and March 2021 overlaid on a colour photo of white snowdrops (flowers).

What Do You Want to Do in The Arboretum Today?

colourphotograph of an exhibition installation

With the generous support of Page Graphics we have installed a new welcome exhibit in our Hales-McKay Shelter to guide you through our living and growing collections. Before you start your next visit, stop in to learn about plant diversity, wildlife, protecting rare species, the ecology of our trails, finding inspiration for your garden, and even conduct your own research!

Spring is Finally Here!

Justine Richardson, Director

Last evening, I stood awestruck in The Arboretum watching and listening to an American woodcock’s curious spring lekking behaviour – hidden in the grass at dusk, calling “Peent”, then flying high twittering before dropping down again to the meadow. If you’d like to learn more about birdsongs, Chris Earley kicked off a new virtual Bird Song Workshop yesterday, and you can still sign up to participate on Thursdays over lunch for the next 8 weeks.

We are excited that our new boardwalk is open, thanks to the generosity of our Arboretum community! We are preparing for some crucial greenhouse upgrades, which will enhance our work there, including tree recovery efforts for species at risk. In the coming month we’ll be able to move into our newly renovated Hilton Centre. New plants are being prepared for spring planting around the grounds, including the Gosling Wildlife Gardens and ecological restoration efforts with native species along the memorial forest boardwalk and trails. We’re interviewing and hiring summer students and looking forward to a busy -- and still safely socially distanced -- season.

Custom Buff Neck Gaiters!

colour photos of The Arboretum buffs and patterns

We have new Buffs® featuring leaves of 5 native tree species to show off your passion for nature while on your spring walks in The Arboretum!

These custom edition buffs are made from CoolNet UV+® technology, 95% recycled materials, and offer UPF 50 protection & moisture wicking.  Designed by local Arboretum runner and graphic designer Art Kilgour.

Visit our Merchandise shop to order yours today!

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.]

colour photo of a woolybear caterpillar curled up on the groundSpring 2021 could be the most eagerly anticipated spring of our lifetimes. So, every sign that it is coming should be celebrated! What's a sign of spring - the Woolly Bear caterpillar! The Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) overwinters as a caterpillar and once it is warm enough they can be seen wandering under the spring sunshine getting ready to spin fuzzy cocoons to transform inside of

a colour photo of a Red-winged Blackbird Another sign of spring - the Red-winged Blackbird! We all wait for a robin but flocks of them stick around for the winter. But the arrival of your first Red-winged Blackbird means spring is on the way! Hopefully soon we will have large flocks of grackles, blackbirds, and cowbirds flying overhead but for now we are happy this guy has shown himself.

colour photo of white snowdrop flowers in snow Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.)! These extremely hardy plants are equipped with leaves that have hard edges and hard tip buds that enable them to break through the frozen soil and be among the first spring flowers to bloom. Depending on the region, they appear in February and March, often while snow still blankets the ground, but they have a fascinating internal mechanism in their leaf sap that acts like a sort of antifreeze which prevents the formation of ice crystals that would kill them! In addition to being a welcome sign of spring this year, the white flowers of snowdrops provide vital food for insects and bees after the long winter months.

Hand-feeding birds

Chris Earley, Interpretive Biologist
colour photo of a bird eating from a hand holding sunflower seeds

If you've never hand-fed a small bird before, you need to try it! It is an interesting feeling - the birds are very light but they have a strong grip with their little feet. Here are some tips to help you train the birds at your feeder to land on you!
  • Begin by sitting or standing near your feeder so the birds get used to your presence.
  • The best time to hand-feed is when you feeder is empty but there are some chickadees around waiting for you to fill it. If your feeder is full, you can also block the ports on your feeder or cover it with a towel before your start to stop the birds from accessing the seed (they won't land on you initially if they can just get food from the feeder).
  • Put some sunflower seeds in your hand and keep it fairly flat.
  • Stand beside your feeder but extend your arm so your hand is on the far side of the feeder (i.e. the feeder is between you and your hand).
  • Stand still and wait.
  • Try not to look directly at your hand initially.
  • Often birds will land on the feeder first before jumping down onto your hand.
  • Be patient, it may take a few tries, especially at the beginning as the birds get used to you. Once the birds "get it" you will be able to hand-feed them without the feeder between you and the birds.
colour photo pf a person buried ina snow and seeds witha flock of birds landing on themChallenge accepted? You will likely have success with Black-capped Chickadees first. Red-breasted Nuthatches and White-breasted Nuthatches are likely to be next. Other birds are a bit more challenging but worth the patience. Feel free to be creative, some people attach a glove stuffed with seeds to their feeder, one of my daughter's friends (pictured) got creative and buried herself in snow and seeds near her feeder, and had a huge flock of Common Redpolls land on her!

Top photo by Chris Earley. Bottom photo by Skye Earley

From the Collection: The Promenade

Polly Samland, Horticultural and Plant Records Technologist
Colour photos of tall maple trees lining a promenade with 2 figures walking on it in the distance.

When we think of what sets two living species apart, part of the definition is reproductive: the species are distinct because they can’t successfully reproduce together. Some plant species that evolve side-by-side develop characteristics that separate them, such as different modes of pollination, or timing of flowering. Others are distinct because of environmental isolation - they occupy different habitats or are partitioned by features like a mountain range. However, many plant genera (oak, willow, and serviceberry, for example) defy this concept, their species inter-breeding quite successfully with one another to form stable, hybrid populations.

The Arboretum has the good fortune to be situated where the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and the red maple (Acer rubrum) overlap geographically. The two species have naturally mixed to form a hybrid, called the Freeman’s maple (Acer x freemanii).

The canopy of maples lining The Arboretum Promenade are freeman’s maples, transplanted as saplings from Wild Goose Woods. If you walk the new boardwalk through the woods, you will discover Freeman’s maple of all ages (sometimes right beside a sugar maple, which remains distinct!). Trying to link features–bark texture, flower timing, samara size, branch form, leaf colour–to each parent species is a gateway to becoming more familiar with maples in general.

Photo of The Arboretum Promenade by Richelle Forsey.

Ecological Restoration Efforts

Colour photos of trees in the morning fog in a forest

Ecological restorations around our Wall-Custance Memorial Forest boardwalk, hillside, and the nearby forest trail will be getting a boost this summer thanks to generous funding for plantings and a studentship from Dorothy Wilkie, in memory of her husband, Dr. Bruce N. H. Wilkie.

Our vision for ecological restoration with native Ontario plantings Color photo of a red flower in the forestincludes a large list of plants that can tolerate conditions ranging from standing-water to drought. The most visible species are the trees, dominated by the main canopy of Freeman's maple (Acer x freemanii), and a few very young Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) in the understory that have thus far survived the emerald ash borer.

Already established plantings include bright red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Square-stemmed Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens), Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), and Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor).

A few more treasures just getting started are a little harder to spot, including Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis); Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii); Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum); and Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica).

Top photo of the Wall-Custance Memorial Forest in a morning fog by Polly Samland. Bottom photo of a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in the Wall-Custance Memorial Forest by Richelle Forsey.

In the Ecosystem

Colour graphic for the cover of an activity bookletDid you know that earthworms are not native to Algonquin Park? In fact, there are no native earthworms in Ontario! And you can help stop the spread of worms that damage native soil communities, hardwood forests, wildflowers, and increase soil compaction and erosion. The Invasive Species Centre has sponsored a free to download Algonquin Park Junior Ranger Activity Booklet of educational activities to reinforce the concepts of native, exotic, and invasive species, in the hopes it will enable better appreciation of and protection for Algonquin Park.

colour graphic for the Black Nature Narratives podcastUK based, Wild In the City is celebrating Black perspectives on issues relating to the natural world and our relationship with nature with a podcast series called Black Nature Narratives. Hosted by Nature Allied Psychotherapist and Naturalist, Beth Collier, the podcast series explores historical legacies and lived experiences with leading Black conservationists, academics, practitioners, and activists working within conservation ecology, nature education, and environmental justice.

colour photo of a snapping turtle in an eco passage under a road. Are you curious about who’s using the Bruce Peninsula National Park's Eco-passages? The Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park have posted a sneak peek of their On the Road to Recovery eco-passages at wildlife hotspot crossing points in their park. Here in Guelph, when Stone Road was widened, culverts were put in under the road between the provincially significant wetland to the South and our Wild Goose Woods in the central Arboretum section to the North. We haven’t filmed it (yet), but we hope this kind of traffic is happening at The Arboretum as well!

Spring Break Activity Kits for Kids

colour photos of a monarch butterfly on yellow flowers, blue sky and whispy clouds, and a chiadee eating sunflower seeds from a hand.

Experience the wonder and excitement of nature from home during the Spring Break! The Arboretum has three all-inclusive activity kits to allow kids to connect with nature and learn about the migrations of monarch butterflies, study the sky and stars, and how to attract birds to your backyard through self-guided, hands-on activities.

Appropriate for kids ages 5-12, each kit includes a biodiversity sheet (or two!) and the materials necessary for creative nature exploring just in time for spring. Available for curbside pick-up only on April 12!  Visit our website for more details.

Workshops: Constellation Walks, Gardens & more!

Nature-enthusiasts, budding gardeners, and creatives alike, plan your spring! We have too many new programs scheduled to list, but below you will find workshops and programs happening in the coming weeks.

colour photo of honey bee on a purple flowerSpring Break for Kids
We are hosting a series of online, 1-hour afternoon workshops for kids ages 6-13 during the Spring Break. Kids will learn about plants, animals, nature, and the importance of conservation with The Arboretum. Workshop topics include: Nature and the Senses, A Land Before Time, Things We Love to Hate, Animals Adaptions, and Greener Footprints. Starts April 12!

colour grpahic of a watercolour landscape paintingSpring Watercolour Landscapes
Join artist Candice Leyland and capture spring in The Arboretum in watercolour. Participants will learn tips on mixing their own vibrant greens and how to create a light tilled expressive landscape. We have a beginners class (March 22) for those just starting to paint, and an intermediate class (March 29) suitable for those who completed the Landscape class in fall, or who have some watercolour experience.

decotative photo of the night skyVirtual Constellation Walks
Join us for monthly virtual sessions and get to know the night sky! 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. A downloadable star map will be provided. Starts March 25.

colour phooto of a man smiling at the camera Ask the Gardener!
Do you have gardening questions you would love to ask our Arboretum staff? Join Cael Wishart for a free virtual session dedicated to answering your questions about everything green and growing! March 31.

colour photo of a man smiling in front of a gardenGarden Fundamentals
Suitable for the beginner and intermediate gardener, this 7-week course focuses on ornamental gardens including trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and grasses. Participants will gain a solid understanding of how these plants grow and their relationship with the soil. Practical topics such as planting, maintenance, plant selection, sun and shade requirements, will be covered. Starts March 23.

All our virtual programs are offered live on Zoom, and recordings are made available to registrants for a limited time. Visit our website to learn more about these and upcoming spring programs like Terrific Turtles and Sensational Snakes of Ontario! Register early to save your spot.

Boardwalk Open -- Thank you!

then and now photos of a boardwalk side by side

The Wild Goose Woods boardwalk is now open! We are grateful to the collective effort of so many generous donors who contributed to make this happen. Your contributions have a positive impact on everyone who visits The Arboretum. Thank you!

Photos: On the left is the original boardwalk in an undated archive photo and on the right the boardwalk as it is today.

Planning an event for 2022? Think The Arboretum!

A colour phot of a group of people sitting socially distanced under and around a white tent

The Arboretum offers unique and picturesque outdoor function locations nestled amongst 400 acres of gardens, trees, trails, and scenic vistas.

For 2022 availability, rental rates, and to schedule a tour, contact Dawn Ann Webster at 519-824-4120 ext. 54110 or

Photo by Brandon Taylor.

Making Memories March Challenge

Decorative colour graphic for the Making Memories March contestCelebrate The Arboretum’s 50th Year and make some memories with us! Here are the challenges for March.
  • Hike all of the open trails in a single day.
  • Spot a Red-winged Blackbird.
  • Take your fitness routine outdoors at The Arboretum.
  • Visit the David G. Porter Memorial Japanese Garden.
  • Take a picture of some signs of spring at The Arboretum.
 How to enter:
  1. Complete a task on the challenge list.
  2. Take a picture of yourself completing that task.
  3. Post the picture to social media, tag us, and #ArbMemories.
  4. Repeat! Each post is a new entry.
This contest is open until April 14th.

Colour photos on the left is a grey squirrel, on the right is a child looking at a statue

January’s Making Memories Photo Challenge winners Marie Shoup (left) and Anna Neustaeter (right) have graciously shared their photos. Thank you! We hope they inspire you to make your own memories in The Arboretum.

Group Bookings

Colour photo of green gingko biloba tree leaves

The Arboretum is currently offering seven different virtual school and group programs based on our biodiversity sheets that are perfect for seniors groups, Guiding units, Scouting troops, clubs, organizations, and classrooms! The hour-long sessions are hosted by one of our expert instructors and include a 15-minute Q&A period for the group.

For more information or to book a session visit our website.

Photo of a Ginkgo biloba tree that will be featured in the Land Before Time program by Chris Earley.

Nature Without Waste

Photo of a Nature without Waste signThanks for everyone’s help keeping wildlife safe and The Arboretum grounds beautiful for everyone!

Litter adversely affects animals and the environment in many ways. Animals can be poisoned from ingesting spoiled food, wrappers, and containers. Harmful chemicals can leach and contaminate the water table. Animals can become trapped -- the list goes on. Please dispose of your PPE in one of our new dual stream waste bins found at 4 locations across our grounds. Better yet, avoid single-use waste items altogether!

Thank you to the U of G Sustainability Office, whose grant from WWF-Canada supported half the cost of these new bins!

Maple Syrup Days

Black and white photo of a man holding a bucket for childrne to look inside of.As the sap begins to run in the maple trees, we are reminded of one of The Arboretum’s iconic historical events: Maple Syrup Days!

The Arboretum held its first Maple Syrup Days program in 1980 to teach the public about making maple syrup. On select days throughout March and April, Interpretive Naturalists led groups through Victoria Woods, showing them how to tap maple trees to harvest sap. Inside the J.C. Taylor Nature Centre, participants could watch the evaporators boiling the collected sap to make maple syrup. Other events included puppet shows and demonstrations on how to make sugar and taffy out of maple syrup.

To protect the trees, The Arboretum no longer holds Maple Syrup Days, but we still remember them fondly! If you have any pictures from Maple Syrup Days, please email them to – we would love to see them.

Photo: Alan Watson shows children a bucket of collected sap at a Maple Syrup Days program, circa 1982.

A Note of Farewell

We wished our longtime staff member Sean Fox (Manager of Horticulture and Curator) good luck as he sets out on the next phase of his career. We’ll deeply miss Sean’s friendship, caring, and extensive knowledge of the plants and people of The Arboretum. We look forward to staying engaged in many ways, and are working with deliberate speed to replace this essential position.  
screenshot from a kudoboard
From Sean Fox

For the past 20 years, I’ve had the great fortune of being part of The Arboretum team. From my first steps on the grounds as a University of Guelph student, to a summer crew member, and then through the formative years of my career, it goes without saying that The Arboretum holds a very special place in my heart. 

During the previous 50 years of Arboretum history, so many people have played a part in laying the robust foundation for what it has become today, while many others have continued to care for the trees, forests and gardens throughout the years. I’ve been blessed to work alongside so many wonderful staff, volunteers, and members of the community as part of this process. 

While I have recently moved on from my role at The Arboretum to the next phase of my career, I’m excited to see what lies ahead for the talented Arboretum staff and supportive Arboretum community that continues to tend to this special place. The most amazing thing about arboreta is that they only become more awe-inspiring with time; imagine each tree you see today in another 10, 50, and 100 years from now (not to mention all the others still to be planted!). One can only marvel at the incredible place that visitors will immerse themselves in after the next 50 years of Arboretum growth.

I’m fortunate that I will still be floating around as part of The Arboretum alumni community and able to witness the continued evolution in the years ahead. And, I will remain forever grateful for all the memories and treasured relationships I have experienced along my path. I look forward to seeing many of you again, whether that is very soon for the Amelanchier workshop (May 11th), in September for the Growing Native Woody Plants from Seed workshop, or as a familiar face at future events and volunteer activities.

As spring continues to fill the air, it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t encourage you to visit The Arboretum every time you have the opportunity; look closely and you’ll find something special waking up every day.


Ways you can connect with The Arboretum

Make sure to keep in touch with us on social media -  follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and follow the #ArbAt50 for news on our 50th Anniversary events and online activities.
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camera icon for photo creditThe header of this month's newsletter is of snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) in the Gosling Wildlife Gardens. Photo by Richelle Forsey.