Center for Tree Science Projects

The research conducted by the scientists in the Center for Tree Science fulfill the heart and soul of the Morton Arboretum’s mission to do great science, create positive change, and link together expertise and resources through active collaborations.  These projects encompass applied and basic questions about tree growth, care, and improvement.  We work right in our own backyard, in the 1,700 acres of living collections and natural areas, and across the globe, with foci in the Midwest USA, Mexico, and subtropical Asia.  These projects incorporate and expand upon a large number of collaborators at a wide variety of institutions, from the Illinois Tollway to university faculty.


How do we detect whether a tree is ‘stressed’ or ‘vigorous’?  The Tree Observatory aims to decipher the secret language of trees so that we may interpret the physiological and reproductive status through the holistic examination of individual tree’s life history and growth.  

Exchange program between the US and China, bringing environmental education practitioners from across China to the Chicago region to explore and share ideas about how best to communicate the importance and value of the environment and research.

The diversity of trees from around the world in the Living Collections provides an ideal opportunity to compare species responses to climate.

Invasive Amynthas worms are invading otherwise earthworm-free soils of the northern US. This project evaluates the impacts they’ll have on forest soils and seedlings. 

Trees are removed from the Living Collections for various reasons, but just because a tree is no longer growing on the grounds, doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from it.

Not all forest soils are the same. This project is helping us understand whether differences in roots drive differences in soils. 

The number of species that can tolerate poor-quality of roadside soils is limited. Can we increase the diversity of trees that can thrive in this harsh environment and the ecosystem services provided by urban trees by matching soil amendments with tree traits?

Consistent, integrative ecological monitoring is essential to determine the health of the forest and the impacts of management.

Vacant lots make up a large proportion of urban land and are of interest to many stakeholder groups. Fast, inexpensive restoration techniques could be implemented in vacant lots and would be well suited to increasing green space. This project investigates the effects of several restoration techniques on the ecosystem services provided by soils in vacant urban lots.

Controlled burning is a common restoration technique in midwestern forests. This project examines its effects on soils, which are largely unknown, but can have significant impacts on tree growth and young tree establishment. 

We are assessing whether important seed and living collections have sufficiently sampled the wild diversity of tree species we are trying to protect. 

We are quantifying the number of plants and seeds needed to best preserve genetic variation of 10 species of threatened trees in botanical gardens, which  will be models for future seed collections.

We are using DNA data to further understand the reproductive biology of an under-studied oak, Quercus havardii, which will help inform seed collection strategies and collection management.

We collected acorns from across the range of Quercus havardii and distributed them to partner gardens to grow, research, and showcase this unique oak to the public.

We are using DNA data to better understand the connectivity and recent history of populations of Quercus havardii, a Western sand dune oak.

Midwestern forests are a “hot spot” for nitrogen deposition - a pervasive, and perhaps irreparable, anthropogenic global change phenomena. Could this be driving declines in oak regeneration across Chicagoland?

Linking science to practice to achieve effective conservation of oak diversity

Working with partners from multiple sectors in Latin America to research and protect threatened tree species, and advance tree conservation across the region

Living plant collections play an important role in conserving plant biodiversity.  We collect and cultivate threatened tree species to learn about and safeguard important sources of tree genetic diversity. 

This study investigates the effect of trunk injury severity on initial tree strength loss, and how trees respond to those injuries through adaptive growth.