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New Living Exhibit to Showcase The Morton Arboretum's Tree Science and Research

A circular structure of paved stones and informative panels.
One feature shows how Arboretum researchers are mapping genetic connections in oak trees across the globe.
April 10, 2019

On June 8, The Morton Arboretum will unveil the Gateway to Tree Science, a new living exhibit that embodies the institution’s vast knowledge of trees as informed by nearly a century of science and research.

The interactive outdoor exhibit, set along a half-mile, wood-chipped trail on the Arboretum’s east side, is designed to educate professionals, homeowners and others on best practices for tree care as well as to inspire students and future tree scientists with practical and timely advice drawn from decades of research at the Arboretum, one of the world’s leading centers of tree science.

Living tree demonstrations along with informative panels highlight important aspects of tree care. Visitors can see how soil type affects trees’ growth as well as the consequences that result from planting trees under power lines and in spaces that don’t allow for adequate root growth. Demonstration areas illustrate the importance of proper practices—in one section along the route, visitors can find trees that have been correctly pruned standing alongside those that have received improper care. As time goes on, the poor pruning will become more pronounced, drawing attention to the detrimental effects this practice has on the life and vitality of an impacted tree.

The entry to the Gateway to Tree Science is a welcoming wooden pavilion supported by black locust tree trunk columns. Leaving the pavilion to travel the path, visitors will find an overview of the site, where they can learn about the basics of tree biology and scientific processes, including the types of questions researchers seek answers to as they conduct field work.

Various sections will center on different aspects of tree care and expertise:

  • Choosing the Right Tree communicates the importance of selecting a tree based on its suitability for a given site, taking into account factors such as the species’ tolerance of wet or dry conditions and the width and height of the tree at maturity. Also addressed are trees’ ecosystem benefits such as providing food and habitat to wildlife and helping to prevent soil erosion.
  • Caring for Urban Trees details the many ways people can care for the trees in cities and suburbs, from the long-term benefits of proper pruning to the use of cables to hold together the overextended branches of large trees.
  • Addressing the Challenges of Urban Soils provides more insight into the unique issues faced by trees in built environments, including poor soil quality and the stress trees experience when transplanted from a nursery to an urban setting. 
  • Cultivating Resilient Trees showcases cultivars and hybrid trees, with examples of selections from the plant introduction program, Chicagoland Grows®, along the route.
  • Laying the Groundwork gives visitors a closer look at the Arboretum’s current research and how the institution is protecting threatened and endangered trees worldwide, with conservation efforts guided, in part, by findings from scientists such as those mapping genetic connections in oak trees across the globe. 


“The Gateway to Tree Science is an immersive experience that imparts decades of scientific learning and field work to provide expert insights and practical guidance for people and communities to help trees face real-world challenges,” said Nicole Cavender, PhD, vice president of science and conservation. “The exhibit is a valuable resource for tree care professionals, students and homeowners in the Chicago region and beyond.”

Entrance to the exhibit, which will continue to grow with additional information and demonstrations over the coming years, is free with Arboretum admission, from 7 a.m. to sunset 365 days a year.

The Gateway to Tree Science is supported by the Growing Brilliantly campaign, a five-year effort that raised $73.9 million to deepen the Arboretum’s work in science and conservation, expand new tree development and improve core facilities to meet its strategic vision. The campaign concluded at the end of 2018.