Have you ever wondered what an arboretum is? Or the purpose of an arboretum?
In the simplest of terms, an arboretum is a place where trees and other woody plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes. Here at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s New Hanover County Center & Arboretum, we are a seven-acre arboretum that does exactly that – we have trees and other woody plants on display among other herbaceous and annual plants in garden settings to first and foremost educate the citizens of the Cape Fear region on what grows best in our local soils and climate.
Sometimes we push the conventional envelope and try new cultivars of select species to see if they are suited for our conditions. With climates shifting and extreme weather patterns seemingly here to stay, maybe the authorities will need to redraw the lines and reconsider where plants can and cannot thrive.
Disease, insects, pathogens, wet seasons, and dry seasons coupled with hurricanes Florence, Dorian, and Isaias all took a toll on our mature tree canopy here on the grounds. Several were lost from wind throw while severe stress weakened many trees rendering them unsalvageable. As we needed to replace trees, it was time to seek accreditation with ArbNet – The Interactive Community of Arboreta, a global group of 2,200 members. Each year we will be adding to the collections to solidify our spot and pad our resume as we seek accreditation.
So, we have added several species or cultivated varieties of trees and shrubs to the grounds this past winter. Three oaks have made their way into the collections: chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, and Shumard’s oak; as well as four magnolia hybrids: 'Daybreak,' 'Judy Zuk,' 'Sunsation,' and 'Tinkerbelle.'
My favorite among the newest additions is the Persian Spire ironwood, a beautiful selection of ironwood with an upright habit which makes it great for tight spaces. Leaves emerge purple and harden off to glossy green while maintaining a purple halo at the margins. Come fall, the ironwoods have a beautiful canopy of yellows, oranges, and reds before dropping their leaves.
Another notable addition is a Nightfall Japanese snowbell, a dark-leaved weeping variety with masses of small white flowers favored by pollinators. We also added a native fringe tree ‘Spring Fleecing’ for some great spring color. A 'Snow Tower' Kousa dogwood has been added as they are noted for excellent resistance to dogwood anthracnose which is plaguing our native dogwoods throughout town. And lastly a Japanese stewartia, an excellent selection from the tea family with beautiful bark that exfoliates providing sought after winter interest.
Come see us and check them out. Our plant clinic is staffed by trained Master Gardeners and is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. to answer all your gardening and landscape questions. Located at 6206 Oleander, the grounds of the arboretum are free and open daily from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Kevin Cassel is the grounds maintenance supervisor and can be reached at 910-798-7660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.