The Preservation Orchard: Arbor Day Farm’s Legacy

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm:

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm:
Claygate Pearmain

We’re all familiar with the apples readily available in the supermarket and at local orchards this time of year: red delicious, gala, granny smith, jonathans. But what about the lesser-known varieties that have—for one reason or another—fallen out of the spotlight?

The Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, is full of these obscure apple varieties — 65 varieties, to be precise — some of them dating as far back as the 1500s. Some have interesting back stories that rival their appearance and flavor, while others just simply fell out of favor. Unlike today’s common apple varieties, which are bred for beauty and to withstand the rigors of modern food transportation and storage, these vintage apples are a sensitive, finicky lot — with delicate skins and flesh, a short window of ripeness, and the heirloom apple trees themselves often times have not survived the gradual changes in climate where they once thrived.

Heirloom Apples from Arbor Day Farm: Arkansas Black.

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm: Arkansas Black.

Not only is this very special orchard at Arbor Day Farm focused on preserving the unique apples of yesteryear, but it’s a living record of some of the finest known apples and a genetic repository that may one day help create varieties well-suited to a changing climate. The Preservation Orchard is one of just a handful of orchards in the United States where these rare heirloom apple varieties can still be found.

A visit to Arbor Day Farm this time of year — when a plethora of apple varieties are ripe and ready for picking — offers visitors the rare opportunity to taste the wonderful flavor of some of these old varieties. Heirloom apple tasting is a huge hit with visitors on fall weekends, as Nature Interpreters first show-and-tell about the Preservation Orchard itself, then slice and serve the rare fruits of its branches.

A few antique apple varieties worth noting:

  • Almata: red to the core, and not much more. This apple with reddish flesh has an interesting look but is not particularly flavorful.
  • Claygate Pearmain: common in Victorian-era gardens, this heirloom apple has a nutty aroma and a potato-like appearance.
  • Kandil Sinap: tall and cylindrical, this vintage apple originated in Turkey in the early 1800s. Crisp and juicy with a sweet and sour flavor.
  • Arkansas Black – a medium-sized apple from the 1840s. Glossy, dark red skin almost turns black when stored.

This apple season, be sure to visit Arbor Day Farm’s Preservation Orchard for a unique look at — and perhaps even a taste of — the apples of yesteryear.

Meet the Smallest Tree City USA Community

Sibley NDMore than 135 million people live in a Tree City USA community. The Tree City USA program recognizes communities for their commitment to urban forestry. The program sets up the framework for a healthy sustainable community forestry program and provides direction, assistance and national recognition for their work.

More than 3,400 communities of all sizes are part of the Tree City USA program. Our smallest Tree City USA community is Sibley, North Dakota, with a population of 28; proving firsthand that you don’t need to be a big city to care about trees. Sibley has been a designated Tree City USA for three years.

Sibley was established in 1959 by Edythe ”Toots” and Eddie Hagglund on a treeless prairie at the edge of Lake Ashtabula. What was once just an idea to build a hamburger stand along the lake grew to what would be an official township. One of the first things the couple did after they bought the prairie land was plant trees, and build a dance hall. Although the town has never surpassed 50+ residents it has grown to become a social hot spot, attracting as many as 200 people during the summer.

Sibley is an excellent example that communities of all sizes can be part of the Tree City USA program. We love all that Sibley has evolved into and applaud their commitment to a greener community.

Is your community a Tree City USA? Learn more about our standards and how it can benefit your city.

National NeighborWoods Month

neighborwoods-full-color[1]Did you know that next month marks National NeighborWoods Month? That’s right, kicking off on the first of October is an annual month-long campaign to plant and care for community trees. What makes this campaign even more exciting is the network of communities across the country that participate in the celebration.

NeighborWoods month is organized by the Arbor Day Foundation and the Alliance for Community Trees (ACTrees) network of local nonprofit organizations throughout the country. Every October tens of thousands of volunteers join together with the shared cause of planting and caring for community trees.

This year marks the 11th year of celebrating NeighborWoods month! Together, Alliance for Community Trees organizations have planted and cared for more than 15 million trees with help from more than 5 million volunteers. It’s incredible what we can accomplish when we work together toward a common goal.

Although everyday should be a celebration of green communities, committing a whole month to the cause raises the discussion and action in local communities by emphasizing that tree canopy protection is a national concern, not just local. There are numerous benefits to participating in NeighborWoods month.

It adds validity and weight to collective efforts, provides an opportunity to both use and acknowledge volunteers, inspires businesses and local government support and can enhance a community’s appearance and reputation. Not to mention the economic, environmental and health benefits communities reap when they have a healthy community forest.

Visit to learn more about local NeighborWoods events in your community.

When Science Meets Art: The Tree of 40 Fruit

Tree Grafting is an old practice of inserting a section of a stem with leaf buds into the stock of another tree. It’s a way of bringing two varieties of fruits together in a single tree. It’s also used in repairing injured trees and produces more fruits on each tree. The sight of a grafted tree is quite the marvel.

Sam Van Aken is a professor at Syracuse University and an artist who has been grafting trees for years. Among his pieces is a single tree that produces more than 40 varieties of stone fruits including peaches, plums and nectarines— thus the name The Tree of 40 Fruit. Because of the varieties of fruits brought together, when the tree blossoms it does so in different hues of pink, crimson and white.

The end result will leave you in awe.

What do you think of tree grafting?

Frances Oyung, Coordinator, Bear Creek Watershed Council

portrait-Frances-Oyung[1]Trees Save Endangered Fish

The shading affect of trees not only provides comfort for people, but also ensures the survival of cold water fish. Frances Oyung heads a collaborative effort to reduce the hot glare of summer sun on this important tributary of the Rogue River.

“Shade from trees is the primary factor in reducing the creek’s temperature and keeping salmon alive,” says Frances. Through a grant from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Frances and her partners have planted more than 600 native trees, including cottonwoods, Oregon ash, alders and a variety of conifers.

figure1-Frances-Oyung[1]Were it not for support from state officials, Bear Creek would be overheated and fish would be unable to survive.

The overall goal is to reverse the effect of 150 years of land uses that have led to a high level of stress on coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

figure2-Frances-Oyung[1]“It is a slow process and gargantuan job,” says Frances. But the cooling effect of restored trees is already making a difference.

Do you have an Arbor Day Foundation story that you’d like to share?  Please tell us all about it in the comments section below. We’d love to hear it!

Check out our other Faces of Urban Forestry.

Rain Forest Rescue in Madagascar is Saving More Than Forests, it is Saving the Lemurs

toucanTropical rain forests are home to half of the world’s plants and animals, and a source of food, medicines and other plant-based products that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But according to the California Institute of Technology, about 2,000 trees per minute are cut down in rain forests, destroying natural habitat and displacing wildlife.

Rain forest deforestation affects us all. Approximately 25% of all medicines on the market today come from plants found only in tropical rain forests including treatments for a variety of cancers, malaria and multiple sclerosis. Additionally, deforestation leads to the growing extinction of many species, such as the adorable lemurs.

BW Lemur

Black and white ruffed lemurs provide an ecological service by aiding fruit seed germination through digestion of seed coatings.

Lemurs are small primates found exclusively in the forests of the island nation of Madagascar. As much as 80% of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed, leading to a diminishing population of rare species. Lemurs are unique because they play a key role in the future of trees.  Ninety percent of a lemur’s diet is fruit. As a result of their diet, lemurs eat frequently and process their meals more rapidly.

What does this have to do with trees? The seeds left behind from a lemur’s meal have their coatings removed, allowing for germination in the forest. In fact, the germination rate of seeds processed by lemurs is nearly 100 percent, compared to only 5 percent of unprocessed (or coated) seeds. Lemurs not only live off of the forest, but they’re replanting it too.

lemur disperser
Lemurs are the primary seed disperser of the Madagascar’s eastern rain forest at Sangasanga Mountain.

 The Arbor Day Foundation and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium joined forces to advance the reforestation efforts led by the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Kianjavato, Madagascar by planting hundreds of thousands of trees to restore habitat. In 2009, the lemur population at Sangasanga Mountain was only eight. As of 2015 the population increased to six times what it was, with a lemur population of fifty! The impact of the reforestation effort in Madagascar has helped more than just the forest; it is helping bring back a species from the brink of extinction.

Saving an endangered animal such as the lemur comes from the help of Arbor Day Foundation members through programs such as Rain Forest Rescue. Thanks to the support of members, the Arbor Day Foundation is able to help restore the forests of Madagascar and provide habitat to save the endangered lemurs. Additionally, the reforestation effort is improving the economy and living conditions of the local people through jobs in tree nurseries and on the mountain sides planting those trees.

If we’re able to increase the lemur population by six times on one mountain top in Madagascar, imagine what we can accomplish on the rest of the island. Tropical rain forests contain more species than any other ecosystem on Earth, yet are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Check out our latest Rain Forest Rescue Report  to see the other impacts our replanting efforts leave.

One tree, two trees, my trees are small trees!

Planting in small areas can be challenging, especially if you want to add some height to your landscape. Consider adding small trees that will excite your senses!

Small trees are perfect for any landscape and add color to entry ways, curbs, and long sidewalks. These small trees are sure to standout and add charm next to your home every spring and some even all year round! Continue reading to discover which small trees have caught our interest.

Smoketree_1-920The mutli-stemmed smoketree holds true to its name- growing blooms that are wispy clumps of filaments. This easy-to-grow specimen turns a smoky pink color from June through August. Growing 10’ to 15’, it is a good choice for a shrub border or other grouping.

Ann-Magnolia_1-860The ann magnolia is a member of the “Little Girl” group of hybrid magnolias developed in the mid-50s at the U.S. National Arboretum. Its profusion of deep purple-red blossoms resemble tulips and bloom in mid-to late March.  Sometimes, the tree blooms again in the summer. At maturity, the Ann magnolia grows to a height of 8’ to 10’.

Japanese-Red-Maple_1-866After 300 years of cultivation, the Japanese red maple is still a beloved tree. It offers a warm touch of red to any yard in the spring and fall, and features a green summer leaf. Red, winged seeds attract squirrels, chipmunks, quail and songbirds. This taller landscape tree matures to about 15’ to 25’.

Purpleleaf-Sand-Cherry_1-816Purpleleaf sand cherry  tree‘s year-round beauty and smaller size makes it an excellent choice for landscaping. Its fragrant white and pink flowers blossom in spring while featuring simple leaves with an intense reddish-purple color. The small yields of plump red berries are an important food source for small birds and mammals including robins and cardinals. The Purpleleaf matures to 15’ to 25’.

Downy-Serviceberry_1-919A phenomenal large shrub that can be trained into a single trunk tree is the downy serviceberry. The combination of flowers, vibrant fall foliage and wildlife value will add lots of visual enjoyment to your yard. This wonderful little tree reaches 15′ to 25′ at maturity and produces plump red berries for pies, preserves and fresh eating.

Did your favorite small tree make the list? If not, share your favorite in the comments!

Before you start planting, get helpful tips and information on tree care, and to find out which trees grow best in each hardiness zone. You can find all of these trees and more in our Tree Nursery. Get a discount on all of your trees when you become an Arbor Day Foundation member.

Inviting all butterflies! Create an oasis designed for them!

It is no coincidence that every time you see a butterfly, a smile stretches across your face. They are exquisite flutters of color that glide flower to flower-pollinating plants around them.  If you find yourself wanting to invite butterflies into your garden, keep reading to find out what trees and shrubs they are attracted to!

Butterflies feel welcome almost anywhere, but only if you know what they are looking for – sources of food, shelter and water. Trees and shrubs bear fruit, nuts and berries while also offering shelter and breeding places.

The best way to attract butterflies to your garden is to start with a variety of flowering and fruit trees and shrubs. We recommend choosing a mixture of both prolific bloomers and those that have a long bloom time. Butterflies attracted to the following recommendations include American lady, silvery blue, zebra swallowtail, Compton tortoiseshell, and northern pearly eye- some containing more specific species.

zebra swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail by Shenandoah National Park

sweetbay magIn spring, sweetbay magnolias produce a profusion of creamy white flowers that carry a light lemon scent. Working well as a patio tree, it flowers best in full sun exposure and yields clusters of red fruit. Sweetbay magnolias attract different types of butterflies such as the tiger and zebra swallowtail.

silvery blue
Silvery Blue by Brad Smith


eastern redbudMany butterflies visit the eastern redbud because it is one of the earliest trees to bloom in the spring. A few species that are drawn to it include silvery blue, zebra swallowtail and dreamy duskywing. Its nectar and pollen attract butterflies necessary for a small healthy orchard or a vegetable garden.


White Admiral by Brad Smith

pink dogwoodThe pink dogwood blooms in April and May and produces a glossy red fruit that ripen in the fall.  The blossoms attract butterflies such as the American snout, white admiral and banded hairstreak.

american lady

American Lady by John Flannery

‘Blue Chip is one of the many butterfly bushes but has some unique characteristics – namely its noninvasive behavior and compact size. Sweetly scented flowers continuously bloom from midsummer through fall-attracting all types of butterflies like the American Lady. This butterfly bush is perfect for landscaping along a pathway, too.bluechip

Welcome these lovely friends into your garden by offering what they need. Visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Nursery to find more variety of trees and shrubs, perfect for your butterfly oasis. Get a discount on all of your trees when you become an Arbor Day Foundation member.

Soak it in! Designing your own rain garden is easy

Have you been thinking about adding a rain garden to your landscaping? Well, this is the perfect time! In spring, the soil is softer to dig and the rainy weather contributes to the initial watering. Rain gardens are a beautiful way to enhance your landscape both visually and sustainably — benefiting everyone. So let’s get started!

Raingarden buildA rain garden is a garden in a shallow depression made to naturally gather and filter rain water -designed to temporarily collect storm water runoff from roofs, driveways, walkways, patios, and lawns. Once the water is collected, it percolates down into the soil, which is then absorbed by trees, shrubs and other plants – cleaning the water of pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers. Rain gardens are also a natural habitat for butterflies, birds and beneficial insects. We call that a win-win!

When choosing a rain garden site, first, decide where the rain garden will be filtering storm water from such as a downspout, driveway or sump pump. This area should receive water regularly from its source during a rainstorm. Also, make sure to choose a garden site that is at least 10 feet away from building foundations and septic system to avoid storm water from leaking into these areas.

Determine your hardiness zone before picking out your trees and shrubs. Knowing which hardiness zone you live in will clarify which trees will grow properly in your area. Also, select plants that will add beauty but also have the ability to thrive in wet areas. Find information on trees and shrubs through the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Guide.

Sweetbay MagnoliaOne recomendation we have for your design is the sweetbay magnolia, thriving in zones 5-9. Its creamy white flowers have a light lemon scent and are visible in late spring and early summer. Bright scarlet-red seeded fruit ripens in the fall attracting a variety of songbirds.

Redosier DogwoodAnother colorful choice is the redosier dogwood. It has a wide range of tolerance except for extremely dry conditions. Its fibrous root system provides effective erosion control on banks and slopes. The shrub also has vibrant red stems that remain in winter-adding color all year round in zones 2-7.

Another bird-friendly option is the prairifire flowering crabapple. Long-lasting spring blossoms add variety and color to the year-round beauty it offers. Withstanding climates in zones 3-8, this ornamental is disease-resistant and able to adapt to many different conditions.Flowering Crabapple

In the final steps of designing a rain garden, dig the desired area and arrange the spacing of plants according to their directions.  Mulch the area with woodchips that won’t float away and apply so it is two to three inches deep. Remember to water!

Most importantly, while your plants are soaking in the water, you can soak in the splendor you have just created! Visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Nursery to find a wide variety of trees and shrubs, perfect for your rain garden. Get a discount on all of your trees when you become an Arbor Day Foundation member.

Fast Growing Trees

Fast growing trees are becoming more and more popular. The reason being, home owners get to enjoy the benefits of a mature tree sooner. Fast growing trees are especially great when landscaping. Some act as quick solutions to privacy and others as shade trees.

Let’s take a closer look at six fast growing trees available in the Arbor Day Foundation Tree Nursery.

weeping willowFirst, is the weeping willow. Depending on the cultivar, weeping willow trees can grow from 3’ to 8’ per year, making it one of the fastest of the fast growing trees.  Often seen as one of the first indications of spring, the weeping willow’s yellow twigs and green foliage appear early in the season—sometimes as early as February.

Quaking aspen quaking aspen has the widest natural range of any tree in North America- fit for zones 1-7.  The name stems from how it adds movement and a soft, pleasant sound to the landscape due to the “quaking” leaves. It grows 40’ to 50’ with a 25’ spread and averaging 2’ to 3’ per year. It has stunning golden-yellow foliage in the fall to accompany its iconic white bark.

red mapleRed maple stays true to its name by featuring something red all year round-—buds in winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in summer, and brilliant red or yellow foliage in autumn. Homeowners are growing this favorite across the Unites States because of its tolerance to a wide range of soils and deer resistant bark.

green giant arborvitaeThe green giant arborvitae  is large and vigorous. This is an exceptional landscape tree for use as a screen, hedge or single specimen. Once established, it is resistant to wind and can withstand heavy ice or snow, making it a good choice for a natural windbreak. Arborvitae provides nesting sites and cover for birds and small animals. The flower buds, seeds and foliage are a food source, although this cultivar has greater resistance to deer browsing than most arborvitae.

tuliptreeTuliptree features aromatic stems, bright green leaves, and cup-shaped flowers, which bloom in May and June. It grows well in a variety of soils and reaches heights between 70’ and 90’. Tuliptree seeds, maturing in summer and persisting into winter, provide food for both birds and mammals, including finches, cardinals, quail, mice, rabbits, and squirrels.

river birchRiver birch as its name suggests, naturally grows alongside river banks but can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Features include being the most borer-resistant birch, works well for holding stream banks, and control erosion.

When planted properly, these trees will grow strong, healthy, and tall. Get helpful tips and information on tree care, and to find out which trees grow best in each hardiness zone.

You can find all of these trees and more in our Tree Nursery. Get a discount on all of your trees when you become an Arbor Day Foundation member.

Did your favorite fast growing tree make the list? If not, share your favorite tree in the comments!