There is no better time to come and enjoy our impressive evergreens. Mount Auburn’s conifer collection is noted for its size and diversity. With more than 80 different taxa and more than 1,500 plants, it is comparable to the conifer collections at … Continue reading


Now is a great time for a second look at many of our deciduous trees and shrubs. Even without their more showy foliage and flowers, many of our plants have something to contribute to the winter landscape. From the the impressive size and shape of some trees … Continue reading


Early signs of spring appear throughout the landscape in March.  The cheerful yellow blossoms of witchhazel that appear early in the month and the beautiful carpets of scilla  that emerge by month’s end remind us that warmer days are soon on their way. … Continue reading


Mount Auburn is painted in shades of yellow, pink, white and lilac thanks to the daffodils, forsythia, magnolias, and redbuds now blooming.  For many, though, it is the April flowering of Mount Auburn’s 20+ varieites of ornamental cherries that truly signal spring’s arrival. … Continue reading


It is no wonder that Mount Auburn welcomes so many visitors each May.  Flowering dogwoods, crabapples, lilacs, and azaleas are just some of what is on display.  If you’ve never been to the Cemetery, now is the time to make … Continue reading


Though May might be the peak of spring bloom, there is still plenty of interest in June.  Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel, and Kousa Dogwoods add plenty of late-spring color to the landscape. The annual and perennial plants planted in flower beds throughout … Continue reading


In July, make your way out to Willow Pond for a glimpse of our butterfly garden at its peak. As you walk at to the pond, you’ll notice a number of summer-blooming trees and shrubs adding seasonal interest to the … Continue reading


Late summer blooming ornamentals provide plenty of reasons to visit Mount Auburn, though perhaps the best reason to visit the Cemetery in August is to seek shade beheath the Cemetery’s dense canopy of shade trees.  Maples and oaks are among our shade … Continue reading


As the last of our summer-blooming plants make a showing in September, other plants begin showing the tell-tale signs of autumn’s approach.  Our wildflower meadow, located at  Washington Tower, is now at its peak as we bid farewell to one … Continue reading


By mid-October Mount Auburn’s landscape is awash in color.  As our many deciduous trees and shrubs begin to transform their foliage into jewel-tone shades of red, orange, yellow, and purple, other plants set out their fall fruits and nuts. Here are some … Continue reading


The diversity in Mount Auburn’s collection of trees ensures an prolonged foliage season each fall.  Even in November, there is still plenty of color in the landscape. From our noble oaks displaying autumn color to the fall-blooming witchhzel, there is plenty to see at the Cemetery.  Here are … Continue reading


As our deciduous plants drop their last leaves we welcome the winter season. Now is the time to explore Mount Auburn’s many plants displaying four season interest.  The diversity in our horticultural collections ensure that a visit to Mount Auburn at … Continue reading



July 31, 2020

Ferns surrounding Cemetery monuments

Pokin’ round ‘mid ferns and mosses,

Like a hop-tail or a snail,

Somehow seems to lighten crosses

Where my heart would elsewhere fail.

                                                     – Anon.

Fossils indicate that ferns have existed for over 400 million years. Today worldwide there are identified more than 11,000 species, in 300 genera and 33 families.  Among the most widespread forms of all plant life, they grow on every continent, in soil, on rocks, in trees, in deserts, as well as rainforests.  They are also unique in having the greatest size variation of any form of plant life, from less than the size of your thumbnail, to 60-foot tall tree-ferns. Ferns were the first plants with a vascular system, allowing water and nutrients to be conducted from the soil, through the roots, and stem, to the leaves. Ferns reproduce without flowers or seeds, but rather through spores released into the air.

A few useful terms; frond is the whole fern leaf, both blade and stalk, blade is the leafy part of the frond, stipe is the stem of the frond below the blade, rachis is the portion of the stipe extending into the leaf blade, pinnae are the leaflets which may be lobed, or completely separated from each other, when the latter, the separate lobes are referred to as pinnules, and fiddlehead is the unfurling frond of any fern.

Ferns with a seeming delicate structure, adding to their lingering loveliness, are found throughout our landscape. Many are planted in the shade of Consecration Dell, others are combined with perennials and/or shrubs, and some are planted in sweeps within beds.  All provide visual texture. The following are ten, of the over two-dozen, different species of ferns growing here.


One of our most conspicuous native New England ferns, Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, gets its name from its graceful, long, arching, lyre-shaped fronds, resembling an ostrich plume.  The fronds are widest above their mid-length, and the stipe (stalk) has a deep groove.  It is one of the few edible ferns, its fiddleheads, which may be cut and prepared like asparagus, are harvested in early spring each year. 


The Sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis is un-fern like in appearance with its pale-green fronds that are broadly triangular, deeply lobed, and wavy-edged. The pinnae have a soft, plush-like texture, and are known to die back with the first frost. You will find these on Lawn Ave., Rosebay Ave., and other locations.

Royal Fern

Royal fern, Osmunda regalis has leaves that resemble a black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) and is often found in wet, swampy areas. The unusual clustering of spore-borne fertile pinnae, at the top of those fronds, reminds some of the floral shape of a sunflower or astilbe. Creating a vase form, 4-feet tall, these rich green fronds turn to a soft yellow in autumn. Look for this in Consecration Dell.

Hay-Scented Fern

Hay-scented fernDennstaedtia punctilobulata has chartreuse-colored, lacy fronds, that grow singly, to about knee-high, and seem to align themselves to face the sun. This is one of the most common native ferns in New England, helped by the facts that it can grow in full sun (as well as dry shade), and it is not on the white-tailed deer’s menu.  The soft fronds, squeezed between your fingers, feel slightly sticky, due to tiny white glandular hairs (look for them with a hand lens). Some, but not all, claim this fern to be hay-scented. These are growing in Consecration Dell, and numerous other locations.

Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon fernOsmunda cinnamomea takes its name not from fragrance, but from the cinnamon-colored hairs found covering its stipes, the axils of its pinnae at the rachis, and on the distinctly upright, mature, fertile fronds. Appreciated by birds, this “fern wool” or “fern cotton” is used by warblers, creepers, and other smaller birds in felting their nests. This fern grows in vase-like clusters, with each frond widest at, or just below the middle.  In early spring, its emerging fiddleheads are covered with a dense, white pubescence.   You will also find these in Consecration Dell.

Bracken Fern

Bracken fern, Pteridium aquilinum may form large, dense stands, even hip-high.  It grows luxuriantly (some would say weedy) on several continents. The distinctive three-parted blades are highly dissected, and have a leathery feel.  Historically, this was widely used for food, clothing, and shelter. Some Asian cultures ate the fiddleheads, although current medical knowledge strongly advises against this. Bracken fibers have been popular for weaving cloth, and various parts of the plant have been used as a dye. The dried stalks, bound together were used as thatch for rural cottages. You will find these between Asa Gray Garden and Bigelow Chapel, and other locations.

New York Fern

The New York fern, Thelypteris noveboracensis is native throughout eastern United States and Canada, despite the name.   It grows in clumps of three or more fronds, each with a dark brown stipe. A more notable characteristic is that its diamond-shaped, fronds taper gradually at both top and bottom, with the lowest pinnae being very small. This notable double taper has been said to be like New Yorkers who “burn the candle at both ends.” You will find this on Oak Ave.

Northern Maidenhair Fern

Northern maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum is a smaller fern, with a delicate, distinctive shape. Its thin black stipe divides into two arching, circular fans of fronds. Its light-green pinnules, which undulate in the slightest breeze, often have a ginkgo-shaped terminal pinnule. You will find these in Spruce Knoll.

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ is one of the prettiest exotic species. It has a gray-green, shading to silver, tapered blade with contrasting wine-red rachis.  Although perhaps only a foot tall, this is a fern that when used with perennials, creates numerous lovely plant-combinations. You will find these on Pearl Ave., among other locations.

Christmas Fern

Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoideshas rich, deep-green,, evergreen fronds, leathery to the touch. This is a clumping fern, adaptable to either moist or dryish sites.  It may become  a prostrate evergreen  mat in winter.  These will be found in Birch Gardens, Consecration Dell, and other locations.

Fiddlehead Christmas Fern

On your next visit, stop and take a closer look at the many uncommonly lovely ferns enhancing our landscape.

Fiddlehead Ostrich Fern

“I bring you a Fern from my own Forest – where I play every Day.”  -Emily Dickinson

Fossils and Fern

…and we hid

in the chill twilight

face down hearing our breaths

our own breaths

full of the horizon

and the smell of the dew

on the cold ferns…

W. S. Merwin

Ostrich Fern & Flowering dogwood


By Sandra Shaffer VanDoren 

Curled tight as a new- born’s fist,

the fern fronds unfurl slowly,

finger by finger in the

quiet spring sun, and lacy

hands reach out to touch the heat,

to tap gently on still air.


An infant on a blanket

nearby tries to raise her head,

which wobbles slightly on its

slender neck, a little like

 a fern frond in a rare breeze,

as the baby stretches up,

already wanting to plunge

into this warm, green-laced world.


Her brother, aged two, squats by

the edge of the fern garden,

chatting like a small squirrel

in his rapid toddler-speak,

clearly trying to tell his

patient mother about the ferns,

their wavy fingers, the sun

and the worm he saw wiggling

around in the rich black earth.


The old woman sitting on

 a bench close by watches them.

She sees the ferns uncurl their

fists, the baby lift her head,

the toddler exploring, and rejoices

that, even in her final years,

she can witness once more life’s

renewed possibilities.

European Beech, Fagus sylvatica

July 1, 2020

I find joy in the cemetery trees.

Their roots are in our hearts.

In their leaves the soul

Of another century is in ascension.

-Rodney James

Of all our cemetery trees, there are few that are more majestic, and beautiful, than our European Beech, Fagus sylvatica. This beech has aptly been termed the Adonis, and Hercules of European forests. Native to Central Europe, southern Norway to Greece, France to the Caucasus Mountains, this is a tree reaching 50 to 70 feet in height, with an equal or even broader spread in width. Michael Dirr, noted contemporary plantsman, and author of the indispensible tree reference, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, therein says it all, “There is no finer specimen tree; so beautiful that it overwhelms one at first glance…”  Dirr continues, while describing its highly recognizable bark, “Smooth, gray… developing an elephant hide appearance on old trunks; a beauty unmatched by the bark of other trees.”


Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

May 28, 2020

The mountain laurel in bloom

Constructed like needlework

Tiny half-pulled stitches piercing

Flushed and striped petals…

                                                            -Adrienne Rich

Mountain LaurelKalmia latifolia has long been regarded as one of our finest, flowering, native shrubs. This is a broad-leaf evergreen par excellence.  In June, its ribbed flower buds are a deep-pink, opening to pale pink, or white, cup-shaped flowers.  Most often, these flowers are at the terminal end of branches, creating an effusive floral display. Take a close look at these flowers, which have an artful, pollinating mechanism.  The five fused petals, which Rich alludes to as being stitched, surround ten stamens, the male reproductive parts. At the end of each stamen are the tiny dark-colored anthers, possessing the pollen.   Notice how the petals are indented, holding the anthers, with the stamens bent back under tension. When a bee, or other insect, lands, the stamen is catapulted, with a mousetrap-like response, increasing the successful rate of pollen covered bees/insects, hence greater cross pollination. Nature’s engineering at work, right before your eyes. (more…)

Syringa vulgaris

April 28, 2020

But now, in spring, the buds,
 flock our trees. Ten million exquisite buds
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph…
The song is drink, is color.  Come.  Now. Taste.
-Camille Dungy

Perhaps no landscape plant evokes more nostalgia toward spring than the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris. The genus Syringa is comprised of approximately one dozen shrub and small tree species. These are all native to Asia or southeastern Europe and are members of the olive family (Oleaceae). (more…)