Plants

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

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

August

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

September

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

October

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

November

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

December

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

JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC

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.”

(more…)

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…)

Magnoliaceae

March 26, 2020

Magnolia x soulangiana, saucer magnolia

My magnolia tree is going mad!

what delicious blossoming:

on branches bare a month ago

this blush, first flush of Spring,

on limbs unburdened by their weight

not buds, but birds, burgeoning:

rose-pink breasted, moon-white crested

fledglings and doting pairs,

there’s no mistaking them

                                –Bet Briggs

The notable plant collector, Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930) wrote of magnolias: “Aristocrats of ancient lineage, possessed of many superlative qualities are the magnolias. They have the largest flowers and largest individual leaves of any hardy group of trees. No other genus of hardy or half-hardy trees and shrubs can boast so many excellences…Their free-flowering character and great beauty of blossoms and foliage are equaled by the ease with which they may be cultivated.”

The bold, yet graceful, elegant, yet exuberant, floral displays that both Briggs and Wilson were moved to praise with superlatives happen throughout April at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  As members of the botanical family Magnoliaceae, these are descendants of some of the earliest flowering plants. Fossil remains show members of this family grew in the Cretaceous Period (145-65 million years ago). Before that time, the earth’s surface was primarily dominated with conifers, cycads, ferns, and equisetums (horsetails). Today, the genus Magnolia, includes 85 to 120, deciduous and evergreen species (depending on taxonomic interpretation), primarily native to east and southeast Asia, and eastern North America.  This genus, named by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), father of modern taxonomy, honors the French botanist, Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), Director of the Royal Botanic Garden of Montpellier, and professor of botany. Magnol in 1689, published and postulated the concept of plant families, based on morphological characteristics. This was still a time when common belief held that all species came into existence by divine creation.

Our modern, springtime infatuation with magnolias, is due to the large flowers, which can warm anyone’s mood, in spite of our often fickle, early-spring, New England weather. These flowers are actually composed of tepals, a term introduced specifically for magnolias, in 1950, for a floral part that is not clearly differentiated as being either a sepal or a petal.  Many of these tepals may last for several weeks in flower, unless a periodic late frost follows their abundant display. Having evolved before bees, butterflies, or moths existed, these flowers were, and still are, pollinated by beetles, or beetle-type insects.

At Mount Auburn, there are over seventy magnolias, representing 9 species, three hybrids, and 27 cultivated varieties. We will focus here on a few precocious forms, which flower before their leaves emerge.

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata ,Yulan magnolia, is named for its region of origin in China. Its specific epithet, denudata, was given by Linnaeus, and alludes to its being denuded of leaves when flowering, perhaps unusual for such a large flower at that time. This may be one of the first flowering tree used ornamentally, as Buddhist monks have grown it to adorn their temples for the past 1300 years. It was introduced into western horticulture in 1780 by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), an amateur scientist of wealth, who had also served as botanist, on Captain James Cook’s (1728-1779) first round-the-world voyage in 1768-1770. The flowers are a creamy, white color, with 6-9 tepals, that hold their upright, cupped-shape longer than other magnolias. The flowers have a sweet, lemony scent.  There are specimens of Yulan magnolia in the Asa Gray garden, and on Narcissus Path (near Linden Path).

Magnolia stellata, star magnoliaMagnolia stellata, star magnolia, is one of the most beautiful, and popular magnolias. It was first introduced from Japan in 1861 by Dr. George Rogers Hall (1820-1899), a Harvard trained physician, turned trader, who sent living plants from Japan directly to New England. The exquisite charm of these lightly fragrant, flowers lies chiefly in the large number of splayed-open, narrow, strap-shaped, tepals, which may vary from12 to 18, to 40. The color is generally white, although there are cultivated forms with pink tepals. There are star magnolias on Bigelow Avenue, Beryl Path, and Bellwort Path, as well as other locations.

Magnolia x soulangiana, saucer magnoliaMagnolia x soulangiana, saucer magnolia, is probably the best known and most widely planted of all the magnolias. In Boston, these are the magnolias that line Back Bay’s Commonwealth Avenue.   This is a hybrid, which is a plant with parentage from two different species, in this case the lineage is Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliiflora. In 1820, this hybrid was created by, and named for, Etienne Soulange-Bodin (1774-1846), a French, retired cavalry officer, turned agronomist. The cup-and-saucer shaped flowers have a pink color outside, but white inside, and generally have 9 tepals.  At Mount Auburn, there are fine examples growing on Indian Ridge Path, Bigelow Avenue, Magnolia Avenue, Asclepias Path, and Willow Pond Path.

Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’, is a hybrid between Magnolia stellata and Magnolia kobus and has fragrant, white flowers, with 10-17 tepals. When mature the ‘Merrill’ is 25-30 feet in height. There is a grand specimen on Spruce Avenue, at Thistle Path, our area known as Alice’s Fountain, as well as several other locations throughout  our landscape.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth"Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’, was the first light-yellow-flowered, hybrid available. Introduced by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the lineage is Magnolia denudata (with white flowers) and Magnolia acuminata (with  green-colored  flowers).  This will become a medium-sized tree.  One is planted at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Oak Avenue.

We also grow six of the eight “Little Girls” magnolias. These low-branched, and shrubby trees may only reach-15-feet high, spreading to an oval form. All were introduced from the U. S. National Arboretum, and six (‘Ann’, Betty’, ‘Judy’, ‘Randy’, Ricki’, and ‘Susan’) are the result of hybrid crosses between Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’ and Magnolia liliiflora. “Ann’ has erect, fragrant, flowers, with a deep, purple-red color, and is planted in a small triangular bed on Cherry Avenue. ‘Susan’, has narrow, goblet-shaped, fragrant, flowers of the reddest color, and is found nearby in another triangular bed on Cherry Avenue.  ‘Betty’ has large, eight-inch, violet-colored, flowers, with 12-19 tepals, and is on Cedar Avenue.  ‘Randy’ has 9-11 red-purple tepals, which fade to a rich pink color, and is planted between Cedar Avenue and Cypress Avenue. We do not grow ‘Judy’ or ‘Ricki’.

 ‘Jane’ was a cross between Magnolia liliiflora ’Reflorescens’ and Magnolia stellata ‘Waterlily’ and has fragrant, red-purple, flowers and is found in the same triangular bed, already mentioned, as ‘Susan’, on Cherry Avenue.  Lastly, ‘Pinkie’, the latest of these hybrids to flower, has the palest flowers, and can be found on Juniper Path.  These “Little Girls” magnolias were named to honor U. S. National Arboretum secretaries, or staff wives and daughters.