Category: News

Farewell to a Beech Beauty

February 1, 2019

For well over a century a beautiful Purple-leaf Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’) has graced the front entrance to the Cemetery and greeted visitors.  Beloved by staff and visitors alike, its large wrinkled trunk and vast canopy delighted and impressed all who enter the gates.  A fungal disease that has plagued this tree for more than 10 years has now compromised the Beech’s health to the point where it is no longer safe to leave standing.  It is with a heavy heart that Mount Auburn will remove the tree the week of February 4th.

The Cemetery’s collection of trees is one of its most prized collections and one that our horticulture staff goes to great lengths to preserve. But, as with all living things, they also have a natural life cycle. Some of our trees can live a very long time, if the conditions are right.  We do have many trees that are now more than a hundred years old. A few dozen oaks on the grounds are believed to even predate the founding of the Cemetery in 1831. Other trees, like our large European Beeches, become susceptible to disease and pests as they mature in age.

During the past two decades, mature beech trees up and down the east coast have suffered significantly from a disease that is highly specific to that species alone, known as “beech tree decline” or “bleeding canker disease”. It is caused by a Phytophthora fungus.  Larger Beech trees (those with a trunk diameter 36” or larger) are most susceptible to this pathogen. Our arborists actively monitor and treat the infected trees in our collection with a spray of Agri-Fos and Pentra-bark, which is only somewhat effective at control, working only when the infection is small and in a relatively young tree. Stress, particularly through drought, likely predisposes beech trees to infection. Our control efforts have focused on maintaining low-stress environments for the trees removing grass growing beneath them and replacing with organic mulch and providing irrigation during droughts.

Mount Auburn makes decisions to remove trees very carefully, with public safety one of our primary concerns. Our arborists use a scientific approach to hazardous tree assessments, and trees are removed when they pose a serious threat to visitors or structures, including monuments.  With the exception of severe storms, most tree removals at Mount Auburn are the result of trees dying from natural causes (e.g., environmental stress from drought and cold temperatures, competition with other trees, a general decline from advanced age). Disease and insect outbreaks have periodically caused numerous removals as well. When a decision to remove a tree is made, it almost always comes after monitoring the condition of that tree for many years.

Stewardship of this landscape means we must also anticipate change. Extreme weather events like hurricanes and ice storms seem to happen all too often. Sudden outbreaks of insects or disease can have a dramatic impact on trees, but the slow and subtle decline of trees in old age is harder to notice. Maintaining this “arboretum” of over 5,000 trees requires us to adapt quickly to the unexpected.  Years of strategic planning has given us new planting initiatives for the next 10 years that will allow future generations to enjoy this landscape as much as we do today.  While we cannot keep any individual tree alive forever, we can and do continue to plant new trees every year to take the place of those we have lost.  We strive to add horticultural diversity while respecting the character of our historic landscape.

The grand Purple-leaf Beech at our entrance has been one of our most iconic trees for decades, but it was a row of graceful American Elms lining Central Avenue that once filled that “first impression” role.  Starting in the 1960s, the Cemetery’s collection of American Elms was severely impacted by Dutch-elm disease.  As reported in the 1981 Annual Report, “the loss of one particularly stately elm near the main entrance was felt by employees and visitors alike.”  Just as we mourned the loss of the elms, we will mourn the loss of this beloved Beech.

We are currently searching for the best possible tree to replace this magnificent specimen and hope to plant a new signature tree this spring that we will love and cherish for the next several decades.

We will be compiling a digital scrapbook in memory of this beloved tree.  To contribute, please send your memories and photos to

The Transformation of Asa Gray Garden

January 15, 2019

After years of planning and a full year of construction, we officially re-opened Asa Gray Garden with a ribbon-cutting celebration last summer. We are deeply grateful to the generous supporters who made this project possible. The Loughlin family provided the lead gift, in memory of beloved Mount Auburn trustee Caroline Loughlin, which enabled us to initiate construction. A generous grant from the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust to name “The Pierce Fountain” was facilitated by Harold I. Pratt, and many other individuals and foundations contributed to the garden renovation. A full list of donors will be available in our 186th Annual Report. The Friends of Mount Auburn continues to welcome donations to the renovation of Asa Gray Garden to ensure that it thrives in the coming years!

With the celebration now behind us, we look forward to maintaining this horticultural showpiece that will welcome and inspire all who visit Mount Auburn through all the seasons of the year.


Grant News

January 15, 2019

We are pleased to announce that the A. J. & M. D. Ruggiero Memorial Trust has awarded an $80,000 grant to the Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery to expand our woodland restoration efforts in Consecration Dell. Over the years, The Friends has received more than a million dollars from the Ruggiero Memorial Trust for wildlife habitat enhancement projects. Perhaps the most dramatic has been the multi-year phased woodland restoration in Consecration Dell, a beautiful area with steep forested slopes and an ecologically significant vernal pool at its center. The history of the Dell is inextricably linked with the history of the entire Cemetery, as it was within this natural amphitheater that Mount Auburn was formally consecrated on September 24, 1831.

Since 1997, with funding from the Ruggiero Memorial Trust, we restored the area by removing invasive species such as Norway Maples and replanting it with native New England species of trees, shrubs, ferns, and other groundcovers. Over the years we have planted many thousands of plants in the Dell, comprising over 128 different species all native to New England. The woodland habitat has improved greatly and is certainly an attractive resource for birds – especially migrating warblers – as our many birdwatchers can attest to each year! While the restoration efforts in the Dell are close to completion, one key area still needs to be restored, the North Dell Meadows. Thanks to the support of Ruggiero Memorial Trust, we will undertake this next stage in the spring of 2019.

Each new expansion adds much-needed habitat space to the Dell area as part of our goal of permanently establishing a sustainable native plant community that supports the many different species of wildlife that inhabit the site. The North Dell Meadows, with its higher sunlight exposure, focuses on a group of plants and a habitat that complements the woodland habitats adjacent to it. A blend of native un-mowed grasses and wildflowers will form the underlying basis for an ecosystem that offers a multitude of benefits for pollinators and other insects, especially during the summer months. We look forward to moving forward with this latest stage of replanting.

If you would like to contribute to our woodland restoration in the North Dell Meadows, please visit and make a gift to our Horticultural Collections. Thank you for your support!

The Mount Auburn Plays: A Playwright’s Inspiration Comes to Life

October 3, 2018

Mount Auburn Cemetery is the final resting place to such historic writers as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Bernard Malamud and Roberto Creeley. And now, Mount Auburn is home to the first-ever Playwright Artist in Residence, Patrick Gabridge. The award-winning playwright’s two-year residency, which started in January 2018, is well under way as a series of site-specific plays inspired by the Cemetery’s stunning landscape and 187-year history are coming to life. Gabridge’s Mount Auburn Plays will include two sets of one-acts called The Nature Plays and The America Plays, set to premiere on June 1-2 and September 8-9, 2019.

Over the past eight months Patrick could be seen among Mount Auburn’s historic headstones, landscaped gardens, ponds, and outdoor statuary, setting the locations and themes of the Mount Auburn Plays. We were thrilled to get a sneak-peek of his works this month during several staged public readings. (more…)