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Become part of the Cornell Botanic Gardens team as a volunteer!

13 weeks 11 hours ago
Volunteers are vital to our mission. Whether tending to our gardens, caring for our natural areas or educating our visitors, there are many ways to be involved as a Cornell Botanic Gardens volunteer.

Interested in leading guided tours for the general public or for school-aged groups? Garden Docent Training begins April 4 and training for Wildflower Garden Facilitators begins February 28.

Also beginning this spring, there are opportunities to volunteer in our cultivated collections and natural areas.

Garden Guide
If you love plants, gardens and the natural world, and have a desire to share that love with others, you are qualified to join our Garden Guide (docent) program. Garden Guides serve as ambassadors to a large and diverse audience throughout the spring, summer and early fall. Our Guides interpret the diverse plant collections, unique landscapes and compelling history of Cornell Botanic Gardens, and educate adult visitors about the importance and interdependence of plants, people and the natural world. Trainings include both indoor and outdoor sessions, and there are opportunities to shadow and learn from experienced docents. The 2018 core training program will take place on Wednesdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in April and May, at the Nevin Welcome Center, beginning April 4, with additional trainings to be scheduled through in the summer. (Complete schedule for 2018 to be announced.) Training is free and all materials will be provided. All you need bring is your curiosity and enthusiasm!
Join the Wildflower Explorations Team!
Are you interested in working with kids and getting them excited about plants? Join our volunteer Wildflower Explorations team as they engage local 3rd grade students in learning about our native wildflowers. Our enthusiastic staff will teach you all you need to know to engage with students in their classrooms in March and April followed by field trips to the Mundy Wildflower Garden in May. The first session starts February 28 from 10:00 a.m. -  11:30 p.m. in the Nevin Welcome Center.
Contact Raylene Ludgate at for more details and to sign up!

Cultivated Plant Collections
Volunteers participate in many ways in our diverse plant collections, working closely with skilled horticulturists in our gardens and arboretum. Typical work includes weeding, transplanting seedlings, planting annuals, dividing perennials, edging garden beds, taking cuttings, and more. If you like to work outside with your hands in the dirt, this is the opportunity for you!
Natural Areas
Our 3,000-plus acres of natural areas, including the Mundy Wildflower Garden, offer opportunities for volunteers to work directly with native, naturalized and invasive flora of the Cayuga Lake Basin. Natural areas volunteers help protect fragile habitats and rare plants while learning effective conservation techniques and stewardship practices. Student and community groups can also help by participating in group service projects, such as trail maintenance or invasive plant removal.
You can learn more about these opportunities and fill out our online volunteer application form HERE, or contact Kevin Moss, Adult Education & Volunteer Coordinator, at, (607) 254-7430.

Species Spotlight: Arborvitae

13 weeks 12 hours ago

A closer look at totem poles

A small grove of arborvitae (Thuja plicata), a relative of our native eastern red cedar (Thuja occidentalis), is growing in the northwest corner of our groundcover collection, adjacent to Comstock Knoll.

The arborvitae is common in forests along the coasts of the Pacific Northwest. Throughout history and today, Native American communities from coastal Oregon to southern Alaska have extensively used arborvitae for building houses, canoes, textiles, instruments, utensils, and for crafting totem poles—strong symbols of their cultural identities.

The native people of the Pacific Northwest are from several distinct nations, belonging to seven different language families with many dialects. One of their commonalities is carving totem poles, which are considered storytellers that give people their cultural identity and communicate their beginnings, history, and lineage.

Totem poles serve different purposes. Hilary Stewart, author of Looking at Totem Poles, writes “One example is the memorial pole, found in Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakiutl, Nuu-chah-nulth and Muzalk villages, stood before the house but was not attached to it. Raised a year or more after the death of a chief, the memorial pole displayed crest and figures that depicted special achievements or events in the deceased person’s family history.”

Stewart noted, “The Nuu-chah-nulth set up a welcome pole near the village beach. This single, larger than life human figure, with arms outstretched, stood near the beach to welcome visitors arriving for a feast or potlatch.”

Over time a new category of pole has emerged—the commercial pole—commissioned from sources outside the culture, such as government agencies, private individuals or corporations.

Almost without exception, totem poles are carved from arborvitae. It takes a specialized technique to harvest the tree and a great deal of preparation to raise a finished totem pole. Artist-carvers are commissioned to shape figures and objects into the tree. A whole host of supernatural beings have become the crests of various northwest coast peoples, which are described in Stewart’s book, a reputable source for learning more about totem poles. The author details and interprets the figures and crests found on 110 totem poles accessible to the public in communities of the Pacific Northwest.

Cornell Botanic Gardens, University, and City Collaborate to Improve Gorge Safety

13 weeks 12 hours ago
New barrier diverts users to beautiful, accessible gorge areas

With the support of Cornell Botanic Gardens and Cornell University, the City of Ithaca Common Council in December voted to permit erection of a safety barrier over the 19th-century industrial relic known as “Ezra’s Tunnel.” While never intended to serve as a public access point, the former sluiceway provided unauthorized ingress to the city-owned area of Fall Creek Gorge at the top of Ithaca Falls and to nearby waterfalls and plunge pools that are among the most dangerous in the Finger Lakes.

The barrier was designed, funded, and constructed by Cornell University, then ownership turned over to the city of Ithaca in January 2018.

Closing Ezra’s Tunnel is part of a broader strategy that the Cornell Gorge Safety Committee, which includes city representation, has been working on to promote safe and responsible use of the gorges. The Nathaniel Rand ’12 Memorial Gorge Safety Education Program is named in memory of a student who died in a gorge drowning accident in 2011. The program’s goal is to prevent future tragedies by informing visitors about safe and responsible use of the gorges.

The program includes educational initiatives such as the gorge stewards, orientation hikes for new students, educational programming for orientation leaders and residence advisors, and a gorge safety video and brochure (pdf). These educational efforts are just one part of a comprehensive safety program that includes providing safe recreational alternatives, enforcement, and maintenance of gorge infrastructure.

For more, see these articles in the Cornell Chronicle, New York Times, and Cornell Daily Sun.

Now is the time to visit 30,000 new spring bulbs

13 weeks 13 hours ago
Last October, Professor William Miller, of the School of Integrative Plant Science, Horticulture Section of CALS, collaborated with Cornell Botanic Gardens to plant 30,000 bulbs outside the Nevin Welcome Center and in our F. R. Newman Arboretum with a mechanical bulb planter— a novel demonstration for Cornell University.
The machine used was donated from a large bulb supplier in the Netherlands to Professor Miller's flower bulb research program. The machine lifts the turf, plants the bulbs, and places the turf immediately back in place.  A video of the planting next to the Bioswale Garden can be found here.
Bulbs were donated from Professor Miller's connections in Holland and from David Strabo, Cornell Class of ’80, of Longfield Gardens.  Irene Lekstutis, Botanic Gardens’ landscape designer, crafted the planting designs and our horticultural staff sorted and packed the bulbs into the machine. Bulbs were selected for their deer resistance and to showcase a sequence of blooms from throughout the spring.

These bulbs are emerging now and will continue to bloom through June.

In early spring, Chionodoxa luciliae (blue in color) will emerge in three circles in Jackson Grove (Arboretum). To aid the planting machine in making the tight circular curves, Horticulturist Melissa Cox used a sod-cutter to carve out the design. Chionodoxa bulbs naturalize, meaning that as they multiply the circles will become fuller. A mix of 4 varieties of daffodils, Chionodoxa 'Gigantea', Crocus vernusCamassia quamash and Allium 'Purple Sensation' were planted along the lawn side of our Bioswale Garden outside the Nevin Welcome Center (shown left). Look for these to bloom in mid spring. An early summer display of Allium 'Purple Sensation', A. atropurpureum, A. nigrum, and A. sphaerocephalum will flank the mown path in Newman Meadow near the entrance to the Arboretum at Caldwell Drive between the Nut Tree Collection and Slim Jim Woods.

Naturally dyed textiles on display in the Nevin Welcome Center

13 weeks 3 days ago
Creating textiles from natural dyes is a labor of love involving cultivation, harvest, textile preparation, and dye extraction. Add to this the various surface design techniques and natural dyeing becomes a labor of love. Cornell Professor Denise Green and students in her Natural Dye Studio course designed textiles in brilliant hues of yellows, reds, greens, blues, purples, and more. These naturally dyed textiles made from a range of plants, including marigold, sunflower and Japanese indigo are on display through June 2018.

Read more about the students and their work in the February 12 Cornell Chronicle article, "To dye fore: Exhibit showcases naturally tinted textiles." (Photo by Jason Koski, University Photography)

Chocolatada! An "Ithaca Loves Teachers" Event, February 20

13 weeks 3 days ago
Celebrate chocolate through history, with tastings, and hands-on activities. Come experience the rich story of chocolate starting from a tree: learn how it grows and how cacao seeds are processed to become lusciously smooth chocolate. Sample diverse chocolates as you travel through their place in history. You will taste exotic chocolate from Modica, Sicily, sample award winning white chocolate from Venezuela, smell the aromas of chocolate as it is processed through a modern conching machine, and more.


Date/time: Tuesday, February 20; Drop in any time between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Cost: $10 per person; pre-registration not required
Location: Nevin Welcome Center

Ithaca Loves Teachers! This program is one of many events offered February 16 -25 to celebrate educators with entertainment, activities, family fun, and discounts throughout the Tompkins County community. Click here to view the lineup of events.

Land Gift Provides Legacy for Old-Growth Forest Natural Area

14 weeks 3 days ago

With Bandler Family Forest Tract, the area now preserves more than 100 acres, with almost 30 acres of old-growth forest. Read more in the February 8 Cornell Chronicle article "Land gift expands old-growth forest natural area."

How do plants survive winter? Find out on our upcoming winter plant walks

14 weeks 4 days ago
Winter is a time of survival for plants in temperate zones, yet a variety of ingenious adaptations allow plants to survive the harsh season and resume their life processes anew each spring. Join plant science professor emeritus Dr. Peter Davies for a walk through the botanic gardens to learn the science behind winter plant survival strategies. Please dress appropriately for weather conditions. Walk will be cancelled if temperatures are below 20 degrees F.

Pre-registration is not required.

Dates/times: Thursday, February 22; 1 p.m. to 2 p.m and Saturday, February 24; 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $5 suggested donation; pre-registration is not required
Location: Meet at the Nevin Welcome Center

Earthwise: A Storytelling Journey Featuring Regi Carpenter

14 weeks 4 days ago
Stories have been used throughout history to teach important life lessons, preserve cultural heritage, and encourage respect for each other and the natural world. In this engaging and participatory program, storytellers Regi Carpenter and Kevin Moss will share a sampling of earth wisdom stories, drawing on a variety of oral and folk traditions.

Date/time: Saturday, February 17; 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Cost: $5 suggested donation; no registration required
Location: Nevin Welcome Center

Appropriate for adults and children over 5 years.

Summer Internship Applications are due February 20

15 weeks 6 days ago

Become a member of the botanic gardens' professional team and learn about the operations of a public garden. We are accepting applications for positions working with staff in our botanic gardens, natural areas, and education department. Learn more on our internship page.

Opening reception for "Quiet Labor" exhibit, February 7

16 weeks 6 days ago
Creating textiles from natural dyes is a laborious process involving cultivation, harvest, textile preparation, and dye extraction. Cornell Professor Denise Green and students in her Natural Dye Studio course designed textiles in brilliant hues of yellows, reds, greens, blues, purples, and more. These naturally dyed textiles made from a range of plants, including marigold, sunflower, and Japanese indigo are on display through June 2018.

Opening Reception: Meet professor Denise Green and students who will share the various techniques used to create the pieces in this exhibit. Light refreshments will be served.

Date/time: Wednesday, February 7; 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Cost: Free and open to the public.
Location: Nevin Welcome Center

Cornell artists win global soil competition

16 weeks 6 days ago

The soil-painting team, led by Kirsten Kurtz, included our Emily Dietrich, horticulturist and artist. The painting won first prize in the university category of a global soil painting competition sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Read more in a January 16 Cornell Chronicle.

Christopher Dunn to chair new national conservation group

17 weeks 5 days ago

Cornell Botanic Gardens’ director is leading the U.S. National Committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Read more about his role in a January 16 Cornell Chronicle article.

Animal track and sign walk February 3

18 weeks 6 days ago
Join local author and animal tracker Linda Spielman for a leisurely walk through the Mundy Wildflower Garden in search of animal tracks and other signs of wildlife. Even if there’s no snow nature will offer plenty of stories for us to interpret. After the walk Linda will sign copies of her book, A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals of the Northeast, available for purchase in our Garden Gift Shop. Appropriate for adults and children over 8 years. Please dress appropriately for the weather.

Date/time: Saturday, February 3; 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $5 suggested donation; no registration is required
Instructor: Linda Spielman, local author and animal tracker 
Location: Meet at the Nevin Welcome Center

Guided tour with conifer gardener Phil Syphrit February 2

18 weeks 6 days ago
Join conifer gardener Phil Syphrit on an easy walk through part of our conifer collection. The tour will highlight conifers, both native and non-native to the Ithaca area (including yew, metasequoia, concolor fir, larch, and cedar), their unique features, and tips for their care in the home landscape. The walk will last approximately one hour. Please dress appropriately for the weather.

Date/time: Friday, February 2; noon - 1 p.m
Cost: $5 suggested donation; no registration required
Instructor: Phil Syphrit, conifer gardener
Location: Meet at the Nevin Welcome Center

Learn how Cornell's Climate-Adapted Design Studio has helped communites adapt to climate change

19 weeks 5 days ago
Please join us at this Biophilia: ITHACA forum for a lively presentation and discussion by Josh Cerra, Cornell Landscape Architecture Associate Professor.

The Climate-Adaptive Design (CAD) Studio links Cornell University students with Hudson riverfront communities faced with extreme precipitation, flooding and sea level rise to explore design alternatives for more climate-adapted and connected waterfront areas. Cerra will introduce concepts of resilience, and share the studio’s process for inspiring awareness and action in preparation for a changing climate.

Date/time: Wednesday, January 24; 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Cost: Free and open to the public
Location: Tompkins County Public Library

What is Biophilia: ITHACA?

Biophilia is the human affinity for interacting with nature.  The term “biophilia,” which literally means “love of life,” was coined by social psychologist Erich Fromm and popularized by biologist E.O. Wilson.

Biophilia: ITHACA is modeled after the Biophilia: PITTSBURGH which is a “pilot chapter for a global Biophilia Network of creative minds dedicated to strengthening the bond between people and the natural world through education, discussion and action.”

Our Mission: To strengthen human connections to nature and to advocate for policies and practices that benefit the local natural environment.

Our Goals:
•    To create a supportive and inclusive network that fosters collaboration and learning about biophilia among people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints
•    To welcome and inspire others with the concept of biophilia
•    To explore new approaches to strengthening human connections to nature and to discuss their application to our local community
•    To use our collective voice to advocate for and to assist in the implementation of policies and practices that benefit the natural environment

Free and open to all. Refreshments will be provided. This forum is sponsored by the Paleontological Research Institution, and the biophilia:ITHACA chapter is comprised of numerous individuals and organizations including Cornell Botanic Gardens.

Our mission is to strengthen human connection to nature. All are invited to attend this forum and become active with biophilia: ITHACA. Contact or for more information.

Holiday Break Hours for the Nevin Welcome Center

20 weeks 2 days ago

Our grounds are open and free to all from dawn to dusk every day. The Nevin Welcome Center and Garden Gift Shop is closed from Sunday, December 24, 2017 through Wednesday, January 3, 2018.

Closing the Arboretum to Protect our Trees

22 weeks 13 hours ago

Pedestrians are welcome to explore the arboretum every day from dawnto dusk. Vehicle access resumes in spring.
Rhoda Maurer, director of horticulture for Cornell Botanic Gardens, explains why the F. R. Newman Arboretum is closed to traffic during the winter months:

Why is the F. R. Newman Arboretum closed to vehicles during the winter? 
Cornell Botanic Gardens and Cornell University do not plow or treat the roads in the arboretum.  We have chosen to practice environmental stewardship by not using salts to treat slippery surfaces. Road salts carry a high environmental cost, as they contaminate water supplies and burn the roots of nearby plants. Our collections are a living museum, and safekeeping them is part of our responsibility to future generations. 

Can’t you find a way to keep the roads clear that won’t damage the trees? 
Keeping the roads clear without using salts limits us to physical labor and resources not available to us.

What about winter days when there’s no snow on the roads—can’t you open the gates then? 
Seasonal closure of the Arboretum is necessary to ensure the safety of our guests.  And while some roads may seem clear of frozen precipitation, others in the shaded hills often are not.

How do you decide when to close the gates and open them again in the spring? 
Opening and closing of the Arboretum for the winter is based on current weather trends and the probability for below-freezing temperatures and precipitation patterns.  Given the complexity of changing climate and weather events, we strive to keep the Arboretum open for as much of the year as possible, while also providing for the safety of our visitors. 

The Joy of Living Christmas Trees

22 weeks 5 days ago
Holiday tree selection and the search for the perfect one is upon us. Here are a few helpful hints to guide you on your quest:

Trees cut and hanging at the Christmas tree lot all seem acceptable. What to do?   Easy... simply pinch off a few needles, crush and smell.  The aroma should be pleasing. Next, with your hand, tap a couple branches at midpoint and observe how many needles fall. If many fall, decline the tree, as it has been cut for too long.  If a few fall, that’s OK. 

Lastly, gently bend a few branches with your hand. They should be flexible in all directions, yet firm enough to hold the decorations. Clean cut the trunk base at home and immediately submerse in water. Keep water level high as long as you keep the tree. Turn lights off at night, to conserve electricity and reduce fire hazard.

Now, instead of an acceptable tree, how about the perfect one? Purchase a living tree! Choose a species that grows naturally in your area. Here in the Northeast U.S., we favor blue spruce and fir varieties, such as Frasier and Douglas. Place on top of waterproof material, wrap root ball in decorative cloth, and water frequently.  Indoor air is much drier and will increase transpiration rates.  You will need to water often to keep the substrate moist.

Once the tree has served its decorative, indoor purpose, place it in a cold (approximately 40 degrees F), non-temperature- controlled space. Cover root ball with mulch, blankets, or similar material to protect it from drastic temperature fluctuations. 

Schedule a late winter/early spring family planting day and plant your Christmas tree. Not only do will you add another tree to the earth, you’ll enjoy its benefits for generations. Plus, each tree planted represents that season’s holiday and all its memories, forever expressed in the majestic crown of the tree YOU planted.

Lee Dean is lead arborist for Cornell Botanic Gardens

Click here to view a three-minute interview with Lee created by intern Diana Buckley.

Cascadilla Gorge is closed until spring

23 weeks 3 days ago
The Cascadilla Gorge Trail from Downtown to College Avenue is now closed for winter season. The trail is closed due to hazardous conditions in winter and falling rock that create unsafe conditions. The trail will re-open in the spring when conditions allow.

Although the gorge is closed, you can tour it virtually using Google's Street View feature. Click here for a 360 degree view in front of one of the gorge's waterfalls. To view more points in the gorge, click on the yellow “pegman” in the bottom right corner and drag it to a point on the trail.