SUMR 18 Goes Out on a Limb at Penn's Morris Arboretum

SUMR Blog

SUMR 18 Goes Out on a Limb at Penn's Morris Arboretum

Photo Page of Scholars' Day Trip to a Horticultural Wonderland
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Photos: Hoag Levins
Taking a leisurely Sunday break from their health services research studies, the University of Pennsylvania Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) cohort of scholars toured the Morris Arboretum in the far northwest corner of Philadelphia. Created in the 1880s as the private summer estate of local iron fortune heirs, the 92-acre sprawl of sumptuous Victorian gardens, ornate water features and thousands of botanical specimens is now part of Penn. SUMR is an annual three-month program aimed at underrepresented minority undergraduates and others interested in exploring potential careers in the field of health services research (HSR). The SUMR program is sponsored by Penn's Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) and the Wharton School Health Care Management Department. Above, ten members of the larger SUMR visiting group explore the Arboretum's Rose Garden. [Click image for larger and names]
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Aside from being a popular tourist attraction, Morris is the official arboretum of the State of Pennsylvania and a research center that studies and tracks plant health, pest management and other botanical issues and trends across the state. Above, right, the SUMR group assembles in the shade and arboreal majesty of the prize Japanese Katsura tree, one of the largest such trees in the U.S. and one of the jewels in the crown of this collection of rare trees.
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Housed in what used to be the estate's grand stables, the Visitors' Center (above, left) is now a gift shop, art gallery, café and offices. To reach the center, visiting vehicles navigate a zig-zag mountain road that climbs to the summit. The view from the top reminds you that the Arboretum and adjacent Chestnut Hill neighborhood occupy a rocky upthrust on the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountain foothills. Both sit on a plateau 445 feet above sea level. By comparison, most of the rest of Philadelphia is only 10 feet above sea level. Gazing downhill from the Visitors' Center (above, right) you see a broad sloping meadow featuring an artwork flock of cut-out metal sheep.
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The overall impression of the Arboretum is of all-prevasive lush greenery. SUMR Scholars Tolu Omole and Amanda Carrillo-Perez accompany SUMR Program Director Joanne Levy (above, left) through a tunnel of tree foliage. Above, right, Arboretum docent Marcia Steinberg explains a huge Blue Atlas Cedar originally brought to the estate from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. It is another of the collection's treasure trees.
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Formal and natural spreads of wildly colorful flowers are everywhere across the grounds. The Penn group wanders through the Penncock Flower Walk (above, left) that originally led to the front door of the estate's (now gone) main mansion house. Although entomology is not a central focus of the Arboretum, it could well be, given the extraordinary number of pollinators (above, right) that descend into the gardens from all directions.
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Standing in a central meadow of the estate grounds is a bronze sculpture of John Morris (above, left) who, with his sister Lydia in 1887 began building the estate as a summer retreat and spent much of their lives traveling the world to find the exotic trees and plants for which it is now so famous. Checking it out are SUMR Program Coordinator Safa Browne and friends Jamyson Swinney and Devan Hunt. Above, right, stopping at the Pennock Flower Walk's Spanish Fountain to cool off on a 90-degree day are (l to r) Amanda Carrillo-Perez, Tania Calle, Nahnsan Guseh, Joanne Levy, Sydney Bell, Jamyson Swinney, Mimi Nkanta, Grace Nie, Mohamed Abdirisak and Janiece Strange.
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Art works are a major part of the Aboretum experience. The Upper Gallery in the Visitors' Center was hosting a "Time in the Garden" themed exhibit of multiple artists' works in oils and photography. Exploring there (above, left) were William Jackson, Amanda Carrillo-Perez, Zara Wermers, Tania Calle, Janiece Strange and Tolu Omole. Above, right, one of the many rotating outdoor sculpture installations was "Steel mantis" by Vanny Channal who used junk metal parts to craft the giant bug.
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One of the Arboretum's most unusual modern additions is a 50-foot high steel walkway system (above, left) traversing a dense forest canopy. It's called the Out on a Limb tree adventure and features nets (above, right) that provide a comfortable place for the SUMR group to relax and listen to the sounds of the forest.
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Keeping with the theme of a bird-like world at tree-top level, Out on a Limb also includes a human-sized bird's nest (above, left) with three human-sized blue eggs that provide an irresistible photo op for nearly all who enter. Above, right, trying out the eggs for size are SUMR scholars Nahnsan Guseh and Christine Olagun-Samuel and Penn Medicine Research Assistant Mimi Nkanta.
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Elaborate fern gardens in equally elaborate glasshouses were all the rage in the Victorian Age and in 1899 John Morris had one built on his summer estate (above, left). Thirteen decades later, it's the last freestanding Victorian fernery in North America. Now called the Hamilton Fernery, it features jungle-like humidity, a mini-stream, water falls, overlook bridge and dense floor-to-ceiling plantings of ferns and mosses. Enjoying the bridge view (above, right) are SUMR Scholars Christine Olagun-Samuel, Janiece Strange, Grace Nie, Khalida Saalim, Tolu Omole, and Penn Medicine Research Assistant Mimi Nkanta.
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Throughout its 131-year history, the Arboretum has served as a tree museum in the most literal way. Among its most impressive holdings is a small forest of Dawn Redwood trees (above, left). This species was believed extinct until a few living specimens were found in a remote valley in the mountains of China in 1941. John Morris acquired seeds from those and planted the stand of redwoods that soar skyward here today, 77 years later. Exploring massive cedar trees in another part of the grounds (above, right) are Grace Nie, Janiece Strange, Khalida Saalim, Christine Olagun-Samuel and Mimi Nkanta.
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One of the Arboretum's most popular attractions is its Garden Railway featuring 15 different lines of G-scale model trains running through a criss-crossing, multi-level series of trestles, bridges and tunnels (above, left) on a quarter mile of intricately interwoven tracks. And all of this is surrounded by a lush, multi-level garden and pedestrian trails. Amidst the flora are custom-designed miniature buildings and sculptures, all crafted from natural materials -- twigs, pine cones, seed pods, parts of hollow logs, dried leaves and flowers, mosses, acorns -- and covered and waterproofed with honey-colored resins. Above, right, the foreground bulding is a replica of Penn's Fisher Fine Arts Library. Further back is historic Carpenters' Hall.
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In another section of the Railway Garden (above, left) is a replica of Independence Hall. Meanwhile, demonstrating that the term "miniature building" may not exactly describe these artworks (above, right), is a nearly six-foot tall replica of Philadelphia's City Hall, complete with William Penn at the top.