211. Sand Pear

Sand Pear

Pyrus pyrifolia

Accession 7272*C

This specimen is one of the Arboretum's centenarians—trees over 100 years old. In spring, the tree blooms with a profusion of white flowers. In summer, the glossy, dark green leaves emerge. In fall, these leaves turn red and the tree grows fleshy, yellow brown fruits whose gritty texture gives the tree its common name: sand pear. 

What happens to the Arboretum’s plants once they’re sited on the grounds? Listen below to learn about the Arboretum’s horticulture crew.

Head of Horticulture Andrew Gapinski manages the Arboretum’s horticulturists, arborists, and landscape crew. He talks about that work in the segment below.

Segment 1:

The seed that grew into this sand pear was collected in 1907 by Arboretum plant collector Ernest Wilson on a two-year collecting trip in China. The seed arrived at the Arboretum in 1908, and several specimens were planted, one of which stands before you.  

When deciding where to place new plants, the Arboretum’s curatorial and horticultural staff weigh a variety of factors. They consider where the plants would fit within the original layout for the Arboretum, which organized evolutionarily related plants in groups on the grounds. They also consider the plant’s particular needs for temperature, moisture, light, and soil. Some areas of the Arboretum—including the Explorers Garden—have been reserved for special ornamental collections. 

Once a location is chosen and a specimen is planted, the curatorial team adheres to a rigorous schedule of mapping and inventorying, noting the plants’ growth, health, and any damage.  

The Arboretum is divided into horticultural zones based on plant groupings, horticultural priority, and resource intensity necessary to care for the area. The zones are overseen by a team of horticulturists, arborists, and gardeners, who maintain the landscape year-round. The crew prunes branches, weeds undesirable plants, and manages soil health. They also work to mitigate pests, disease pressure, and drought. 

For trees to thrive on the Arboretum’s grounds for a century or more takes a community of roughly 70 full-time staff, who steward this historic living laboratory. 

Segment 2:

My name is Andrew Gapinski, Head of Horticulture here at the Arnold. 

Any time I describe what I do for the Arboretum, I think it's good to relate it to the typical museum. Like any museum, whether it's an art museum, or a zoo, or a botanical garden, the collections within have to be cared for by expert staff. My job is to work with our expert horticulturists, arborists, and gardeners to care for this historically and scientifically important collection. 

The horticulture department is divided into three units. The first is arboriculture, next is horticulture, and last is the landscape team.  

The members of arboriculture team are arborists that are specialized in aerial axis to maintain the trees. They're working with specialized lifts, and with rope and saddle to ascend our trees, and to care for them from off the ground. 

The horticulturists are assigned specific zones, which they oversee the maintenance from the ground. All the weeding, pruning, mulching, plant healthcare, the planting that happens into the collections. Anything that you would do from the ground, the horticulturists are responsible for. 

And then finally there's a landscape team, and it's made up of three members. They're responsible for all, what we call, non-accession-related tasks. Anything that you can think of that goes into the maintenance of the landscape, whether it's laying down mulch paths, or litter management, or mowing, string-trimming across the grounds, that's really the role of the landscape team. 

As Head of the horticulture department, my roles are vast. From helping horticulturists make prioritization decisions in their zones, to reviewing conditions of individual plants’ health and what steps we should take remedying those issues, all the way up to strategic planning. Whether it's deciding staffing approaches, or creating visions for what horticulture looks like in the future. It's a lot of people management, it's a lot of strategic planning, and it's a lot of plant healthcare decision-making. 

Like many of the plants in our landscape, the sand pear is no different in that it's exposed to environmental factors, abiotic and biotic, that affect the health of that plant. The sand pear in particular, being a rosaceous family member, is inflicted by something called fire blight. Which is a bacterial disease that enters through the blossom, the stamen, the female reproductive organ of the blossom. And then can infect the plant and move on to the trunk and stem. 

Just a few years ago, we almost had to remove the sand pear and it took quite a bit of horticultural intervention to bring it to where it is today, which is in a stable state. But it's a good lesson to learn that, just like humans and animals, plants don't live forever. The Arboretum has a really robust, what we call, repropagation program. These are curatorial decisions that say if a plant is in decline, or if it's aging, we actually take clonal material, cuttings, from that plant into plant production to continue the lineage of that specimen. 

When that sand pear went into decline, we immediately repropped it, and its, I guess siblings, or offspring, are now in other parts of the Arboretum, so that if it goes into decline again, it's backed up across our landscape. 

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