The Morton Arboretum – Living Museum of Trees and Much More

“Plant trees.”
That is the Morton family motto, spearheaded by J. Sterling Morton who started Arbor Day in 1872. His son, Joy, established Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois in 1922. Since then, the arboretum has grown to 1,700 acres and a much-needed outdoor space for one of the most populous areas of the country.
In 2015, Morton Arboretum tallied 1 million visitors during the year.

The mission of The Morton Arboretum is to collect and study trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world, to display them across naturally beautiful landscapes for people to study and enjoy, and to learn how to grow them in ways that enhance our environment. Our goal is to encourage the planting and conservation of trees and other plants for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world.

Conifers at Morton Arboretum

What is an Arboretum?

An arboretum is a botanical garden devoted to trees. Of course, there is plenty more to see at Morton than trees.

The Morton Arboretum’s 1,700 acres hold more than 222,000 live plants representing nearly 4,300 taxa from around the world. Situated on the rolling Valparaiso moraine and bisected by the East Branch of the DuPage River, the Arboretum is planned and planted to nurture and display trees and shrubs in environments conducive to their growth.


Conservation and Science at Morton Arboretum

Besides being a living museum, Morton is a pioneer in tree conservation. Locally around Chicago and northern Illinois as well as across the globe, their projects are helping communities and individuals conserve and manage trees.
Their Center for Tree Science aims to improve the quality of urban forests, protect global tree diversity, and close the gaps in current tree science. Morton staffs numerous expert scientists and hosts ongoing research programs.
Coupled with their conservation and scientific initiatives is Morton’s drive to educate future scientists as well as passionate citizen scientists.

Education at Morton Arboretum

There are numerous classes and programs geared towards children of all ages as well as adults. These courses range from birding hikes to sedge identification to the Woodland Stewardship Program. This program leads to opportunities to become a certified restorationist.
The Morton Arboretum can also help you choose trees for your own landscape. Their online (and in person) Plant Clinic provides quick answers to all your tree questions. I received a response about my Swamp White Oak in a couple hours.
The Sterling Morton Library holds a fast collection of botany and horticultural materials. If you are looking for information on tree conservation, natural history, and more, this is a great resource.

Children’s Garden

Having two boys under the age of 4, the Children’s Garden is the place to be. There are two main sections in the children’s garden: Backyard Discovery Gardens and Adventure Woods.
The Backyard Discovery Gardens are more low-key and a good start for younger, less adventurous kids. The themes of these gardens are designed to represent backyard plants including a vegetable garden. The area is hands on and suitable for even the littlest of kids.
The Adventure Woods requires a winding hike and is geared towards kids who really want to explore and burn off energy. My oldest son has sensory issues, so this is the place we spend the most time. Here you can get your feet wet in the wonder pond, looking for tadpoles and other water creatures.
As you explore deeper, there is a creek and large play structure to climb about. Going higher up still is the Evergreen Walk and Lookout. Here is another climbing structure of “bridges” nestled in some truly magnificent and huge trees.
These play areas are essential for kids to connect or reconnect with nature. We are in desperate need for more of these types of places for kids and not only in amazing places like Morton Arboretum.
Beyond the designated and always evolving Children’s Garden, there are two nature spaces at Morton: Mud Kitchen and Word Garden. Of course there are miles of trails and acres of woods to explore on your own.

Hiking and Birding

With 9 miles of roads and 16 miles of hiking trails, Morton Arboretum is a great place to explore. Each season offers new sights, different birds, and fun surprises.
I haven’t done a ton of birding here but with so many varieties of plants and habitats, birdlife is great. The arboretum is near some busy roads and dense suburbs, but inside is tranquil. And despite a lot of attendance, most trails away from the main buildings are not crowded.
Arrive early and start at any of the small parking areas sprinkled along the main driving route.

Growing Brilliantly Campaign

Growing Brilliantly Campaign Logo

To keep Morton Arboretum strong, the Growing Brilliantly Campaign was launched in 2017 to help raise funds for numerous improvements. This campaign has several initiatives but some of the big ones are to improve the South Farm, stated as the heart of operations at the arboretum.
Other initiatives include improvements to the Children’s Garden as well tree conservation programs and new plant development.
Morton is a treasure that will continue to educate and inspire science and conservation efforts. Help support this amazing place by visiting, volunteering, and donating.

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