Spring reboot for autumn’s harbinger

by Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections

March 30, 2020

schlesinger red maple

Spring reboot for autumn’s harbinger

John DelRosso plants a Schlesinger red maple

John DelRosso, head arborist, plants a grafted Schlesinger red maple (Acer rubrum ‘Schlesingeri’) in the shadow of the original accession of the now-famous cultivar, 3256*A. Photo by Brendan Keegan.

Last week, after digging them from our in-ground nurseries, the Arboretum’s horticulture staff planted some 100 balled-n-burlapped trees throughout the collections. A cadre of crabapples (Malus spp.) on Peters Hill, a jumble of Juglans microcarpa (the little walnut from the Great Plains) on Weld Hill, and even a pitch of pines (Pinus spp.) in the conifers. (I hope everybody appreciates some of my new nouns of assemblage for trees.)

There were also a number of notable individuals, and one near and dear to my heart is an old cultivar of red maple (Acer rubrum) known as ‘Schlesingeri’, which I profiled in Arnoldia 67/2 [pdf]. The primary attribute of this selection is its precocious autumn leaf color, with shimmers of bronze evident in early August, and full-bore red announcing fall’s arrival in September, well ahead of any other tree in the collection. The Arboretum’s original tree, accession 3256*A, dates to 1888 and has not only been autumn’s harbinger, but due to its location near the Arboretum’s main gate, a friendly greeter to visitors.

schlesinger red maple

The original 1888 accession of Schlesinger red maple (Acer rubrum ‘Schlesingeri’ 3256*A) stands directly across from the Hunnewell Building, delighting visitors each fall with its bold display of red hues beginning in August. Photo by Michael Dosmann.

The 132-year old tree has seen much in its lifetime: the construction of the Hunnewell Visitor Center, the discovery and arrival of its neighboring dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), as well as eight Arboretum directors. The tree also bore witness to the 1918 flu pandemic, just like it now observes present-day COVID-19. I wonder, did Bostonians flock to the Arboretum for respite then, as they do now? What about social distancing? Did people embrace trees then, when they cannot each other, like I have seen the past few weeks? Oh, if trees could talk.

To me, ‘Schlesingeri’ is more than just a bystander, and knowing that the old tree would not last forever, in 2014 I scheduled a “reprop” of the lineage. Arboretum propagation staff rooted a number of cuttings from the 1888 tree, and just last week, accession 99-2014*A was planted not far from the old charmer. Someday, the old tree will move on, yet its replacement will grow up to grace the Arboretum’s main gate, welcoming our visitors day-in and day-out, signaling autumn’s annual arrival, and recording momentous events in its annals of rings.

6 thoughts on “Spring reboot for autumn’s harbinger

  1. Please do, Robert! That time of year is simply magic! See you in September, if not before.

  2. “A pitch of pines” has got to be the best thing that has come this way in weeks and weeks. Cheers to you and your artful coinages!

  3. Why thank you! Plants inspire us to be creative in many ways. Thanks for reading!

  4. Oh, I remember my old red friend so well! For several years in a row Jack Alexander would send me out with the longest pole pruner I could manage to gather scions – “gather as many pencil size scions as you can find.” They weren’t easy to find and then to reach vigorous prior year growth. But, I recall that the location of the tree across the road from Hunnewell was the best place to ‘work.’ Passing by and stopping to chat were Arnold staff members and curious visitors, the latter wanting to know what I was doing and what would happen to the scions. Well, now we all know! Congratulations to you, Jack, John, Brendon and all the Greenhouse/Horticultural Staff for extending the lineage of accession 3256*A for possibly another 100 years.

  5. Oh, great memories George! Can you imagine the number of Arnold Arboretum accessions that have your initial fingerprints upon them, as the initial propagule collector? Maybe in the 1000s! Yes, here is to at least another century for lineage 3256*A!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *