22 May 2020

The arboretum in May

Yesterday I hiked at the University of Wisconsin's arboretum here in Madison.  May is a favorite time to visit because of the arboretum's famous collection of lilacs.  In fact, yesterday (Thursday) the parking lot was absolutely full - none of the "social distancing" between cars I noted back in April.  The only other time I've seen the parking lot full has been for the annual native plant sales.  I think the lockdown is triggering more arboretum visits, and social distancing is not difficult with the immense acreage available (about half the visitors I encountered were wearing masks).

As shown above, the cool spring has retarded the blossoming of the lilacs, so after a quick walk-through to sample some fragrances I moved past the lilac collection to the fruit trees.

I didn't take time to ascertain which ones are cherry vs. apple vs. crabapple etc.  It's a stunning visual treat to see all of these bursting into bloom.

Apologies for the relatively low-resolution images, because I hiked with only my cell phone, not with the proper digital camera I have used for some of the autumn foliage hikes.

In addition to the fragrance and the colors, there is an interesting variety of conformations of the fruiting trees.  Some, like the one above, may be naturally splayed out, but the one below has clearly had its lower branches trimmed by the arboretum staff.

I didn't realize a tree that young could be pruned that extensively.  You learn something every day.

Beyond the fruit trees is the collection of maples - a favorite destination in the autumn, but even the spring foliage is impressive, as illustrated by the contrast between the lime green and the deep purple in the two maples above.

Some azaleas still in bloom, and then on the way back to my car I encountered a tree I had never noticed before:

This mountain silverbell is not native to Wisconsin, but apparently has tolerated our winters because it was huge.  Conveniently, there was one branch near the label displaying the iconic downward-hanging blossoms.

As I drove home, I decided that my love for flowering trees probably dates back to imprinting when I was a toddler.  I was born in Washington, D.C. because the Navy stationed my dad there after the war.  Every spring without fail, mom and dad took me to visit the cherry blossoms.  In the photo above near the Jefferson Memorial I was less than a year old, and the one below, also in the Tidal Basin, I was two and a half years old.

One final thought.  The trees will be here all year, but the blossoms are ephemeral.  Any readers living within a half-day drive of Madison who don't take advantage of this remarkable facility in May are missing out on a visual and olfactory treat.  I strongly encourage a visit soon (or to your local arboretum).


  1. There's nothing like moving to the DC area to discover you're allergic to the cherry blossoms. And this year and I don't dare cough or sniffle.

  2. on a warm day, that must smell of just lilac!


  3. How beautiful! Thank you for posting.


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