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National Arboretum

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This is Bob Doughty.


And this is Steve Ember with Science in the News, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about the United States National Arboretum. It is a peaceful natural area in Washington, D-C. Yet the Arboretum is an active center for both scientific research and public education.



Many people who come to Washington act surprised when they first visit the United States National Arboretum. The National Arboretum is only a short drive from the center of the city. However, visitors to the Arboretum often feel like they are far from the busy American capital.

The National Arboretum covers one-hundred-eighty hectares of green space in the northeast part of Washington. The area is famous for its beautiful flowers, tall trees and other plants. About nine-thousand different kinds of plants and trees grow there.

One of the many award-winning daylilies.
(Photo - U.S. National Arboretum)

An arboretum is a place where trees and plants are grown for scientific and educational purposes. The National Arboretum was established by an act of Congress in Nineteen-Twenty-Seven. Today, the United States Department of Agriculture¡¯s Agricultural Research Service operates the Arboretum.

The goal of the Arboretum is to carry out studies and provide education in an effort to improve the environment. The goal includes protecting trees, flowers and other plants and showing them to the public.


The National Arboretum is a popular stop for visitors to Washington. The grounds are open every day of the year except December twenty-fifth, the Christmas holiday. It does not cost money to visit the Arboretum.

More than five-hundred-thousand people visit the Arboretum grounds each year. Another five-hundred-thousand visit with the help of computers. They use the Arboretum¡¯s Internet web site to learn about how to care for plants and current research programs.

Director Thomas Elias says Arboretum officials would like to see even more visitors. He says they believe that many people do not know it exists.


Part of the problem may result from the fact that there is no local public transportation train station near the Arboretum. Many famous places in Washington are a short walk from the city¡¯s Metro local train system. The Arboretum is easy to reach by automobile or bus, however. About fifteen kilometers of roads have been built on the property. The roads connect to major collections and seasonal flowers.

The Arboretum also welcomes people on bicycles. Disabled people or those who want to walk only short distances may visit four beautiful areas that are close to each other. People who like longer walks will enjoy the Arboretum¡¯s many pathways. There is a small eating place on the property or you may bring food to eat during your visit. There also is a small gift store that sells books and other things.



Early this year, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman opened a year-long celebration in honor of the National Arboretum¡¯s seventy-fifth anniversary. Mizz Veneman praised the Arboretum as a national treasure.

As part of the celebration, Mizz Veneman assisted in the planting of a tree near the United States Capitol building. The tree -- a Sun Valley red maple -- is one of the many award-winning plants developed by Arboretum scientists.

The Sun Valley red maple was developed as part of a project to study the genetic qualities of leaf color and insect resistance. The tree produces leaves that remain bright red late into autumn. It was tested in the state of Maryland. The Sun Valley maple kept its colorful leaves for about two weeks before they fell to the ground. The tree also resisted the potato leafhopper, an insect that feeds on the leaves of trees.

Agriculture Department officials say they expect the Sun Valley red maple will be ready for sale to the general public next year.


Scientists at the Arboretum have developed many of the trees and flowers now found in the United States and many other countries. Over the years, the Arboretum and the Agricultural Research Service have released almost seven-hundred different plants. Each year, they offer several new plants. In the past, scientists there have developed new flowering plants and improved other kinds plants. They also have developed virus-resistant plants with processes of genetic engineering.

In September, the Arboretum started a research program that examines national issues linked to another kind of plant -- turfgrass. Turfgrass often grows in open, green spaces around American homes and businesses. It also is grown near many public roads and other areas.

Scientists at the Arboretum will carry out long-term studies to improve the quality of turfgrass. They hope to strengthen the grass¡¯s resistance to dry weather, insects and disease. The program is being carried out with the industries and groups directly involved in turfgrass development, production and support.



The Agricultural Research Service operates a number of centers and laboratories across the United States. The National Arboretum is best known for its beauty. Visitors can always find flowering plants. You can start looking for flowers in the Arboretum¡¯s Asian Collections, Friendship Garden and National Boxwood Collection.

This past summer, the unusual flowers and huge leaves of the Victoria water platters were extremely popular. The hotter than normal weather in Washington this past summer made the plants grow especially well. For the first time, all the Victoria water platters in the Arboretum¡¯s aquatic garden area came from seeds. The Arboretum successfully grew enough plants to place sixteen in a large container filled with water. The other plants were given to other plant centers across the country.


Last year, a severe wind storm damaged areas near the Arboretum, in Prince George¡¯s County, Maryland. The storm caused major damage at the Agricultural Research Service laboratories in Beltsville, Maryland. Cars were destroyed, and parts of several A-R-S buildings were damaged. Many trees were damaged so badly that they had to be removed. Arboretum officials and scientists offered the Beltsville center plants to replace those lost during the storm.

The Arboretum also has become famous through cooperative programs with other countries, including Japan, Russia, South Africa and South Korea.



Each year, the Arboretum offers a number of educational programs and special events. For example, last month there was a talk by a man who wrote a book about famous trees. There was a program about caring for small evergreen trees. Children were invited to a talk about the importance of composting. A scientist explained how plant remains can help other plants grow.

An orchid show and sale also was held at the Arboretum in October. Visitors enjoyed botanical art and walked through a building filled with the beautiful flowers. Visitors talked with guides to learn more about growing orchids. Some of the plants were offered for sale.


Officials say it would be difficult for the Arboretum to operate as well as it does without the support of private organizations. The Arboretum has about one-hundred employees. Yet it depends on many other people who offer their time and effort without payment.

For example, the Friends of the National Arboretum is a non-profit group that provides financial support. The money is used for Arboretum training programs, the gardens and collections and special projects. The group also reports to Congress about the Arboretum¡¯s special needs.

Another support organization is the National Capital Area Foundation of Garden Clubs. The group has its headquarters at the Arboretum. Its members offer their time to help with the Arboretum¡¯s plant collection. They also serve as guides for visitors. They help thousands of people enjoy the National Arboretum, this beautiful natural area in the nation¡¯s capital.



This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written and produced by George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.


And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.


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