Early Bloomers

Early Bloomers

It’s been quite a non-spring this year in Baltimore so far; nonetheless the flowers are beginning to appear, the grounds are greening up, and eventually, the warm weather will prevail. Meanwhile, there are a lot of hardy beauties to admire. Here are some early bloomers we’ve spotted, some fading and others coming into their glory along the paths and trails at Cylburn. It’s just the beginning!

Pretty in Pink: The Dawn viburnum, Viburnum x bodnantense (left), is most noted for its floral displays during winter and early spring. Pink buds open to pale pink, highly fragrant flowers as early as December in some regions. Ours is in full bloom now. The Okame Cherry (right), Prunus x incamp, is a hybrid between Taiwan flowering cherry (Prunus campanulata) from which it inherited heat tolerance, low-chill requirement for blooming, early flowering, fast growth, and deep-pink flower color and Fuji cherry (P. incise) from which it got increased cold-hardiness. This makes it a glorious ornamental tree for warmer climates.


Yellow as Sunshine: The Forsythia, also called Easter tree (top left), is a member of the olive family and was named after William Forsyth, a Scottish botanist who was royal head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society. The Edgeworthia chrysantha (top right), also called Paperbush, was named in honor of Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, an Irish-born, amateur botanist and police chief and for his sister, writer Maria Edgeworth. It’s found on the “edge” of the path through the Moudry woods at Cylburn, as well as in the Nathans garden. Daffodils number in the thousands at Cylburn. One of the earliest blooming bulbs of the season, Winter aconite (bottom right) sure warms up a cold day!


Purple majesty: The Trillium (top) is beginning to peek out as are the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. This trillium, also known as Toadshade (for its resemblance to a toad-sized umbrella), Wakerobin (for its appearance with the first robins), and Birthroot (for its medicinal uses during childbirth), is a woodland favorite that can live as long as 25 years. One of the most beautiful species of spring ephemerals are Virginia Bluebells (bottom left). These lovely plants are in the family Boraginaceae, which makes them relatives of other familiar species like Forget-me-not, Lungwort, and Comfrey. The flowers start off pink and gradually turn over to their famous shade of light blue as they mature. The blooms will last for many weeks in early spring (April and May) and will go dormant by mid-summer. Bees, especially female bumblebees that fly in early spring, often visit these flowers. Virginia Bluebells prefer soils typical of a woodland and we have many in the Larrabee garden where they thrive. In full bloom in a few weeks both ephemerals are showstoppers. Chionodoxa (below right), also aptly called Glory-of-the-Snow, is one of the earliest and loveliest spring flowering bulbs.


And dare we say it? White like snow: Known commonly in North America as Andromedas or Fetterbushes, the Pieris japonica (top) is a broad-leaved evergreen shrub. The leaves are spirally arranged, often appearing to be in whorls at the end of each shoot with bare stretches of shoot below; the flowers are bell-shaped. Cylburn has a big group of Pieris east of the mansion under the large spruce trees. With common names like Winter rose and Lenten rose, the Hellebore’s (below left) blooming season is no mystery.  Helleborus x hybridus, also found in a dusty pink and a rich magenta, are classic perennials found in abundance at Cylburn. The scilla family of spring-blooming bulbs (below right) includes some of the best bulbs for naturalizing. When planted in woodland gardens like the Larrabee garden at Cylburn, they will multiply quickly and produce waves of color year after year. These precious flowers are untroubled by rodents or deer, a great quality in Maryland!


Magnolia time! Cylburn has a collection of these magnificent trees with quite a few in bloom now including the Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata, (in white and pink), and the Cylindrical Magnolia. A lion’s eye view of the collection in the distance.


What’s Happening at Cylburn

There are lots of programs coming up at Cylburn, including a Fairy Workshop this weekend, Forest Bathing on Thursday mornings in April, and the 50th Anniversary of Market Day. The Arboretum is open from 8am to 8pm every day but Mondays. Come visit us soon for an event, or simply to walk the grounds and admire these and other flowers! More info always on our website, EventbriteFacebook, and Instagram

Market Day at Cylburn



Winter at Cylburn

Winter at Cylburn

Winter China Fir

Happy Holidays! In a few days it will officially be winter. The gardens have been put to bed and tender plants moved to warm quarters. The CAA staff is still working on the grounds but in the coming months activities will shift indoors to perusing seed and plant catalogues and preparing for the spring. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to see at Cylburn! There are plenty of plants and trees that choose the “off” season to show their stuff. Here are just a few to look for on your next winter hike here.

December Cylburn Hawthorn TreeCrataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ (‘Winter King’ Southern Hawthorn)

The brilliant red berries on this cultivar of our native Hawthorn make it a show-stopper. ‘Winter King’ is loved for its fragrant white blooms in spring and its thornless stems, making it much kinder to the gardener than the traditional thorny Hawthorns. Find a group of five ‘Winter Kings’ at the southwest corner of the lower Vollmer parking lot.


December Cylburn WinterberryIlex verticilatta ‘Red Sprite’ (Winterberry)

This deciduous holly is known for its large, vividly red berries, a favorite with our birds. ‘Red Sprite’ is a female cultivar of the native winterberry, easily grown in sun or semi-sunny locations, adaptable to very wet soil conditions. It fruits well if a male pollinizer such as ‘Jim Dandy’ is nearby. Find ours on the south side of the Larrabee Garden.

December Cylburn HollyIlex x koehneana ‘Ruby’ (Koehne Holly)

‘Ruby’ is a cultivar Koehne holly, a cross between Ilex aquifolium and I. latifolia. The shiny dark green leaves make Koehne hollies an attractive choice when a large dense holly is desired (it typically grows to over 15’ and is almost as wide). The clusters of berries on an attractive pyramidal shape are widely admired. Plant this and other evergreen hollies in full sun. Cylburn’s ‘Ruby’ is located on the east side of the East Oval Holly Collection, near several other Koehne cultivars.

December Cylburn JuniperJuniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’ (Red Cedar)

The beautiful blue-grey foliage of this native cedar shows off prolific bluish berries in the late fall and early winter. Native to this region, this easily grown conifer is an excellent landscaping choice for a full sun location. Cylburn has a conifer collection in the woods, on the north side of the asphalt walkway near to the north ends of the greenhouses.

December Cylburn Scotch PinePinus sylvestris ‘Gold Coin’ (Scotch Pine)

This Scotch Pine is pyramidal with mint green foliage in the summer that turns bright golden yellow in the cooler temperatures of fall and winter. Plant this bright pine in full sun. Also a part of the Moudry Conifer Collection near the western end of the planting.


Winter is also a time to get close to the trees and appreciate things that may not be as noticeable in other seasons, like the texture and patterns on the bark. Two examples are the Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese Elm or Lacebark Elm) and the Lagerstroemia ‘Acoma’ (Crape Myrtle).

There’s no reason to wait until spring to come to Cylburn — The grounds are beautiful year round. Now they’re especially festive covered in fresh snow! On behalf of all of us at the Cylburn Arboretum Association, all the best for a wonderful winter.


SnowMansionTHANK YOU! We are grateful for the support we’ve received this year! The Cylburn Arboretum Association is the nonprofit friends group for Cylburn and we depend on the generosity of our donors, members, volunteers, sponsors and friends to enrich and enhance the arboretum for the community. To learn more about what a gift to the Cylburn Arboretum Association can do, click here. If you’d like to make a year-end donation, click here. Special thanks to our partners at Lifebridge Health for making our What’s in Bloom posters possible for visitors each month. They’ll direct you with maps on where to find the plants listed above and others each season. Hope to see you at Cylburn soon and thanks again!

Salvias Put on a Show

Salvias Put on a Show

As the weather gets cooler and some of summer’s flowers begin to fade, there’s one plant that continues to bloom abundantly well into the fall — Salvias. We have many varieties at Cylburn particularly in the gardens in front of the mansion where their colorful blossoms are busy with an array of pollinators. Salvia is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, with nearly 1000 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. The name Salvia derives from the Latin salvere — to feel well and healthy, health, heal — referring to the herb’s healing properties. Salvia officinalis (Garden Sage or Common Sage) is widely used in cooking. Here are just a few of the Salvias to keep an eye out for on your next visit to Cylburn.

August Salvia RosebudSalvia involucrata (Rosebud Sage) — This perennial Salvia blooms from July up to frost and is a favorite of hummingbirds. Fast growing, it can reach over 6 feet. The showy pink-red flowers are born on red stems, adding to the interest.

August Salvia Blue Arrow

Salvia sagittata (Arrow Leaf Salvia) — This tender perennial Salvia is native to the Andes (Chili and Peru) where it grows at much higher elevations. The bright, true blue flowers make it a stand-out in the garden. The flowers are quite sticky!

August Salvia Ember's Wish

Salvia x ‘Ember’s Wish’ — The distinctive coral flowers of this Salvia make it a star in the garden and attractive to birds and butterflies. A relatively new introduction, it blooms continuously with dead-heading or cutting back. Another special thing about this variety — A portion of the plant’s sale is donated to Australia’s Make-a-Wish Foundation for kids. This is also true of the ‘Love & Wishes’ variety (pictured below).

August Salvia Love and Wishes

Salvia ‘Amistad’ (Friendship Sage) — This Salvia is a tender perennial past Zone 8 but blooms so profusely from spring though autumn and is so colorful and exuberant that it is desirable even though it doesn’t winter over.


Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ has yellowish leaves that offset its deep red flowers.

August Salvia Yellow Leaves

There are many more Salvias to enjoy as you walk around the mansion gardens. You’ll see that you may not be the only one enjoying these flowers — The bees love them too!

Curious about How a Bee Thinks? Join us at 6pm on Wednesday, October 18 for a talk led by Baltimore City Master Gardener Michael Andorsky. He’ll cover honey bee intelligence, bee decision making, similarities between the bee swarm and the human brain, and what honey bees have taught engineers about designing robots.  More info here.





Falling for the Dahlia

Falling for the Dahlia

People love autumn for many reasons — the cooling temperatures, the turning leaves, heading back to school, even the pumpkin spice. But for flower people there is a particularly beautiful reason to celebrate the season. It is the time that the dahlia comes into its own. Between the first day of fall and the first hard frost (usually mid-October) dahlia lovers are in ecstasy viewing their plants replete with large blooms and bright colors.

Cylburn’s dahlia patch is no exception — a “not-to-be-missed” treat for anyone visiting the gardens these days. Thanks to the determination and efforts of the Cylburn Arboretum Association’s staff and volunteers, the garden is in full bloom after weathering earlier season challenges from plant disease and resident critters. Several varieties featured there this year are worthy of special note.

At the far end of the fourth bed, closest to the rose garden, is Hollyhill Black Beauty, one of the darkest red blooms to be seen. It is classified as an informal decorative (bloom petals come close to but do not touch the stem) of medium size. Its form and rich color this time of year are unequaled.

Dahlia Hollyhill Black Beauty

On the other end of that bed is a large bloom that will brighten your day. Windhaven Blush is a bright yellow bloom with just a hint of lavender in the center. It is classed as a “semi-cactus” because of its pointed petals. Introduced several decades ago it is still exhibited in shows and fairs around the country.

Dahlia Windhaven Blush

Dahlia CabooseIn the center front of the next bed as you walk toward the mansion is a smaller plant with a very interesting bloom form. This cultivar is called “Caboose” and is classed as a red collarette. Collarettes are unique blooms with large ray petals surrounding an open center. Emanating from the center is a ring of smaller yellow “collar” petals from which the classification is named. Don’t be surprised to see a bee or two visiting the blooms. Open center blooms are advertisements to pollinators. But don’t be afraid; those bees are much more interested in the beautiful blooms!

Dahlia Mingus ArtIn the center front of the next bed is a plant that gives evidence to the great genetic diversity in dahlias. It is named Mingus Art and has a star shaped bloom classed as an orchid variety.   The bloom’s white petals fold forward revealing their pink underside. In dahlia classification language this striking difference in top and bottom petal color is often referred to as “reverse” coloration. Like the collarettes, this too is an open center bloom, sought out by the pollinators. As we near the end of the season, more and more bloom centers will be open, nature’s way of insuring pollination.

At the edge of the bed closest to the mansion is the eye catcher of the whole patch. It is named Akita No Hikari and is classed as a novelty variety. Set on a six-foot plant, the large blooms’ spiky crimson petals have a delicate touch of yellow. The more central petals curve inward, revealing a reverse of white tips.

Linger long enough to enjoy the delicate structure of this bloom and those of the many other varieties in the garden. You should not be disappointed! Here are a few more to keep your eye out for the next time you visit.

Special thanks to John Krick for offering these garden notes. John’s been growing dahlias for more than thirty years, and for the last six years he’s tended the Cylburn dahlia garden.

An Evening of Celebration & Support

An Evening of Celebration & Support

On September 15, friends of the Cylburn Arboretum Association gathered at Discover Cylburn to enjoy each other’s company, and to learn about and celebrate the CAA’s work. It was a lovely evening and we raised more than $20,000 to help support educational programs, the arboretum’s tree collection and gardens, scholarships for summer camp, environmental initiatives with partners, and so much more! Thanks to our sponsors, guests, donors, members, volunteers, and so many others who contributed to the evening’s success! A special thanks to our Discovery Sponsors  CFG Capital Funding Group & DLA Piper and our Partners Transamerica and Sir Alfie of Baltimore! The CAA’s work to enrich and enhance Cylburn for the Baltimore community would simply not be possible without all of this support. A photo recap:

The Gardens at Cylburn

The Gardens at Cylburn

In addition to rolling green space and thousands of trees, Cylburn is home to a wide variety of beautifully planted gardens displaying shrubs, perennials, and annuals.  From the “named” gardens that honor those who have played important roles in both Cylburn’s and Baltimore’s history to the colorful plantings that enhance the Mansion and other points around the grounds, each garden offers a collection of colors and textures that delight visitors. Many of the plantings are tagged for information. The Cylburn Arboretum Association’s gardeners and volunteers help to make sure the gardens are gorgeous year round. Here are a few to look out for the next time you visit.

The Mansion & Front Circle Gardens

These gardens are designed to be colorful showcases for perennials, annuals, tropicals and shrubs that thrive in full sun. The Mansion circle contains not only gardens but an ingeniuos planting of Lagerstroemia (Crape or Crepe Myrtle) that align perfectly from any angle. In summer their bright pink flowers are striking.

The Nathans, Larrabee and Worthley Gardens

Each of these memorial gardens has a distinctive character. The Worthley garden is a botanist’s delight with a variety of plantings of succulents, cacti, conifers and grasses, as well as perennials and annuals.

The Nathans Garden is shady and peaceful oasis, inviting on even the hottest day. Both the gazebo and bench located there are a favorite spot for visitors to sit and enjoy lunch or a book.

The Larrabee Garden features plants chosen to provide habitat for birds and butterflies and includes a small pond.

The Shady Garden, All American Selections, and Formal Gardens.

Nestled directly behind the Mansion is a small “shady” garden that is fenced in. It contains a unique set of plants along a path sheltered by a large Cryptomeria. Between the back of the mansion and Cylburn’s Carriage House (currently closed with plans for renovation underway) you can find the All American Selections garden as well as other beds with an array of flowers and herbs. This time of year the blooms are plentiful and the dahlia and canna are notably gorgeous. If you’re lucky you might catch hummingbirds and other birds, bees and butterflies there. Look to your right as you face the Carriage House and you’ll see the Formal Garden, a lovely place to walk and enjoy the colorful symmetry of flowers and foliage.

The Julie Smith, Three Sisters, and Ryer Gardens

The Julie Smith and Three Sisters gardens are located along the path from the mansion to the greenhouses. They are quiet and shady with plants chosen to thrive at woodland’s edge. There is always something interesting in bloom there and stone benches offer a place to rest and reflect. The Ryer garden is similarly shady and planted at the woodland’s edge. It is located behind the Vollmer Center where the trails lead into the woods.

The Rain Garden

Located by the greenhouses, classrooms, and employee parking lot, you’ll find the Bay-Wise-certified rain garden. It features a variety native plants that can withstand both drought and wet conditions. This garden captures rainwater runoff from the hard surfaces and sends it to the adjoining forest where it will infiltrate and be purified in the process. A rain garden addresses the issues of storm water runoff and water pollution. and stops the water from reaching the sewer system. It also provides habitat. Ours is always bustling with bees and butterflies.

These are just a few of the gardens at Cylburn. There are beautiful plantings, flowers, trees and shrubs throughout the grounds and around all of the buildings. Wherever you walk, look for the tags that identify many of the trees and flowers.



Fireflies Light Up an Evening at Cylburn

Fireflies Light Up an Evening at Cylburn

During late May, June and July fireflies put on a magical show flashing their little lights in our yards, parks and countryside. Although they are not as prevalent as in years past, they are still one of summer’s pleasures. The “lightning bug” is actually not a fly but a winged beetle. Of some 120 species found in Eastern United States, about 8 to 10 species are resident at Cylburn. Recently we learned more about these fascinating beetles from Dr. Abner Lall, who guided us on a walk around the grounds. He also generously contributed this post if you’re curious about this magical insect. Thank you Dr. Lall for the information and the tour.


Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence. Fireflies utilize bioluminescence as a signal for mating. The flashing males patrol the habitat for responsive females who are perched on a blade of grass or a leaf. When a female is ready to mate, she then answers the courting male with a single short flash.

Since different species of fireflies are active at the same time in the same habitat, the fireflies have evolved a species-specific flash code analogous to a telegraphic code. The flash code consists of three elements: (1) the frequency of flashing of the male, (2) the duration of the male’s flash, and (c) the time delay of the female’s answering flash.

When the flash duration is long, i.e., about 1/2 sec or longer, then the shape of the flash also varies such as in the most common big dipper, Photinus pyralis. Here the males emit a series of ½ sec J-shaped flash every 4.5 sec, and the species females respond with 1.5 – 2 sec delay. Photinus scintillans males emit 0.15 sec duration flashes every 2.6 sec, and the wingless female answers from the grass below with a 0.42 sec delay.

Fireflies2To ensure that all females are well provided with courting males, the ratio of flying and flashing males to quietly perched females on the vegetation is about 50 to 1. So most of the males, in their short life of a week or ten days, never find a mate and die flashing. The females live for a longer period, two to three weeks and lay eggs and die.

The bioluminescent signal is of low intensity and is effective only in light-limiting conditions. Most firefly species are nocturnal. Green is the “default” color of visual sensitivity among insects and the nocturnal species emit lime-green colored light.  In the northern latitudes, twilight zone is extended in duration. The firefly species that have invaded this zone emit yellow to orange light, a signal of contrast color (e. g., yellow butter-cup flower in green grass) against the green-foliage reflected sunlight at dusk. At twilight Photinus pyralis and scintillans emit bright yellow and amber colored lights respectively, while Photuris species emit lime-green light at night.

The number of fireflies has been declining dramatically during the last forty years for several reasons. (1) A reduction in undisturbed habitat availability induced by a dramatic increase in human dominated landscape and highway construction. (2) In northern latitudes it takes two years for fireflies to complete their 8 developmental stages from egg to adult. The larvae are very vulnerable to fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals that are used in lawns and farms. (3) Finally the lighted highways and security illumination that blazes all night around our homes and commercial buildings compromise the communication ability of adult fireflies.

FirefliesDrLallDr. Abner Lall (pictured right) is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Howard University (1988-2011) where his research over the last 30 years has been on the vision in fireflies. He began his investigation of vision and bioluminescence at Johns Hopkins University in the eighties (1979-88) as a research scientist. In his retirement, he is the visiting scholar at JHU, Department of Biophysics, Homewood Campus.