Memorial Park as Urban Arboretum: White Haven in Pittsford

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The oldest and largest tree at White Haven, a majestic red oak (Quercus rubra).

The tree collections of cemeteries and memorial parks make a significant contribution to urban forests. Recently we learned more about the Certified Level 2 urban arboretum that is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn as part of the blog profile of Green-Wood Director of Horticulture and Curator Joseph Charap. White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford is a Certified Level 1 Arboretum, soon to be applying for Level 2 Certification.

The 170-acre White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford is a park for all people. Walkers and runners are welcome, bicyclists and hikers are welcome, dogs are welcome. Birders can come do their early morning thing, including observing Eastern bluebirds in the Park’s dedicated nesting area. The entrance sign even says “Geocachers welcome.” One need not have a loved one buried there to enjoy the beautiful natural assets of White Haven—including formidable horticultural assets.

There are more than 150 different tree species in the developed areas alone, with dozens more species yet to be inventoried in the Park’s 70-plus acres of forest. The oldest and largest tree is a red oak (Quercus rubra) in the center of the developed Park. Director of Horticulture Gary Burke is partial to a large shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) and Park President Andrea Vittum loves the large Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis).

Other interesting specimens include Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus), tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), American fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), goldenchain tree (Laburnum anagyroides), paperbark maple (Acer griseum), and six different kinds of beech trees. There are five mature ash trees in the developed collection that are being micro-injected to project the trees from Emerald Ash Borer. Newly planted trees get trunk protection via corrugated plastic tubes, to protect the tender cambium from rutting bucks. 

A huge part of White Haven’s park-like appearance owes to the fact that there are no traditional above-grown tombstones; there are only flat bronze memorials throughout, with the exception of the natural stones and plaques on the Nature Trail that accompany the cremated remains of those who chose that option. The specimen trees and large expanses of lawn with open vistas makes White Haven feel very Olmstedian.

The Park earned Level 1 Arboretum Certification by the Arbnet Arboretum Accreditation Program, which puts the Park on the Morton Arboretum Register of Arboreta. Information on each species and the location of specimen trees is available in the Park’s office and White Haven is working towards having an online tree walk available to anyone with a smartphone. Having conducted a tree inventory that gathered that information was one of the requirements for Level 1 Arboretum Accreditation.

The Park’s tree inventory actually began back in 1989 as a project of interest to Andrea Vittum. “I was working on getting a tree map of the whole park because even then we had close to 100 species,” she ways. Vittum was going to do a booklet about 50 of the most magnificent trees; she hired a photographer who came several times a year to photograph each tree at its showiest season. “We had this incredible catalog of photos, but then in 1991 we had a horrific ice storm in which many of the specimen trees were badly disfigured. I lost my heart for the project at the time because so many of the trees no longer looked like they did in the photos—it was very sad.”

Fast-forward to several years ago, when Vittum was reading in a national cemetery magazine about a new phenomenon of cemeteries becoming arboreta. Enough time had passed such that the wounds (to tree and heart) of the ice storm had healed. She passed her 1991 data along to Assistant Vice President Nate Romagnola and Director of Horticulture Gary Burke, who set about creating a current inventory and database of the trees in the developed areas.

“Our database has been a helpful tool when someone comes in and wants to know what the tree near their loved one is,” Romagnola says. Part of the inventory process was affixing numbered labels to the trees, which both gives a reference point to help people find their loved ones in the Park and helps Park staff more readily locate burial sites.

Vittum, Romagnola, and Burke have big plans to further their outreach. “We want to bump up to Level 2 certification by having more educational opportunities and by refining the database and increasing its utility,” Romagnola says. “We would love, for example, to have college tree ID or arboriculture classes, Master Gardeners, and other groups use the Park for educational purposes.” Romagnola thinks that more cemeteries would pursue Arbnet Arboretum Accreditation if they knew about it. When there’s already a strong tree resource in place, “it can be just a matter of getting the paperwork done,” he says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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