SMA Announces its 2016 Urban Tree of the Year: Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’

Musashino Columnar Zelkova habit

The coveted upright narrow habit of ‘Musashino’ Photo Credit: J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

The following is a guest post by our friends at Society of Municipal Arborists.

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA) has voted Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’ the 2016 Urban Tree of the Year. The yearly selection must be adaptable to a variety of harsh urban growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. It is often a species or cultivar considered underutilized by urban foresters. The SMA Urban Tree of the Year program has been running for 20 years, and recent honorees include yellowwood (2015), ‘Vanessa’ parrotia (2014), and live oak (2013). You can see the full list of past winners on the SMA website,

Zelkovas are native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. introduced Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’ to the North American nursery trade in 2000. Named after a city in Tokyo (which itself is a city but also a prefecture containing multiple other cities), ‘Musashino’ has been a successful and popular street tree for many more years in Japan, proving itself useful as a narrow, upright form of zelkova. It has the genetic potential to reach 45 feet (14 m) in height and 15 feet (4.6 m) in width at maturity. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

Frank Schmidt & Son. Co. literature says of the fast-growing ‘Musashino’, “Used singly, it is a landscape exclamation mark. Planted in groups or rows, this unusual cultivar creates a vertical design statement for parks, campuses, boulevards, and other public spaces. Perfect symmetry makes it a great choice for creating inviting alleés or visual screens to block unsightly views.”

In Rochester Hills, Michigan, the forestry division’s Dave Etz has overseen the planting of 47 ‘Musashino’ within the last six years. “So far we like what we see,” Etz says. “It’s adaptable to

difficult site conditions and appears to be one of the hardiest zelkova cultivars. After two consecutive winters with temperatures dipping near or below -20F (-29C), we’ve seen zero dieback, and many of our ‘Musashino’ are located along major roads and boulevards, where they also show good tolerance to deicing salt spray.”

Etz finds that ‘Musashino’ leafs out a bit earlier in the spring than the other zelkova varieties they’ve planted, and the new foliage seems to tolerate light frost. He says, “On our relatively young trees the fall color hasn’t been outstanding (yellow/bronze), but references indicate the fall color can be excellent (bright yellow to rusty red), so we’re hoping this will improve as our trees mature.”

Musashino Columnar Zelkova fall color

One expression of fall color on ‘Musashino’ Photo Credit: J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Providence, Rhode Island City Forester Doug Still has good things to say about ‘Musashino’. “It’s an interesting choice for tree of the year because it is somewhat of a niche species selection, literally,” he says. “Its narrow, upright form works when there is limited above-ground space for the tree canopy to grow.”

The largest project where Still has planted ‘Musashino’ has been a great success. In Providence, Atwells Avenue is well known for its wonderful Italian restaurants, a gourmet destination for the whole region. The street has relatively narrow sidewalks for a business district, with building frontage at back of sidewalk, restaurant awnings, and some sidewalk café seating. There isn’t a lot of room for trees to spread, and some business owners were concerned about having their signs blocked.

When funding was provided to plant trees up and down Atwells Avenue in 2007, this seemed the perfect location to try out ‘Musashino’. Still says, “The street called for a more formal uniform tree selection so, breaking from our pattern of providing diversity to each street tree planting, we planted 25 ‘Musashino’ trees. They proved to be an excellent performer, with very little care thus far.”

Still was concerned about the tight branching pattern on a species already known for its jumble of branches all emanating from one area on trunk, at least with some zelkova cultivars. He says, “I was surprised at the nursery to see that although the branch pattern is dense on this cultivar, the attachments were solid and arrange spatially up the trunk rather than from just one point. They’ve also proven to be healthy growers without (I’m afraid to say) much watering or care from adjacent business owners. I heartily recommend ‘Musashino’ zelkova when you’ve got a tight space and you need a reliable tree.”

Musashino Columnar Zelkova summer foliage

Dark green summer foliage of ‘Musashino’ Photo Credit: J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Over on the West coast, consulting arborist and former longtime Redwood City, California city arborist Gordon Mann has good reports for the Sacramento region as well. “After a few years of growing, we are experiencing initial nice crown growth on ‘Musashino’ in locations with narrow overhead growing space,” he says, “If the soil space is adequate, it appears to be a good deciduous tree to include in our palette. The fall color has been attractive, and maintenance needs have been normal.” Mann notes that, similar to his experiences with the narrow callery pear cultivars, the limited spread of the ‘Musashino’ crown does not appear to translate to reduced trunk diameter or root crown swell of the tree at maturity—hence the emphasis on adequate soil volume.

Frank Schmidt & Son. Co. literature says that the slender ‘Musashino’ leaves are just 3 inches (7.6 cm) in length on average, reducing the need for raking/leaf cleanup in the fall. They say that the cultivar “prefers moist, well-drained soil but can tolerate drought, is pH adaptable, pollution tolerant, and more heat tolerant than other zelkova selections.”

According to J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. Director of Communications Nancy Buley, based on a six-year sales history (2009-2014), the nursery sells an average of approximately 6,000 bare root liners per year. Purchasers during the query period are located in 26 states plus Ontario, Canada—testimony to its adaptability to varied climates and growing conditions.

The SMA recognizes the underutilized, attractive, and extremely useful ‘Musashino’ zelkova for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.

Favorite Tree Friday: The Silver Maple

Silver-Maple_3-869[1]A few years back the Arbor Day Foundation used to hold a teen stewardship camp for 13-15 year olds at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. The camp was a way of bringing teens together and sparking an interest in environmental stewardship.

One year we took tree inventory for Nebraska City. The kids loved it and it was a great way for them to be hands-on. In taking inventory of trees it’s important to know which trees are which. So to help identify silver maple trees, the kids came up with a song to the rhythm of Silver Bells that still rings in my head today. The song described how to identify a silver maple, and simplified the uncertainty that followed when a tree’s identity was in question.

The silver luster that shines off the bark and undersides of its leaves makes me think of those hours with the campers and the fun we had, making it my favorite tree.


A Season of Thanksgiving

What a wonderful time of year this is that gives us the reminder and opportunity to express our gratitude and reflect on those things for which we are most thankful. 

fall leavesIndividually, we might be thankful for our friends or family, for the roof over our heads or food on the table.  It might be that we appreciate good health, which we often take for granted until we or a loved one experiences a problem.  We can also be thankful for colleagues and friends that support us in our work and care about us as people.

As members, supporters, and partners of the Arbor Day Foundation, we’re finding every day how our work positively has an impact on people’s lives. We can all take pride in knowing that we are making a difference.  We are helping people to recover from natural disasters, bringing life back to fire-ravaged landscapes, providing hope and sustenance for coffee growers and their families in rain forests around the globe, and helping to ensure that many people are involved in community forestry throughout the United States. We touch people’s lives in so many ways through our work at the Foundation. Each of us can be proud of and thankful for our contribution to making our world better.

No matter our situation or circumstance, we always have reasons to give thanks.   For me personally, many of the things I mentioned are true.  But I would also like to say “thank you,” to each of you: our members, supporters, and partners.  It is truly our honor and privilege to work with you and to have the opportunity to be a part of this great cause.

Thank you for all you do.

Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving.


 Matt Harris

Chief Executive

Arbor Day Foundation


How We’re Working with Companies to Achieve Sustainability Goals

If there’s one thing for certain here at the Arbor Day Foundation, it’s this: we know trees.

For more than four decades, we have been making the best use of trees as a solution to global issues. Not only do we rely on the support of our nearly one million members, but also the support of our corporate partners to accomplish our mission of inspiring people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. These corporate partnerships are essential for us to be an agent of change—creating high-impact programs that truly make a difference in our world.

How does the Arbor Day Foundation work with organizations?

Flickr Nicola

Photo Credit: Nicola , Flickr

We do this in many ways, but it always starts with building relationships and listening to what the company is specifically looking for. As our relationship grows with an organization, they rely on us to help reach sustainability goals. You’d be surprised how often trees tie to corporate environmental initiatives.

For example, we recently worked with a Fortune 500 company to help achieve its carbon reduction goals. This particular organization set a goal to reduce net emissions by 50% from its 2012 level by 2020. We worked with the organization through our reforestation carbon program in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley to retire verified carbon offsets on the company’s behalf.

When you choose trees as part of your carbon offset strategy, the benefits go far beyond just carbon sequestration in the fight against climate change, including: improved water quality, improved air quality, soil stabilization, job creation, flood control, and wildlife habitat. We also work with organizations on watershed restoration projects, paper reduction, and community rebuilds after natural disasters, to name a few.

Along with reaching specific sustainability goals, we work with organizations in other ways as well, such as engaging and celebrating employees, supporting environmental conservation through education programs, and driving and inspiring consumer purchases.

One of our longest corporate partnerships features 25 trees planted for every product sold. Over the duration of our partnership, more than 1.3 million trees have been planted in our nation’s forests. The company uses tree related messaging in its marketing materials and highlights the impact to its customers. This creates awareness for both the corporate partner and the work we do, all the while positively affecting the earth—truly a win-win for everybody.

Reforestation offers a number of benefits other carbon offset programs cannot. Our team is eager to implement any sustainability goals your organization may have. Challenge us to stay creative—we love developing unique programs specific to your company’s needs.

Visit our Corporate Partnerships page to learn more about what our partnerships can look like, or email us at or call 1-877-445-9917.

Happy Banana Pudding Lovers Month!


Did you know that November marks Banana Pudding Lovers Month? That’s right, a whole month dedicated to the love of banana pudding! It was started by the Rodger’s family of Rodgers’ Banana Pudding Sauce as a way of re-creating childhood memories. And while banana “trees” may not live in the continental U.S., this month-long celebration is simply too good to pass up on.

Check out our take on banana pudding with Chef Thomas. Recipe below.

Banana Pudding

Pastry cream base:

4 cups milk

1 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 vanilla bean

Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a simmer


8 oz egg yolks

¼ cup sugar

½ cup corn starch

Whisk all ingredients together and temper into the pastry cream base.


8 oz melted butter

3 mashed bananas

Add to tempered pastry cream base and cool for 4 hours

Layer with 3 cups graham cracker crumbs mixed with ½ cup sugar and 4 oz melted butter. Layer also with Whipped cream.

Tag us in a photo eating your favorite banana pudding recipe!


Cider Press at Arbor Day Farm

If you’ve ever watched the TV show “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel, you’ll appreciate this brief look at how Arbor Day Farm’s apple cider press works.

Arbor Day Farm has had a cider press for many years at the Apple House Market, but it was more of a museum showpiece than a functional cider press. Then in 2012, the press was overhauled and brought back into service — much to the delight of our fall season visitors (and their taste buds).

New parts were ordered. A new UV treatment machine arrived. The health inspector approved the changes, and Arbor Day Farm’s cider press was re-born.

Any kind of apples can be pressed for cider; we’re currently using a mix of Ozark Gold, Honey Crisp, Jonathan, and Braeburn apples from Arbor Day Farm’s apple orchards. This “recipe” will change over the season as different apple varieties ripen. Pressing takes place as needed all season long, and visitors can watch the cider press in action from large viewing windows inside the Cider Room.

If you’re visiting Arbor Day Farm this fall, we invite you to stop in and have a look — and take home a gallon or two of this fall season treat.

The Preservation Orchard: Arbor Day Farm’s Legacy

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm:

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm:
Claygate Pearmain

We’re all familiar with the apples readily available in the supermarket and at local orchards this time of year: red delicious, gala, granny smith, jonathans. But what about the lesser-known varieties that have—for one reason or another—fallen out of the spotlight?

The Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, is full of these obscure apple varieties — 65 varieties, to be precise — some of them dating as far back as the 1500s. Some have interesting back stories that rival their appearance and flavor, while others just simply fell out of favor. Unlike today’s common apple varieties, which are bred for beauty and to withstand the rigors of modern food transportation and storage, these vintage apples are a sensitive, finicky lot — with delicate skins and flesh, a short window of ripeness, and the heirloom apple trees themselves often times have not survived the gradual changes in climate where they once thrived.

Heirloom Apples from Arbor Day Farm: Arkansas Black.

Heirloom Apple from Arbor Day Farm: Arkansas Black.

Not only is this very special orchard at Arbor Day Farm focused on preserving the unique apples of yesteryear, but it’s a living record of some of the finest known apples and a genetic repository that may one day help create varieties well-suited to a changing climate. The Preservation Orchard is one of just a handful of orchards in the United States where these rare heirloom apple varieties can still be found.

A visit to Arbor Day Farm this time of year — when a plethora of apple varieties are ripe and ready for picking — offers visitors the rare opportunity to taste the wonderful flavor of some of these old varieties. Heirloom apple tasting is a huge hit with visitors on fall weekends, as Nature Interpreters first show-and-tell about the Preservation Orchard itself, then slice and serve the rare fruits of its branches.

A few antique apple varieties worth noting:

  • Almata: red to the core, and not much more. This apple with reddish flesh has an interesting look but is not particularly flavorful.
  • Claygate Pearmain: common in Victorian-era gardens, this heirloom apple has a nutty aroma and a potato-like appearance.
  • Kandil Sinap: tall and cylindrical, this vintage apple originated in Turkey in the early 1800s. Crisp and juicy with a sweet and sour flavor.
  • Arkansas Black – a medium-sized apple from the 1840s. Glossy, dark red skin almost turns black when stored.

This apple season, be sure to visit Arbor Day Farm’s Preservation Orchard for a unique look at — and perhaps even a taste of — the apples of yesteryear.

We Live in a Connected World

More than a century ago, noted conservation leader John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to the rest of the universe.”

We live in a connected world. Certainly today, with cell phones, the Internet and Facebook, you might say people are more connected with each other than ever.

But as I recall that long-ago quote from John Muir, I think of examples of how people are connected to Arbor Day Foundation members and supporters in a different way. We are connected through the heart…caring and supporting others, sometimes on the other side of the world…as we carry out our shared mission of inspiring people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.

I recall the story of Danielle Gift who as a young child began loving trees when she nurtured the 10 baby trees her parents received from the Arbor Day Foundation. Her connection to those Arbor Day Foundation trees years ago led to a career as a professional forester in New York City today, where she cares for trees enjoyed by millions of fellow citizens.

Julio Fernandez

Julio Fernandez Aguilar

I recall the story of Julio Fernandez Aguilar who we met high in the Andes’ rain forests of Peru. Julio is a coffee farmer, enthusiastically planting trees to reduce erosion, improve the soil and establish a lush canopy to protect his shade-grown coffee bushes. Foundation members supporting our Rain Forest Rescue program are connected to Julio and his family. The program purchases his high-quality coffee beans to roast here. As we offer the beans to coffee drinkers throughout the U.S., thousands more people are connected to Julio in Peru.

women of madagascar

The Ready Women of Madagascar

In the November/December edition of Arbor Day, you’ll meet some of “The Ready Women” who live on the African island nation of Madagascar. Support from Arbor Day Foundation members is providing them with jobs to lift them from poverty as they plant thousands of fruit trees for food and to restore habitat for endangered wildlife. The connection we share with our tree-planting mission here at home connects us directly with fellow tree-planting citizens on the other side of the world.

We live in a connected world with many examples of how our love of trees connects us with others. The trees we plant in our own backyards, and those we make possible in far-away forests seem to be “hitched” through our caring and support. Thank you for your part.

Matt Harris
Matt Harris
Chief Executive

Trees, Water and Sustainability

loch katrine trossachs national park

Loch Katrine— nestled on The Trossachs National Park in Scotland— depends on surrounding trees for Glasgow’s clean water supply.

When we think of forests, we think of trees, the wonders of nature, of sheer beauty, and clean, fresh air. We often don’t think about the water we drink.

We should.

More than 180 million Americans, 56 percent of the U.S. population, have abundant, healthy drinking water thanks to forests.

Forests help snow melt and rain water soak into the soil to replenish rivers and streams during dry times. Trees stop silt from eroding into our waterways. They serve as natural filters to clean sparkling mountain streams, healthy lakes and reservoirs, and our nation’s vast web of rivers.

Why is that important to us? As U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “While most Americans live in urban areas, most of us depend on rural lands, particularly forest lands, for clean water and a healthy climate.”

One example is New York City. In the late 1990s, city leaders balked at a $6 billion water treatment system and instead opted for natural forest management to clean the water it receives from the Catskill/Delaware watershed in upstate New York. The focus is on creating conservation easements along streams and reservoirs, and protecting forest lands to keep sediment and runoff from entering the water supply. The watershed provides New Yorkers with more than 1 billion gallons each day of some of the cleanest, healthiest drinking water in the world.

Millions of Californians rely on crystal-clear water flowing from the San Bernardino National Forest and other California forests to quench their thirst.

In Colorado, the South Platte watershed, which rises high in the Pike National Forest, supplies Denver with drinking water.

In Scotland, trees in The Trossachs National Park protect nearby Loch Katrine, which provides Glasgow its water supply. These are just a few examples of how our dependence on clean water also depends on healthy forests.

One way of keeping our forests healthy is to plant trees.

Klamath National Forest-California – After a fire, tree-planting crews are often in a race against time to plant new native trees.

The need to replant our forests is vitally important because of damage from insects, disease and unprecedented wildfires. Every year, new areas in critical need of replanting are identified – places where fires burn so hot that the seeds of future forests are destroyed.While we don’t know where the critical needs will be 10 years from now, or 40 years from now, we do know that our forests will continue to need our help, and that trees will be planted wherever they will best serve people, our environment, and water resources for generations to come.

There is no substitute for clean water. Water is a vital resource that we rely on every day. We can’t create something else to take its place.

But we can plant trees.

The next time you turn on the tap, remember the role trees play in keeping our drinking water clean and safe. And when we next think of forests, we’ll think of majestic beauty, clean air, habitat for wildlife…and healthy, abundant water for this and future generations.