Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why does BTA Love Tumblr?

Facebook at this point is something of a "Main Trail", if you will, in terms of Boyce Thompson's presence on the social media platforms. However, much like the Arboretum's actual main trail there are various small detours that are as special as they are unique. Within social media the truth of the matter is that there are very interesting interfaces these different platforms provide that afford the user both an ability and experience that are also unique and worth exploring.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum itself possesses an array of artistic visual opportunity. Although photos may for instance be posted to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, they will be presented in a format and resolution that is suited for those platforms which, currently, are not set to a very high standard in terms of detailed visual content. However, in the instance of Tumblr the quality and presentation of content nearly exceeds all else. Users will experience a simplified non-clutter format with the option of having content presented to them as the author intended, or as a simple dashboard post to scroll past among other interesting posts that peak one's interests. For Boyce Thompson Arboretum this means that any content with more detail and or special meaning is more likely to be fully appreciated there. 

If you have no yet had the opportunity to view our tumblr page, the link will be provided below. You will not be required to join tumblr in order to enjoy what we offer there so view away!

Question time! Considering that there are so many different platforms, where would you like to see Boyce Thompson Arboretum on the web? Leave a comment below, we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Boojum seed harvesting adventure

Gonzalo called me over and said, “Hey, check this out.” He had lashed a cardboard box onto a thick saguaro rib with some bailing twine. It looked like what you would use to lower a stranded cat out of a tree, should the cat be so bold—or stupid—to step into it.

“Becky and I are going to harvest some boojum seeds. She’ll cut and I’ll catch.”
The target plant was our newest and second largest boojum tree. It was acquired from a boojum grower in Tucson and transplanted to the Arboretum last November. It has done exceeding well in its new location, potentially producing a boxful of seeds—or  so we were about to find out.  

The slope was steep, with decomposed rhyolite as loose and hazardous to walk on as a patina of frozen peas.  Becky wielded a long, telescoping pole pruner, and Gonzalo used his pole to position the box under each cluster as she snipped. The conversation had a lot to do with where the fruits would fall. “Which side is the gravity?” Gonzalo asked. I wanted to answer, All sides, I but I knew that wouldn’t be helpful. The tree had a slight bend near the top and it wasn’t immediately evident where the cut fruit cluster would fall.

“I think I can reach it from down here,” Becky answered. She made her way down slope and Gonzalo moved towards the opposite side, almost falling when his right foot slipped on the gravely rhyolite along the side slope. He caught himself by stabbing the end of the saguaro rib against the rock, nearly sloshing out some of the hundreds of fruits that were loosely piled in the box. 

Becky was now assuming the telltale posture of an archer, but rather than drawing a bow string, she was grasping the rope that would close the steel jaws of the lopper on the targeted fruit cluster. “Don’t cut back too far,” Gonzalo advised, “just enough to get the fruits at the end.” He stood at a ninety degree angle to her position and placed the box directly under her loppers.  A big part of this process was just staying out of each others way.

“Ready?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question, one that she had asked a dozen times already. We couldn’t hear the fruits go plunk into the box when she snipped, but if none hit the ground, it was a successful catch.

This sequence, with minor variations, was repeated over and over, so the system had become routine. At one point, though, I heard Gonzalo yell, “Becky, freeze! Don’t move!” I looked out from my camera, expecting to see a six-inch centipede crawling up her leg, but he was pointing to a dozen stray fruits that had somehow fallen on her shoulder. “We need them all,” he said. I had done nothing but watch up to this point, so I plucked them off her shoulder one-by-one, placing them in the box that he had lowered and held in front of me.

The entire process took less than an hour. As interesting as this was to watch, these weren't the first boojum seeds they had harvested this year, just the highest.  We now have over twenty-five boojum trees of various ages in the Arboretum collection, and about a half dozen are mature enough that staff have collected viable seeds from them in each in the past two years. 

Gonzalo separated the seeds from the hulls (the fruits) and allowed the seeds to dry before putting them in a vermin-proof glass bottle. His preferred method for planting the seeds is to clump-flat them in shallow rectangular trays filled with fine sand. The seeds germinate in about ten days without any pre-treatment and produce an impressive 5” tap root in just a few months after germination. One of the seedlings planted in November 2013 is already an inch and a half tall with a quarter inch thick stem. This little precocious upstart is the exception, though, not the rule.  The baby boojums will be bumped up into progressively into larger containers over the coming years until they reach a size where they have the best chance of survival on the grounds.

The prime harvest time is late September through mid-October, though seeds have been harvested as late as November. The earlier harvest time yields a better success rate because less opportunity is given to predators, both insects and birds, to beat us to the punch.

Kim Stone

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Going steady with your smart phone camera

We’ve all heard this before: The best camera is the one you have with you.

To some, this means $15,000 of equipment so massive that a backpack is inadequate, requiring what looks like a multi-tiered, chrome-plated baby stroller to push it around. Others never leave home without their tried and true point-and-shoot camera with its compact size and ease of use. The great equalizer has become the smart phone, the ultra thin electronic marvel that doubles as a camera and graces nearly every pants pocket from Wrangler to Versace.

At the Arboretum, it would be unusual to spot a visitor without a camera. Half are using DSLRs and point-and-shoots, but the other 50% are using their smart phones—alternately snapping photos, talking, and texting as the scenery and their social circle dictates.

I was a confirmed digital SLR user for a decade, but when my shutter malfunctioned (and I had neither the money to repair the camera nor purchase a new one), I reached into my pocket, pulled out my iPhone 5, and decided to make it my full-time camera replacement.  

Even with all its fancy camera features, like an 8 megapixel image sensor and F/2.4 lens, my biggest disappointment was that there is no way to attach the phone to a tripod. Even pro photographers with image stabilizing lenses use a tripod to get their sharpest image, and every point-and-shoot has a tripod mount, so why doesn’t the iPhone?

There’s no app for that, so over the past year, I have explored a handful of solutions that allow me to capture a satisfyingly sharp image.

The lowest tech way to stabilize any camera is to use what’s nearby. At the Arboretum, I will often brace my phone on a tree, a boulder, atop someone’s head, or lie down and use my knees or elbows for support. When out in the open, I’ve learned to cross my arms Cossack-style, using my locked, horizontal forearm as a rigid support.  This latter technique works for shooting video, too.

But these are just coping mechanisms, and useless for a self-timer, stop-action, slo-mo, or capturing a sharp flower macro.

So I researched and purchased several aftermarket solutions, starting with the Joby Griptight Mount. Despite its name, its spring-loaded grip on my phone was tentative at best. When the wind blew down my tripod and the Joby’s cheap plastic broke into three separate pieces, I cried—but not as hard as I would have if my phone had still been in it.

The Olloclip Quick-flip case was my second purchase, setting me back more than twice as much as the Joby. It’s a more elegant solution that combines a form-fitting case that slides into a U-shaped tripod mount. The mount then screws securely to a tripod. After a few months of use, part of the plastic tripod mount broke off, leaving me a barely useable set-up.

My most recent discovery is the Anycase, a solid aluminum tripod mount that fits any size smart phone, with or without a case. It holds my iPhone securely, feels very stable, and its metal construction gives me confidence that it will outlast anything made of plastic. It’s my favorite so far. 


With the phone now firmly attached to a tripod, you still have to tap the screen to take a photo, and this can cause some vibration. To remedy this, the volume control on the stock iPhone ear buds  doubles as a shutter release, reducing camera shake to nil.

Even better, I recently purchased the Ipega Bluetooth Remote Control Self-timer that works with both iPhone iOS and Android phones. As long as I am within 30 feet of my phone, the Bluetooth connection wirelessly triggers the camera’s shutter to capture intimate portraits or video of stampedes, active beehives, or squirrels—all from an unthreatening distance.The portrait of the rock squirrel (above) was taken with this setup.

There are plenty of reasons to keep your DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, but if your smart phone happens to be the one you have with you, keeping it rock steady is the best way to capture an enviably sharp photo—at the Arboretum, or anywhere. 

Ipega Bluetooth Remote Control Self-timer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Five questions for Tree Tour leader and Certified Arborist Jeff Payne

Jeff Payne on collecting trip in 2010.
Among Arboretum horticultural specialists, Jeff Payne is our only Certified Arborist. We caught up with Jeff for five quick questions about his passion for trees, volunteerism, and a sneak preview of a few things he plans to point out on his next Tree Tour on Sunday, June15, 2014 at 8am.
Q: What did it take to attain your Certified Arborist credential?
A: Months of studying and completing a 5 week training course. During the training course sessions, I had to discipline myself and set aside at least 2-3 hours every night to study and about 6-8 hours during the weekends. The certification exam takes about 3.5 hours to complete. It is a professional certification where Continuing Educational Units (CEUs) are required to maintain the certification, as well as the certification fees associated with it. I volunteer with the Arizona Community Tree council as a Board of Directors Member and Education Committee Member. I also have been coordinating their Certified Arborist Training Program which prepares individuals for the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) Certified Arborist exam. I also maintain a Sustainable Landscape Management certification. 

Q: Do you have a favorite tree here at BTA, or a "Top 5" specific trees that you always make sure to show guests on your walk?
A. My favorite trees are the ones that take care of themselves and do not need any extra work or maintenance. Unfortunately, those are few and far between here at BTA. If I had to choose a few favorites, they would include: Cedrus deodara, Condalia globosa, Pinus eldarica and Quercus buckleyi. Two of those are on the monthly tree tour. Join me for the next tour and I'll tell you their common names and why they are my favorites. 

Q:  What's the most common misconception you've heard about desert trees?
A. There are a couple misconceptions about a tree's root system. First, roots do not seek out water. Trees are smart, but they do not consciously seek out water. Roots only grow in the soil where there is adequate soil moisture, oxygen (yes, roots need air to live and there is oxygen in the upper soil zones) and available nutrients. This brings us to the second biggest misconception, rooting depth. Since roots only grow in soil where there is adequate soil moisture, oxygen and available nutrients, their roots are mainly located in the top six to 36 inches of soil. Some trees do have tap roots that extend down past this level, but they basically only offer anchorage for the tree. Almost all our native legumes here in the desert southwest only have a rooting depth to a few feet. Makes sense considering the total amount of precipitation we receive here annually. 

Q. Which trees do BTA visitors find most interesting--and why?
A. Every visitor's experience on the Tree Tour is different, as well as their interests and level of knowledge regarding trees. Some are amazed about roots and rooting depth. Others find interesting that palms are not trees at all, but an arborescent grass. Another thing they learn is that our cycads in front of the Smith Building are NOT palms at all, but more closely related to conifers. When asked about the sago palm, which is a cycad and not a palm, I elaborate on the importance of knowing the scientific name compared to its common name and how misleading common names are. Each tour brings with it a different set of questions and interests based on those individuals on the tour. I amend the tour based on the atmosphere of the group.

Q. You work with many volunteers; are you looking for more? And for what specific jobs, if yes?
A. Volunteers are the strongest link in the chain in regards to the Horticulture Department. We are always looking for and NEEDING volunteers to fill this capacity. My position is multi-faceted involving many areas of responsibility. Trees are not my primary focus, and only occupies a very small percentage of my time here at the Arboretum. I am responsible for trying to maintain the high profile gardens here, such as the Demonstration Garden, the Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden, the Taylor Family Legume Garden, a large portion of the Australian Exhibit, the area around the Visitor Center including the Main Trail Succulent raised bed located on the east side of the Visitor Center,  our South African collection and a few other areas. I also maintain our Accessions and Records Database, our NAPCC (North American Plant Collection Consortium) Quercus Collection, do public outreach and perform public speaking engagements. Most volunteer opportunities with me would be in the gardens whether raking leaves, pulling weeds, deadheading flowers, some minor pruning, hand watering specific plants and collections, planting and other seasonal tasks. In the areas of my responsibility there are annuals, perennials, trees, cacti and succulents. I have made it my specialty to know as much as I can about every plant here at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, and not to focus on just one or two plant collections or types of plants. You can too when you volunteer here with me at the Arboretum. Every day it is something different going on and no two days are ever the same. 

Editor's note: Tree tours are offered on the third Sunday of most months, including the summer. The next is Sunday, June 15 at 8am. Jeff's Tree Tour repeats at 8am Aug. 17, then moves to 10am Sept. 21 (the month that daily hours return to the fall-winter schedule), and  then Oct. 19 at 1:30pm. Visit the EVENTS link at for up-to-date details of guided tours and events.