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 http://arboretum.ag.arizona.edu for up-to-date details of guided tours and events. 



  1. It's strange—I've been hearing the word "arborist" my whole life in connection with trees and orchard care, but my spellchecker still underlines the word as misspelled. We plant trees on Arbor Day. Keeping a tree pruned and producing fruit, or just looking nice, is what an arborist does. If it's something you get certified at, it should at least show up in the computer's dictionary.

    Paul | northernsuburbstrees.com.au

    1. I totally agree with you Paul about arborist! It is so weird that there are some common words that aren't put in the computer. I'm going to get an arborist to come look at our tree and prune it. http://andersentree.com

  2. I agree that trees and plants that thrive on their own are my favorite. I've always loved trees and stuff, but I'm a busy person. I don't have the time to babysit my entire yard. Maybe sometime I'll look into the trees he says are his favorite. http://www.allseasontreeservicealberta.ca/tree_and_shrub_pruning_and_shaping.html

  3. Thanks for the blog and to share such a nice information and the conversation on the blog, i like it. we are also in he same business and provide our tree care services in Woodland, Davis, Dixon, Winters.

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