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Please enjoy this excerpt from our November 2023 Newsletter. Be sure to explore our newsletter archive and subscribe to keep updated!

Newsletter Tree Spotlight

Tree of the Month: Sourwood

by Leslie Renjilian

Common names for the Oxydendrum arboreum include the Sourwood, Sour Gum, Sorrel Tree, Arrowwood, Lily-of-the-valley-tree and Bee Gum. As you know, common names always contain hints about the tree's unique properties, so take your time and try to figure out what they could be. It is interesting to note that this is the only species in the Oxydendron genus, and is not naturally found on any other continent.

The sourwood in the photo to the right at the Hall of Philosophy was planted in 1994 by the BTG and it has thrived here, which is somewhat of a surprise given that we are about 150 miles north of the native range and Chautauqua's climate is particularly harsh. Sourwoods are known for their absolutely beautiful fall color and this one was on full display in Chautauqua in October.

Sourwoods flower later than most trees—in late June/early July. The flowers are lovely, tiny things that look like lilies-of-the-valley and are fragrant and nectar-laden, the by-product of which is a delicious, hard-to-find honey. 

Native Americans used sourwood wood to make arrow shafts, and used the nectar and sap to treat diarrhea, dyspepsia, mouth ulcers, lung diseases, and asthma.

To read more about the Sourwood - please head to the newsletter page and read the November Newsletter. Be sure to subscribe!

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Tree Trunk Texture

Tree Markers

In 1972, the BTG installed 1,000 tree markers around Chautauqua. Some of those markers can still be found, but most have disappeared. Fifty years later, in 2022, the board of the BTG approved funding for 1,000 tree markers. Working with the Garden Team of Chautauqua Institution, we have installed hundreds of them already and more are installed each week. The new markers identify each tree by its common and scientific name and have a scannable QR code that takes you to a webpage about the tree containing photos and information about the species and - in many cases - information about that particular tree - when it was planted, whom it memorializes, etc. You can learn about the trees in a one-off fashion or jump into themed tours with maps to help you locate particularly impressive examples of different species.

The Arboretum

Plant List

View a list of all the trees, shrubs, and perennials in the Arboretum. The tree canopy has been diversified; non-native invasive shrubs removed, and perennials added.

Historic Elements

See the Edison Bird Bath, Amelia Earhart's sugar maple, the BTG arch, the dedication stone, and other historic trees as you stroll through the peaceful Arboretum. South trams and buses travel regularly to the Arboretum.

Plant Markers

It's a priority to share both the English and scientific name of perennials, shrubs and trees. At select gardens throughout the grounds, markers are being added to perennials, shrubs, and trees. Financial contributions welcomed!

Quiet Garden

Amidst the activity-packed Chautauqua Institution, busy with lectures, conversation, music, and bike riding, sits a 'Quiet Room' at the 100+ year old Bird and Tree Arboretum located across 'Thunder Bridge.’ 

Slow down and appreciate nature. Seated upon a generous sized bench nestled within the perennials, shrubs, and shade of a diverse tree canopy, take in the greenery and quiet. Based on the 'quiet garden movement' started in England, this is a perfect place for reading, reflection, and engaging with the environment. As the seasons go by, the shrubs will make this shady spot more secluded. Please bring a book and enjoy!

‘South’ buses and trams transport visitors to and from the Arboretum on a regular basis. This section of Chautauqua is known locally as ‘The Overlook.’


On Sunday, July 8, 2018 at 2 pm, The Reverend Maureen Rovegno, Director of the Department of Religion and 'perennial pastor' to the BTG, recognized the 100th anniversary of the Arboretum Dedication, referencing aspects of the service held a century ago.

Betsy Burgeson, Supervisor of Landscapes and Gardens, completed a 3 year restoration project of this space. This dedication ushered in a series of events leading up to the July 12, 2018 BTG House & Garden Tour, chaired by Rosemary Rappole. The Arboretum was a key feature of this special biennial event. BTG Board members Dennis McNair and Master Gardener Chris Flanders led Arboretum tours. The large crowd that gathered enjoyed refreshments and celebrated BTG's restored 'outdoor nature classroom.’


The Bird, Tree & Garden (BTG) Club Arboretum is located at the southernmost end of the grounds between Longfellow and Whittier Avenues. It is accredited as a Level I Arboretum by ArbNet, a global registry of arboreta maintained by the Morton Arboretum near Chicago. ArbNet is a global network of tree-focused gardens that promotes advances in conservation, collaboration on scientific study, and education regarding trees. In order to be accredited the BTG Arboretum had to meet standards of tree and plant diversity, care, and permanence established by ArbNet and to submit an application verifying that those criteria will be scrupulously maintained. BTG received certification of its accreditation from ArbNet in March 2019.


Today's tree canopy is much more diverse, the perennials are mostly native and the non-native invasive shrubs have been removed. Visit the Arboretum today and see the improvement plus the addition of many new trees along Massey Ave.


Originally acquired as a gift from Henrietta Ord Jones to the Chautauqua Bird Tree and Garden Club in 1915 for the propagation and diversification of trees, the Arboretum is a focal point again in Chautauqua. It was dedicated in 1917 and populated with small trees brought to Chautauqua from all over the country by the summer residents. It also had several memorial trees: a Red Leaf Maple brought in by Bishop Vincent and a Ginkgo Tree in honor of the Bishop. In 1929, a Sugar Maple was planted for the visit of Amelia Earhart. This tree was planted from a seed of the sugar maple outside her childhood bedroom window and grown by the American Forests Historic Tree Program. There are a number of other historic elements such as a bird bath given by Thomas and Mina Edison. A ceremony on July 8th, 2018 commemorates the re-dedication of the Arboretum, ushering in its second century. The Reverend Maureen Rovegno presiding used elements of the original dedication, Aug 7th, 1917.

Disease and age have caused the removal of many of the trees in recent years, part of a Chautauqua-wide culling of old dangerous trees. Some healthy duplicate trees were actually moved to more suitable locations within the grounds. A renovation took place in 2006-7, and a more complete renovation is ongoing from 2016 to the present. The number of tree varieties was limited, and the hedges surrounding the Arboretum were foreboding, blocking people from enjoying the area. Snowplow damage also made the hedges very unattractive. This has been addressed by removing the non-native, invasive privet hedge. Planting privet is banned in the state of New York.

Under the direction of Betsy Burgeson, Supervisor of Gardens and Landscapes, a plan was developed to make the Arboretum a place of tree diversity, to showcase under-tree shade plants, and allow it to serve as a location to test varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants in our Zone 5 weather patterns. Drought resistance is now one of the more important qualities in plants. Shade is something that all Chautauqua residents deal with because of our dense tree canopy, so the Arboretum is a living catalog of shade plants to reference and inspect. 

The Bird Tree and Garden Club works closely with Betsy to make the Arboretum a destination for visitors and residents to enjoy the outdoor classroom and relax in the open ‘rooms’ of the Arboretum plan. Entering from the iron gate dedicated to Henrietta Ord Jones, you can wander through the shade and relax on the benches, or read the labels on the trees, shrubs, and plants. Along the 394 fence line, shrubs and flowering plants have been placed with the secondary function of blocking road noise from the main road as they mature.

The Arboretum is easily accessible to visitors and residents of Chautauqua. Just cross over Thunder Bridge, and it is just up the road to the right. During the season, trams and buses regularly travel this South route. It is an example of upper and lower tree canopy, hedgerows inviting you to walk under the trees rather than a hedge to keep you out. Beautiful shade plantings and alcoves provide spaces to rest and relax with friends.

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