Colonial Williamsburg’s collection of 18th-century tree and shrub varieties has been ranked as a Level 1 arboretum, or a collection of trees or woody shrubs, by international accreditation program ArbNet.
As a Level 1 arboretum, ArbNet has ranked 25 trees in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area. In order to gain that recognition, the Foundation needed to place informative labels on historic trees and create a public map of all trees on its property, according to Jon Lak, Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape manager.
ArbNet is a global program coordinated by The Morton Arboretum, the American Public Gardens Association and Botanic Gardens Conservation International. The program examines and ranks tree and woody shrub collections on a four-level scale based on the level of tree variety within the collection, along with the level of conservation education and public outreach efforts carried out by the collection owner.
Lak said a group of community volunteers called the Tree Stewards helped the Foundation’s landscaping team maintain its tree collection and select trees for arboretum consideration by ArbNet.
Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area features 25 different species of oak trees and more than 30 gardens, he said, along with several award-winning trees. Visitors to the historic area can admire 14 Virginia state champion trees and one national champion tree, called the jujube, according to a news release. Other noteworthy award-winning trees on the property include a live oak, three large filberts and a medlar tree.
Despite the collection of impressive oaks, Lak said the Compton Oak tree behind the Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse tends to be the overwhelming favorite of many historic area guests. The award-winning oak stands at more than 70 feet tall and 97 feet wide, with a trunk circumference of 14 feet, according to Colonial Williamsburg’s arboretum web page.
“That’s probably one of the most signature trees that we have at Colonial Williamsburg,” Lak said. “(The Compton Oak) is actually a natural hybrid between the live oak and the overcup oak, and what’s interesting about that is, a lot of colleges and different botanists have tried to create that hybrid in a lab and they’ve been unable to do so.”
Lak said the collection of period-specific trees and gardens provide a further level of immersion for guests exploring Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area.
“Creating the arboretum attracts a different group of people to Colonial Williamsburg, and it brings the landscape and the trees more to the forefront,” he said. “In the historic area, the majority are 18th-century plants and trees, so these are all plants that would be there during the colonial times. Not only are we interpreting the 18th century with the interpreters, but the plants are interpreting it as well.”
To reach Level 2 status, Lak said Colonial Williamsburg would need to grow its collection to 100 species of trees or woody shrubs, and would need to enhance its public outreach and conservation education programs.
Lak said he plans to reach Level 3 status within three years, which would require the greenery collection to feature at least 500 species of trees and shrubs.
“In the future, we plan on expanding it, possibly expanding to different collections of trees and expanding on the oak trees,” Lak said. “As we’re re-planting every year, we’re going to be looking into how to add to our inventory at Colonial Williamsburg.”
For more information about Colonial Williamsburg’s collection of trees and gardens, visit colonialwilliamsburg.com/learn/arboretum-and-gardens.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.