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Center for Tree Science Projects

The research conducted by the scientists in the Center for Tree Science fulfill the heart and soul of the Morton Arboretum’s mission to do great science, create positive change, and link together expertise and resources through active collaborations.  These projects encompass applied and basic questions about tree growth, care, and improvement.  We work right in our own backyard, in the 1,700 acres of living collections and natural areas, and across the globe, with foci in the Midwest USA, Mexico, and subtropical Asia.  These projects incorporate and expand upon a large number of collaborators at a wide variety of institutions, from the Illinois Tollway to university faculty.


  • This study investigates the effect of trunk injury severity on initial tree strength loss, and how trees respond to those injuries through adaptive growth.

  • Living plant collections play an important role in conserving plant biodiversity.  We collect and cultivate threatened tree species, like Quercus oglethorpensis (Oglethorpe oak), to learn about and safeguard important sources of tree genetic diversity. 

  • This  project works to determine how best to prune trees to improve resilience to damage from ice storms.

  • Oak conservation depends on our understanding of what species there are and how they will evolve in response to climate change. Understanding evolutionary history and gene flow is thus key to understanding oak diversity.

  • Bringing new, beautiful, and resilient tree and shrub varieties to market requires understanding how many sets of chromosomes species possess.  This project explores the poorly understood genome size and ploidy of the genus Styrax (snowbells), a respected but uncommonly cultivated group of trees and shrubs.

  • We would not expect a palm tree to grow in Chicago, or an upland oak tree to grow in a swamp.  Urban environments, especially below ground, can be just as foreign to any tree and must be managed to provide the basic requirements needed for good root growth.

  • Oak ecosystems are declining across the Midwest.  The Arboretum is undertaking research and restoration initiatives to find ways to combat these declines. 

  • Different paths to diversity: comparing two tropical tree groups with high species diversity but very different biologies through genomic comparisons.

  • Introduced diseases affect the health of our trees and shrubs, and breeders are always seeking to find new sources of resistance.

  • Genome size and ploidy surveys contribute to the growing body of scientific knowledge related to the plant kingdom and can be used by plant breeders to develop breeding objectives.

  • A breeding population with genetic diversity is necessary for developing new plants with novel characters.  Some plants can become weedy when introduced to a landscape, and reducing fertility can mitigate this effect.

  • Living collections are important repositories of biodiversity. Understanding the history of domestication in paperbark maple, which is endangered in its native habitat in China, can help us better conserve the species through targeted collection.

  • Polyploid induction is a method used by breeders to develop parents that can be used to create plants that are sterile, reblooming, or have improved aesthetics through interploidy hybridization.

  • The data collected on the urban forest in the Chicago region is the most extensive regional dataset on urban forestry in the country.  The combination of spatial, on-the-ground, and operations capacity data provides a broad foundation for education and outreach across the seven county Chicago region. 

  • Understanding evolutionary relationships and classification of Carex, one of the largest flowering plant groups of the northern hemisphere is key to conservation, restoration, and ecological study in the group.

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