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Yellowstone Arboretum

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"Are We There Yet ? "

Where are we going ? Oh yeah, the answer is no, but the arboretum crew has been busy doing something that will remind you of spring. See the sidebar for more information. In the meantime you can read our winter quarterly edition of the arboretum newsletter. The newsletter comes out on the meteorological start of each season. That means December 1st is the start of winter as the weather guys see it and as long as we have nice temperatures then our crew will continue on with work. Thanks to all who have volunteered this year to make ZooMontana Billings' best destination !




Our project list is dwindling as you can see on the ArbWorx page. Most of the opportunities are for pruning and cleaning. The projects are designed for independent or group work and the reporting structure is easy as explained on the ArbWorx page. The work will make a huge difference on the health and quality of our trees.


" Cold Weather Lookout "

Winter is a wonderful time to see trees in a most unusual way. As you walk the pathways take the opportunity to do a quick bark study. It's the best time of year to compare the differences in tree trunks once the foliage has disappeared. A few species to look at are the Chinese Lacebark Elm (Waterways), Amur Cork Tree (parking lot), Paperbark Maple (Children's Garden), Amur Chokecherry (Sensory Garden) and Russian Rock Birch (Tiger Garden).


No shade this time of year but the shadows of each tree displays a multitude of shapes.


          "A Great Time for the Conifer"

What is a Conifer Tree?  By Web Editor  July 1, 2021

So what is a conifer tree, anyway? While this seems like a simple question, it has a complicated answer. Most of us have a vague idea; it’s like, a pine tree, right? Well, pines are conifers, but why? And what else is a conifer and is it always a tree? Always evergreen? Always green?

  • Conifers are, most simply, plants that have cones. So yes, pine trees are conifers; we all know about pine cones!

However, some conifers, such a yews, have fleshy cone that look more like fruit. 

Other conifers, such as cypress and junipers, have cones with fused scales that look more like berries than what we think of as cones. What all of these bodies have in common is that the actual seeds are ‘naked’ and not enclosed within fruits, as in the flowering plants.

  • Are all conifers pine trees? No, there are spruce and fir and cypress and redwoods and dozens more. However, the pine family is the largest family within conifers, and both spruces and firs are members of the pine family (Pinaceae) so for most of us, many of the conifers with which we are most familiar, are pines!

  • Are all conifers trees? We all know that classic, Christmas tree shape, and unfortunately conifers get tagged as boring because there is an idea that all conifers look like that. Did you know that conifers naturally occur in 10 completely different shapes, from tall and upright to weeping to flat and spreading? Conifer shapes

  • All conifers are not evergreen! Ever heard of a bald cypress, the denizens of the Southern bayous? They got the nickname ‘bald’ because they lose their needles in the winter. So do larch and dawn redwood, but they are still conifers, because they bear cones.

  • Not only are all conifers not evergreen, they are not all green! Colorado blue spruce is vividly blue, many other conifers are vibrant yellow or gold, and you can find colors ranging from silver and white through yellows and blues to purple, brown and reddish at different times of the year. Oh, and of course, green!

So ok, we get it now, conifers are complicated, but they all have cones and we know that they all have needles instead of leaves, right? Well…sorry to make it even MORE complicated, but there are a few conifers that don’t have needles, they have leaves! Native to Australia, they don’t look anything like our idea of conifers. So what makes them conifers then? Remember the first bullet point: they bear cones!

Conifers, far from being boring, are one of the most exciting group of plants in the kingdom. While there are only around 800 conifers that occur in nature (as compared to perhaps 28,000 orchids), due to chance mutations and plant breeding, there are thousands of cultivars (short for ‘cultivated variety’) that are wonderful focal points and accents to the garden and landscape.


So add color, year-round interest, texture and structure to your garden by planting some dwarf conifers! join the American Conifer Society to learn more and to connect to a nationwide group of plant lovers!

"Quarterly Features" 


What does the Amur River Valley, Syringa vulgaris and explorer E.H.Wilson have in common ? Well, they are all featured in the website updated home page. Go to "FEATURES" on the website menu and pick your reading material. We will feature something in "tree world" each quarter. For those curious minds who can't wait to find out, here's a sneak preview of each:


Amur River

Amur River, also known as Heilong Jiang, is a major waterway in East Asia and the world’s 10th longest river. It is China’s third-longest river after Yangtze and Huang Ho and the longest river flowing through Russian Far East. The river begins at the confluence of Argun and Onon-Shilka near Pokrovka in Russia, then flows east and southeast for approximately 2,824 kilometers before emptying into the Strait of Tartary. However, the Amur-Argun river system is 4,444 kilometers long, making it Asia’s 4th longest river. Amur forms part of the border between Northeastern China and Southeast Siberia. The river’s modern name (Heilong Jiang) translates to Black Dragon River. READ MORE

History of Lilac Bushes

Lilacs are native to Europe and the temperate climate areas in Asia. The common lilac, (Syringa vulgaris), originated in Eastern Europe. In the United States, historians think the first lilacs arrived during the Colonial period and were planted around 1750 at the Governor Wentworth Estate in New Hampshire. The location is now a state park.

Thomas Jefferson planted old-fashioned lilacs in the late 1700s. We know this for sure because he documented the experience with numerous and lengthy notes in his garden book. READ MORE


Meet the Explorer

Ernest Henry ‘Chinese' Wilson was a botanist, explorer, photographer, plant collector and writer active in America, Western China and England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He gained the nickname ‘Chinese' from the many plants in China he discovered and later introduced to the West. READ MORE

Editor's note: Why these subjects? The arboretum has a large collection of trees from the Amur River region of Asia. Quite rare for Montana yet right at home for our Amur tigers!

The Lilac is our choice for the 2022 Trial Species. We will shed light on this all too common tree/shrub.

Ernest Wilson was one of the greatest tree explorers in recent history. The arboretum has a nice collection of like-specimen trees and shrubs discovered by "Chinese" Wilson.


Be sure to check out our website home page to access more information regarding the European Buckthorn Eradication Program commencing in this Fall. Meet Hunter the force behind the program and his plans for making this a successful operation !

CLICK HERE for more information and Hunter's "GO FUND ME" campaign

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Phase one of the program has been completed with 1/2 acre of ground cleared of Buckthorn. The new area temporarily known as "Wolverine Meadow" will be planted with native trees and shrubs next spring.


"The mission of the Yellowstone Arboretum is to cultivate arboreta appreciation and understanding of our local heritage through public education, organic preservation and stewardship of our natural environment."




We want to thank Home Depot and Evergreen Ace Hardware for their donation of almost 3000 bulbs. Over 400 bulbs alone were planted along the new Wolf fence. This will make a huge color impact this spring so look for the new growth throughout the grounds.


Montana Green Expo

MNLA holds the Montana Green Expo each year in early January. The Green Expo includes two components: a Trade Show and a Convention. The Trade Show includes 75+ exhibitors. Attendance is open to anyone who works in the horticulture industry, though MNLA members enjoy reduced registration.


Billings Hotel and Convention Center


Educational Seminars

The Convention includes 15-20 hours of educational seminars for which a registration fee is imposed. Nationally recognized experts are invited to address a wide range of topics covering both horticulture and business management interests. MNLA members receive a substantial discount on registration fees for all Convention seminars as well as discounts on booth space in the Trade Show.


A Learning Experience


Thanks to the Rocky Mountain College Forest Ecology class for their participation in one of our "Out on a Limb" tree talks. The students learned about the trees of the arboretum and had a quick lesson in Tree Pruning 101

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It's ZooLIghts time again, so get the car warmed-up and the hot chocolate ready.

Or take a wagon ride through the region's largest display of holiday lights.


Look for new lights this year as the arboretum crew headed up by Nancy W has decorated the Linden tree parking lot boulevard !


According to Montana Green Expo attendees, the best part of the Expo is a feature that can scarcely be advertised and isn’t really even on the schedule. It’s the networking; getting together with old and new colleagues, sharing successes and failures. While we’ve tried to formalize it with a couple of events like the “Breakfast of Champions", panel discussions, and “Great Green Ideas,” much of the best networking happens in the hallways between seminars, in the aisles of the trade show, or during gatherings at the end of the day.