Tree Hugger George Ware, 84, Credited with Developing Elm Cultivars

Article excerpt

Byline: Joan Broz

Trees benefit from good soil, adequate moisture and a friend like George Ware.

It seems no coincidence that Ware will celebrate his 84th birthday on April 27, just days after we observe Earth Day on Tuesday and Arbor Day on Friday.

The dendrologist emeritus at Morton Arboretum in Lisle made trees and protecting the environment his vocation and avocation long before it was popular.

"Dr. Ware is a phenomenon among those who care for trees and the environment," said Gerald Donnelly, arboretum president and CEO.

"He has been a trusted source of expert knowledge and inspiration to countless other scientists, arborists and tree- loving citizens alike, who have come to share his dedication to the planting and conservation of trees."

Trees are essential, as well as beautiful. They improve air and water quality, reduce energy costs, combat soil erosion, act as windbreakers, lessen the effects of heavy rainfall and provide wildlife habitats.

Ware's interest began in the second grade in Norman, Okla., when a classmate asked for help collecting leaves for a science project.

"It didn't take long to learn all the names of the leaves, because in Oklahoma there weren't a lot of trees," Ware said. "Little did I know. I became fascinated with leaves and trees."

Growing up with nine siblings, Ware's responsibility was to care for the 100 chicks that came from a hatchery each year. By age 10, his chores included caring for the family's cow.

During the Depression, families had to be self-sufficient, and that included growing a vegetable garden. Together, the siblings gleaned fields of onions and harvested black-eyed peas to take home.

Ware earned his first two degrees in botany at the University of Oklahoma and then a PhD in forest ecology from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied trees along the Mississippi River flood plain and learned what it took to grow in adverse conditions.

When he came to the Morton Arboretum in 1968, a large elm tree near the Thornhill Building fascinated him.

"I asked my colleagues if they knew what the tree was, because I had a vague idea, and one or two said 'they call it a mystery elm,' " he said.

The handsome vase-shaped tree was grown from seed received from an arboretum in Boston in 1924.

Ware's visit East cleared up the confusion. The hybrid tree joined a Japanese elm and a Wilson elm species. Besides its characteristic deep green, glossy leaves, the tree had good resistance to Dutch elm disease thanks to its Asian lineage.

As research director in 1978, Ware organized the arboretum's Urban Vegetation Laboratory to develop, improve and manage vegetation in adverse urban areas. He made five trips to China and three to the former Soviet Union to find new trees for American cities.

"About 20 years ago, I became lucky when a Chinese forest scientist who knew of my work contacted me and said her government dropped its restriction on travel within the country. "She offered to collect seeds of the 20 elms of China if I would pay her expenses," Ware said.

"We only had about 10 to 12 species in the U.S., so this was a gold mine for me. I was not familiar with some of the elms and it was a pioneer effort to have this marvelous possibility."

Much of past horticulture techniques are based on how a tree looks, Ware said. …