If you’ve been in the area of Schenley Park on Frew Street near the Westinghouse Memorial and Pond, you may have noticed the Schenley Park Genetic Tree Research Grove. This one-acre area is dedicated to planting trees to study, in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and Tree Pittsburgh.
The Parks Conservancy has previously hosted studies of trees and their genetic composition that resulted in published scientific papers on London Plane trees, Red maples, and American holly. This research shows that older trees have measurable genetic differences between themselves, while new replacement species from nurseries don’t have the same diversity. This can harm an urban forest as older trees die and are replaced. Genetic diversity can help urban forests by defending them against the increasing number of diseases and non-native insects that are threatening trees’ survival.
The Schenley Park Tree Research Grove is dedicated to providing a space to plant and study native trees gathered from resilient trees’ seed in our parks. Researchers are then able to track which trees thrive over a period of 7 to 10 years, while the grove also helps to mitigate stormwater runoff during that time. Unsuccessful trees are removed from the grove and transplanted in park woodlands as restoration trees. The more successful trees will be given to public nurseries and planted in the future, diversifying trees on the market and ensuring that there are trees available that can thrive in Pittsburgh. This process is assisted by the Tree Pittsburgh Heritage Nursery, who raises the trees from seeds until they are large enough for the grove.
The first phase of this research project began in 2019, when yellowwood trees were planted. Yellowwood trees have historically been challenging to grow in Pittsburgh’s parks, but they may be a good candidate to increase genetic diversity because there are some older yellowwoods that thrive in Schenley.