Volunteer Opportunities

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The Arboretum’s Volunteer Program benefits from the contributions of a diverse group of upwards of 1500 volunteers a year. Browse through the many exciting opportunities and consider joining this dedicated, tree-loving team. Volunteer positions are in high demand and fill up fast, so check back frequently for current opportunities and deadlines. Volunteer applications will be kept on file and qualified applicants will be contacted for interviews as opportunities become available.

To ensure the safety of staff, volunteers, and guests, volunteers must meet assignment-specific age requirements in order to participate in the volunteer program.

Furthermore, volunteers may not bring children or dependents for whom they are responsible to volunteer assignments, as doing so presents liability concerns for the organization.

In addition, it is required that all interested applicants complete an interview prior to participating in any volunteer assignments—this step must be completed in order to best align your volunteer interests with the needs of the volunteer program.

Current Volunteer Opportunities

Thank you for your interest in volunteering at The Morton Arboretum. Our robust volunteer program expands Joy Morton’s founding vision through the efforts of over 1,000 volunteers.

Due to a tremendous response from members of our surrounding communities, our volunteer program is fully staffed for 2021.

We will keep your application on file and reach out to you in spring 2022 when will be ready to accept new volunteers.

We thank you again for your expressed interest in our volunteer program and we hope you’ll consider joining us next year!

Interested in group volunteering or employee engagement opportunities at The Morton Arboretum?

Please complete the group volunteer request form to find a project that meets your group’s needs.

The Arboretum will do its best to find a project for every group, however, approval may not be given for all group requests.

Imagine learning about plant production, gardening, tree and plant identification, and proper maintenance and care techniques from experts at The Morton Arboretum.

As a horticulture volunteer with collections or display gardens, plant production, tree nurseries, or the creation of botanic arrangements for the public areas, you will be exposed to a world of new experiences.

Collections and display gardens

A team of three to six volunteers work alongside a horticulturist in one of 16 collections or garden areas from April through October. Each group meets once a week during the gardening season on the same weekday morning each week. Volunteers learn as they garden, so previous experience is not required. Collections and garden groups meet from 8:20 to 11:20 a.m. on designated weekdays only— not on weekends.

Floral arrangements

Arrangements are created from March through November using materials gathered from Arboretum collections and display gardens. These arrangements, showcased in the Visitor Center and Administration Building, are created by amateurs as well as those with professional training. Volunteers set their schedules in early spring and commit to creating approximately 10 to 12 floral arrangements during the year. Arrangements may also be made for special events during the year.

Greenhouse

Volunteers work with staff in the greenhouse area, primarily from February through April, as the Arboretum prepares for the annual Plant Sale. Previous experience working with seedlings and young plants is a plus. Volunteer shifts are generally three to four hours in length, one or two days a week, Monday through Friday.

The Morton Arboretum needs monitoring volunteers to help monitor trails, bloom times, fall color, amphibian populations, bluebirds, and other migratory and native bird species.

Bird populations

The Arboretum is a haven for migratory birds as well as birds that overwinter on its grounds. Volunteers who are skilled in recognizing bird calls and plumage are assigned a specific area of the Arboretum to monitor during the spring and summer months.

Blooms

Volunteers monitor bloom stages for plants, trees, and shrubs throughout the Arboretum during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Individuals or teams of two monitor the bloom cycle of the plants in their assigned area weekly, until they are no longer blooming. Reports are posted weekly on the blooming hotline and website.

Bluebirds

Eastern bluebirds are making a comeback in the Midwest. Bluebird monitors clean the birdhouses, check for nests, count eggs, hatchlings, and fledglings. They also band the birds and report on other birds that may nest in the bluebird houses.

Trails

The Arboretum has 16 miles of trails. Volunteer monitors walk a trail once a week, from March through October, removing litter, cleaning signs and benches, and reporting safety issues or damage along the trail.

The Arboretum’s natural areas include the 100-acre Schulenberg Prairie, woodlands, savannas, six lakes, four marshes and wetlands, a brook, and the East Branch of the DuPage River.

Volunteers help maintain all of these areas. Activities range from removing invasive plants and cutting brush to collecting and sowing seeds, and planting plugs and saplings.

Work groups usually consist of eight to 20 volunteers led by a trained volunteer steward leader or Arboretum staff member. A typical group meets once a week for a three-hour morning or afternoon work session, with some groups working seasonally and others working year-round. Both weekday and weekend volunteering options are available. Some groups focus on one area of the Arboretum, while others go wherever the need is greatest. One of the highlights of many workdays is a discussion of a plant or topic of interest during a work session or a steward-led walk through a natural area.

Prairies

The Arboretum prairie areas require the removal of invasive plants, such as garlic mustard, sweet clover, and Japanese hedge parsley, brush cutting, and—in the fall—seed collecting. Both weekday and evening prairie volunteering options are available.

Woodlands and savannas

Work in the Arboretum woods cutting invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn with loppers and hand saws, removing invasive plants, such as garlic mustard, and—in the fall—collecting and sowing seeds. The work can be as physically demanding or as relaxed as the individual volunteer wishes it to be. Both weekday and weekend woodland and savanna volunteering options are available.

Lakes

Restoration work includes planting plugs, wading or using boats to weed aquatic plants, algae control, and weeding plants along the banks of Meadow Lake or other lakes in the Arboretum.

Marshes and wetlands

Wetlands are special areas and require the removal of invasive plants from the wetland and surrounding area. Work is both on dry ground and at the water’s edge.

You don’t have to be a scientist to volunteer in the research labs at The Morton Arboretum.

The Arboretum studies everything about trees, including roots, plant pathology, genetics, soil conditions, and the effects of exposure to extreme conditions. Many volunteers help out in the herbarium, where plants from the Chicago area and from locations around the world are preserved and studied.

Fieldwork

Research scientists tend several areas at the Arboretum where hybrid trees that are adaptable to urban conditions are grown. Special projects in these areas are available short-term, when research scientists request volunteer assistance.

Herbarium

The Morton Arboretum’s Herbarium is a library of 176,000 collected and preserved plant, tree, seed, and wood specimens from accessioned plants and collected plants from around the world. Volunteers learn to collect, process, record, enter data, and mount specimens on acid-free paper. Regular weekday shifts between three and four hours are asked of Herbarium volunteers. This is an outstanding way to learn about plant collections.

Laboratory

Tree roots tell a story about soil conditions and are indicators of tree health. Lab assistants sort tree roots, and measure and scan samples electronically. Future opportunities may be open in other research areas.

We invite people to the Arboretum’s beautiful landscapes, for entertainment with open-air concerts or a twilight walk to celebrate the summer solstice.

Other special events include the participation of hundreds of volunteers at the Fall Color 5K Run, the annual Arbor Day Weekend Plant Sale, or a weekend of events during Fall Color Festival. Seasonal opportunities throughout the year involve many special event volunteers.

Arbor Day Plant Sale

The last Friday in April is Arbor Day, a special celebration at the Arboretum. Hundreds of volunteers participate in the presale pick-up and walk-in plant sales. Proceeds from this three-day sale of perennial plants, trees, and bushes are a major source of revenue for the Arboretum.

Fall Color Festival

With trees from around the world, the Arboretum is a popular place to enjoy fall color. The Arboretum kicks off the Fall Color Festival with a Fall Color 5K Run, with volunteers assisting in a variety of roles prior to, during, and after the race. For five weekends in October, the Arboretum entertains Fall Color Festival visitors with activities that require much volunteer support.

Front-line volunteers make Arboretum guests feel glad they are here.

People who like to work with people may enjoy assisting at the Visitor Center Information Desk, the Sterling Morton Library, The Arboretum Store, as a Group Tours Greeter, in Membership Sales, as a Docent leading horticultural walks, in the Children’s Garden, or as a trained problem-solver in the Plant Clinic.

The Arboretum Store

This beautiful retail store entices and delights guests with seasonal merchandise and nature-themed goods. Volunteers work with staff members to keep merchandise organized, welcome and help customers, and assist in the stockroom to prepare merchandise for display and sale.

Bike Patrol

The Arboretum allows bicycling on all paved roads, year-round, whenever the grounds are open. Bike Patrol members, trained in First Aid and provided with radios, supplement security staff in patrolling roads, assisting bicyclists, and providing information to those new to biking at the Arboretum.

Trail Patrol

Sixteen miles of trails wind through the East and West Sides of the Arboretum. Trail Patrol volunteers, trained in First Aid and provided with communications radios, walk the trails and provide extra security for guests on high visitation days. This position requires volunteers to walk on mostly mulched chip trails for a period of three to four hours. Volunteer shifts are scheduled by security rangers.

Central Area Volunteers

If you like to meet and greet people and have a good familiarity with the Arboretum, this would be a good spot for you. Central Area Volunteers orient guests to the Visitor Center area, Maze Garden, paved walking paths, activities of the day, and directions to other locations. Whenever there are busy days, we like to have a Central Area Volunteer greeting newcomers to the Arboretum.

Docents

These volunteers guide drop-in guest walks through interesting areas of the Arboretum, such as the Groundcover Garden or the Conifer Walk. Docents also plan special walks, designing creative scripts for the Ice Age Walk or the Summer Solstice Walk, for example. Although many Docents are graduates of Arboretum certificate programs, the Arboretum also welcomes individuals with special training or experience with plants and trees.

Children’s Garden

The Arboretum’s award-winning four-acre Children’s Garden has seven different areas for children ages 2 to 11 to explore and experience hands-on learning about trees and nature. Volunteers are trained in First Aid, use a security radio, are familiar with horticulture in the garden, and provide customer service. Volunteers monitor for safety and assist staff with programming in the Children’s Garden.

Group Tour Greeter

From the time their tour bus pulls up to the entrance until the time the bus leaves, guests are in the capable hands of a group tour greeter. Groups are welcomed, oriented to the Visitor Center and the Central Area, guided to their activities (a Docent walk, Tram Tour or luncheon), and assisted as needed by these special Arboretum ambassadors.

Membership Sales

During the busiest times, Membership Sales staff need help processing paperwork for new memberships and are extremely helpful in answering questions for guests. Many guests join the Arboretum on their very first visit!

Plant Clinic

Volunteers who are Master Gardeners, or graduates of one of the Arboretum’s certificate programs (Landscape Plants, Home Gardening, or Naturalist Certificate) are invited to apply to this special area. Plant Clinic volunteers advise on plant identification, care, diseases, or choosing trees for the home landscape. The Arboretum’s Plant Clinic offers advice to phone callers and walk-ins.

Sterling Morton Library

Library volunteers read shelves, shelve books, assist with research, and assist the library staff with other projects and events sponsored by the library.

Visitor Center Information Desk

Working with staff members, these volunteers answer questions of all kinds, direct guests to Arboretum locations and events, assist with ticket sales and membership sales, and are front-line customer service experts. Knowledge of the Arboretum and the ability to use a computer is essential, but other customer service areas can be learned on the job.

Behind the scenes, volunteers assist with clerical projects, data entry, last-minute needs, or projects requiring their specialized skills or talents.

Office Assistance

Volunteers do many tasks to assist departments in functioning more efficiently. Data processing, filing, organizing, copying, sending mailings, or being “on call” for last-minute projects are just a few. Conducting marketing surveys, assisting at Ginkgo Restaurant special events, registering seminar or donor event attendees, assembling packets, or taking inventories are several other areas in which volunteers have helped staff.

Service Learning or Unpaid Internships

The Morton Arboretum offers a paid, institutional summer internship to students who are interested in pursuing a career in a public garden or arboretum.

We often hear from college or graduate students looking for experience to include on a resume, in a portfolio, or as a requirement for “field experience” or a practicum in an academic course. Combining staff needs and expertise with students who are willing to volunteer to meet their academic requirements has been done successfully with diverse departments. Contact the Volunteer Office to discuss how we can work together to benefit you and the Arboretum in this way.