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Press Release: The Morton Arboretum kicks off 100-year anniversary Dec. 14 with yearlong celebration

Please note: Human+Nature has concluded. Look forward to a new exhibition, Of the Earth, opening May 26, 2023.

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LISLE, Ill. (Dec. 2, 2021)—The Morton Arboretum is kicking off its 100th anniversary year by announcing the extension of its popular Human+Nature exhibition through March 2023, and the addition in May of two new large-scale sculptures and a commemorative centennial sculpture by artist Daniel Popper.

The Arboretum’s yearlong centennial celebration will begin on Dec. 14, the date of the Arboretum’s founding in 1922, with free daytime general admission that day for those with tickets reserved in advance on its website at, while available. True to its mission to plant and protect trees, a highlight of the observance during 2022 will be the April launch of the Arboretum’s 1,000-tree Centennial Tree Planting Initiative in the seven-county Chicago region. April of 2022 will be the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, the tree-planting holiday that originated with the Morton family.

“For 100 years, The Morton Arboretum has played an essential role in helping people understand the many benefits of trees, and how to plant and protect them for a sustainable future,” noted Arboretum President and CEO Gerard T. Donnelly, Ph.D. “Trees improve people’s lives and contribute to their wellbeing. They beautify communities and make them more livable. The Arboretum gives people the opportunity to connect with trees, appreciate them and experience their myriad benefits.”

Also highly anticipated as part of the centennial observance will be the opening of a lush, colorful new feature, The Grand Garden, in September. Construction began in June 2021 on the 2-acre garden designed to showcase the beauty and diversity of plants and create meaningful gathering spaces for people. The $16.5 million garden will be funded with philanthropic gifts covering development costs and endowment funding for its continued care and maintenance, with $14.2 million already raised.

One hundred programs and events are planned throughout the centennial year, including children’s activities and adult classes. Tram tours will incorporate historical references. Since the 1940s, when May Theilgaard Watts became the first full-time educator at The Morton Arboretum, nature education has been central to engaging people of all ages in hands-on experiences at the tree-focused botanical garden.

Growing Strong 
Founded by Morton Salt business magnate Mr. Joy Morton in 1922, the Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, west of Chicago, has grown from the original 175-acre site on his country estate to 1,700 acres of tree collections, gardens and natural landscapes. By the time of Morton’s passing in 1934, the Arboretum held the most diverse collection of woody plants in the region and had established a botanical library and herbarium.

Since then, the plant collections, scientific research, conservation initiatives and education and outreach programs of the Arboretum have grown to establish it as one of the world’s most influential botanical organizations. Further, it has become a global center of tree science and conservation.

Donnelly said the impact of the Arboretum is also particularly evident in the seven-county Chicago region through trees planted in parkways, yards, parks and other locations. “Tree varieties developed and tested at the Arboretum have been widely planted in local communities,” he said, adding that as a founding partner of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, the Arboretum extends its influence into under-resourced neighborhoods where work is underway to improve tree canopies and environmental equity through the many benefits that trees provide.

While the Arboretum has been known throughout its history for its tree science and educational leadership, it has also grown to become one of the state’s most popular cultural organizations and attractions, welcoming more than 1 million visitors each year. Donnelly explained, “In order to build the Arboretum’s core capacities in tree science and conservation, it was essential to expand and engage a public audience that would value and support its growth in these areas.”

That public engagement has included the addition of special exhibitions such as Troll Hunt and Human+Nature, a 4-acre Children’s Garden and Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, now in its ninth year, which has become one of the nation’s most popular winter light exhibitions.

Donnelly explained that these popular offerings are designed to highlight the importance of trees, and to educate and involve new generations to become tree champions. “The Arboretum’s work to study, plant and protect trees is more relevant and urgent than at any time in its history due to threats such as climate change and the proliferation of invasive species and pests,” Donnelly said. “We want to ensure that there are mature, resilient trees providing benefits to people and ecosystems for generations to come.”