UC Santa Cruz Arboretum marks 50th Anniversary with Sept. 20 Jubilee

Celebration and fundraiser will feature music, food, and wine, plus live and silent auctions, tours of the gardens, and more


Jessica Fiske Bailey, executive director of the Arboretum. (Photos by Carolyn Lagattuta)


New signs with information about the gardens are among the improvements designed to enhance the visitor experience at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum.


Grevilleas are among the showy flowers visitors will find in the Arboretum's gardens.

The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum will celebrate its first 50 years and raise funds for the future at the 50th Anniversary Jubilee and Fundraiser on Sunday, September 20. Tickets for the event, which will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Australian Rock Garden and Picnic Area, are available online.

The Jubilee will feature live music by local star James Durbin and bluegrass band Jimmy Chickenpants; food and wine; live and silent auctions; garden tours; and presentations honoring long-serving Arboretum staff and volunteers. Fred Keeley, former state assemblyman and county treasurer who is currently leading an effort to establish an open space district in Santa Cruz County, will be the emcee and auctioneer.

"This is an opportunity to celebrate our storied past, raise funds to support student workers at the Arboretum, and honor some of the people who have been so important in our development, who actually planted the plants that are now such lovely specimens," said Jessica Fiske Bailey, executive director of the Arboretum. "We're excited to have Fred Keeley here and to highlight the Arboretum's place in the open space community."


The honorees will include Brett Hall, director of collections and conservation, who has worked at the Arboretum for over 40 years, and longtime volunteers Phyllis Norris and Marie Beckham. Together they represent over 115 years of dedicated service to the UCSC Arboretum.

"I have a hard time imagining my life in Santa Cruz County without the Arboretum," Beckham said. "Not only have I had the great joy of seeing the gardens grow into a place of peace and beauty, but I've also had the great pleasure of working with the dedicated, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable staff."

Those who have not visited the Arboretum recently will discover new signs in the gardens, a new patio area around Norrie's gift shop, and other improvements designed to enhance the visitor experience. A total of 12 new informational signs are being installed in the gardens explaining what kinds of plants are growing in each garden, with information about biodiversity, Mediterranean climates, and other topics. A gift from the late Rosemary Raphael, an Arboretum volunteer and longtime supporter, provided funding for the signs.

"It's basic signage we've been needing for ages to make this wonderful collection more accessible to the public," said Hall.

Faculty research

Another new sign that has been popular with visitors, funded in part by a donation from Jean Langenheim, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, highlights the work of UC Santa Cruz scientists who have research projects in or relating to the Arboretum.

"We are reaching out to new audiences and strengthening our connections to the campus as a resource for research and education," Bailey said. "Our first fifty years was about building the collections, and now the focus is on making those collections more accessible and getting the word out about how much the Arboretum has to offer to both the campus and the wider community."

The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum got its start with a gift to the campus of rare and unusual eucalyptus trees in 1964. Founding Chancellor Dean McHenry was an enthusiastic supporter and worked closely with the Arboretum's founding director, Ray Collett. Over the past 50 years, the collections have grown to include a wide range of rare, extraordinary, and beautiful plants. They include:

  • The world's largest collection of Australian plants outside of Australia
  • The world's largest collection of Dudleya species (a type of succulent)
  • One of the largest collections of New Zealand plants outside of New Zealand
  • An important conifer collection used for research and conservation
  • A growing collection of California native flora

These collections are a valuable resource for biodiversity conservation efforts and botanical research. In addition, the UCSC Arboretum has introduced many popular new horticultural varieties to California gardeners over the years.

Now covering 149 acres, the gardens host more than 20,000 visitors annually. Visitors enjoy not only an impressive botanical spectacle, but also an abundance of birds and other wildlife attracted to the site.

Funds raised at the 50th Anniversary Jubilee will be used to support student workers at the Arboretum. Several current student workers will be recognized for their contributions and share stories about their projects.

For more information about this event, contact the UCSC Arboretum at (831) 502-2998.