Planting for Biodiversity

June 1, 2017

All the planet’s living organisms account for its biodiversity.  When we talk about biodiversity at Mount Auburn, we are referring to all the plants and animals that can be found within our urban wildlife refuge. Our plant community includes 5,000 trees (640 different species and cultivars), 6,000 shrub plantings (600 taxa), 4,000 groundcover plantings (770 taxa). The wildlife populations present at Mount Auburn include aquatic amphibians, reptiles, and fish populations; terrestrial amphibians and reptiles; migratory and breeding birds; urban bat populations; and ants, bees, and other insect pollinators.

Planting for biodiversity is not new at Mount Auburn. Oakes I. Ames, president of Mount Auburn Cemetery from 1934 to 1963, understood the significance of Mount Auburn’s landscape and its horticultural collections in providing necessary food and shelter for wildlife. A birder and a horticulturist, he advocated that the Cemetery plant species of fruiting trees and shrubs that would be visually interesting while also providing food for the birds:

… Not forgotten in the planting programs are trees and shrubs that provide food or protection for the wild birds. To the bird lover no area in the general vicinity of Boston holds greater attraction, particularly during the migration of the warblers in May. The plentiful supply of food, water, and natural cover provide an ideal place of refuge. Its attractiveness to both the bird and man is enhanced by the purposeful planting of dogwoods, flowering crabs and cherries, shadblows, mountain ashes, mulberries, hawthorns, birches, hollies, viburnums, honeysuckles, blueberries, barberries, bay berries, red cedars, hemlocks, pines, berry-bearing ground covers, and other favorites. A section in the undeveloped area has been especially planted for the birds and is allowed to grow wild, but the whole cemetery is maintained as a sanctuary…
Oakes Ames, 1950s

In the 1990s a new and more concerted effort to improve the Cemetery’s ecological health began with the restoration of Consecration Dell. This ambitious project, a work-in-progress for now more than twenty years, has returned a 4-acre natural amphitheater from a thicket of invasive Norway Maples to a lush woodland planted with species native  to the New England forest, more indicative of how this area would have appeared at the time of Mount Auburn’s founding.  From the start, an important project consideration has been to improve the habitat value of this beloved part of Mount Auburn, especially for a species of spotted salamanders that breed in the Dell’s vernal pool.  In addition to its work at Consecration Dell, the Cemetery has completed projects to improve the health of its three ponds, added a wildflower meadow to its highest summit, and incorporated shrubs and herbaceous perennials with habitat value in pockets located throughout the historic landscape.   These various projects have been informed by the work of researchers who have documented the existing flora and fauna and identified what is missing from an ideal ecosystem.

Mount Auburn completes landscape improvement projects for a variety of reasons: creating new burial space, restoring significant historic landscapes, and adding new ornamental gardens in the areas that attract the most visitors.  By taking measures to improve water and soil quality and selecting plants that provide wildlife with food and shelter while also adding visual interest to the landscape, the Cemetery can continue the work it has already completed to increase the overall health of its ecosystem while also fulfilling its other goals.

LEARN MORE about Mount Auburn’s efforts to improve biodiversity:  

> Willow Pond Rain Garden

> Willow Pond Butterfly Garden


Learn more about Mount Auburn’s institution-wide commitment to ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP


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