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Hempfield program highlights need for urban tree diversity

| Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, 8:24 p.m.
Cynthia Morton examines specimens during her work for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
Westmoreland Woodlands Improvement Association
Cynthia Morton examines specimens during her work for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

The importance of tree genetics in conserving urban forests will be discussed at a Jan. 18 program hosted by the Westmoreland Woodlands Improvement Association.

Cynthia Morton, a researcher with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, will lead the program at 6:30 p.m. in the Westmoreland Conservation District barn, behind the Donohoe Center at 218 Donohoe Road in Hempfield.

A botanist who holds a doctorate in biology, Morton has worked internationally to collect tree specimens for analysis and has investigated the genetics of trees in parks and nurseries.

In a 2008 study, Morton and Phil Gruszka, director of horticulture and forestry at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, found that London plane trees already in place in the Pittsburgh area had a far greater level of genetic diversity than samples of the same species available from three commercial nurseries. They concluded that the nursery industry has been selectively cloning to produce new trees.

“While cloning trees is in itself a benign practice, doing so on a mass scale can drastically reduce the genetic diversity of urban forests,” Morton said.

Morton will discuss a study she and Gruszka completed last year, comparing cultivated red maple trees with ones growing in the wild, and similar state-funded studies of holly.

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, urban forests can reduce summer cooling costs, sequester carbon, intercept airborne pollutants and reduce stormwater runoff. In the United States, these forests are estimated to contain about 3.8 billion trees valued at $2.4 trillion, the association notes. Billions of public and private dollars are spent annually on the trees and their management.

Admission to the program is free for association members and those with a current student ID. There is a $5 charge for all others. Call 724-837-5271 by Monday to register.

Light refreshments will be served, with a social time beginning at 6 p.m. Visit for more information.

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