Arboretum offers multiple volunteer opportunities


Britni Petitt / Clarion

The UW-Madison Arboretum offers volunteer opportunities for those interested in seeing what working with plants in an outdoor setting is like.

Britton Downing, Contributor

Susan Carpenter is the UW-Madison Arboretum’s native plant gardener and is in charge of coordinating volunteer opportunities in the gardens. This is no small task. The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum website states “The UW–Madison Arboretum is an outdoor ecological laboratory. The advancement of ecological science is an important part of our mission, integrated with land stewardship and education.”

Even though Carpenter is not responsible for the management of the entire Arboretum, the Native Plant garden is a reflection of the rest of the property and plays a very important role in our understanding of indigenous plant species in Wisconsin.

On this particular day the volunteers were collecting seeds that are used for future restoration work at the Arboretum. Mostly growing on the perimeter of the Dry Limestone Prairie and the Rain Garden, the two species that were being collected were Indian Grass (Sorghastrum Nutans) and Rosinweed (Silphium Integrifolium).

Neither one of these plants are very showy but that does not diminish their value. Both plants can be used for erosion control, restoration work, and to create habitats for pollinators. The collection method was simple; volunteers collected seeds by hand that were labeled with their species, date, and collection point. Although seed collection is end of season work, this workday was just capping off a rich season of outdoor gardening that lasts from March until the gardens begin dormancy for the winter.

For someone interested in seeing what working with plants in an outdoor setting is like, this is a great entry level opportunity. The Arboretum Native Plant Gardens host between 50 to 70 volunteers per year. Work is done on weekdays, and usually consist of 4 to 8 people and no experience is necessary. Volunteers range from people earning Service-Learning hours, to legacy learners, and one-timers.

Workdays are not scheduled during inclement weather, but this kind of gardening is not a flip flops and tank top work either. Carpenter recommended that volunteers should have long pants, sunscreen, hats, closed toe shoes, bug-spray, and water.

If you are interested in volunteering, contact Judy Kingsbury at UW Madison Arboretum at [email protected],  or you can go to the Arboretum’s website to learn more about other program offering at

Editor’s note: Into the Field is a ocassional feature that explores volunteer opportunities in environmental sciences.