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A 'living museum'

New London— A living museum for research and public enjoyment.

That's what Docent Lydia Pan called the Connecticut College arboretum as she led a tour Sunday morning of its native plants.

Pan said that when the arboretum opened in 1931, it was unusual as it featured native flora instead of more exotic plants. The term "native" refers to plants found in the eastern part of the country.

Pan first told the 15 people on the tour about the American Elm tree that greeted them at the entrance. Susceptible to Dutch elm disease, she said there is an ongoing effort to restore the tree.

Pan took the group to see the many assets of the arboretum — the wildflower garden, wetlands and pond. Throughout the tour, Pan emphasized the importance of biodiversity.

She stressed the importance of preserving the diversity of plants.

A lack of diversity is what makes invasive pests all the more threatening. At the wildflower garden, Pan pointed out ash trees that were damaged from emerald ash borers, an invasive pest that has wiped out ash trees all over the state and New England.

"Diversity is resilience," said Pan at the end of the tour. "There's always change and it is driven by various things. Once something is gone, an optimist hopes something will replace them."

Before it was an arboretum, the land was partially a red pine plantation which succumbed to damage caused by scales, an insect. The college then created the arboretum.

Pan said some native trees are becoming rare, especially as climate change and extreme weather cause "a shift in the range of native plants." 

Rosemary Lauden, a Groton resident, said she enjoys seeing what lives at the arboretum: the flowers, the birds and plants, and attending events with the docents.

"It's always a rich experience for someone interested in plants like me," she said. "You can never stop learning."

At times sharing her own experiences with plants and trees with Pan and those on the tour, Lauden said she knows so much about plants because she has always been around them. Named after the herb, she said her parents grew and sold herbs before she was born and eventually became writers for a publication called The Herb Grower.

George Culbreth of Waterford said he found out about Sunday's tour through his membership with the arboretum. He said he visits once or twice each month, sometimes to picnic with friends. 

A freshman at Connecticut College, Sabilah Alibhai of Virgina, could be seen holding up her phone often throughout the tour. One might assume she was taking pictures but she was often using an app to identify plants. Alibhai said she is undecided for her major but, considering herself a plant lover, she plans on choosing botany.

"The arboretum was part of the reason why I chose Conn [Connecticut College]," she said, as she is interested in the internships and jobs the arboretum has to offer.

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Connecticut College Arboretum Docent Lydia Pan's name.

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