Even the Bayfront grounds and gardens are entering the digital age at The Ringling. TreeKeeper, a tree management software created by Davey Tree, is helping the Grounds and Gardens staff at The Ringling care for the hundreds of trees on the 66-acre campus and share the wealth of botanical knowledge with visitors and anyone with access to the internet.
The first paid Grounds and Gardens Summer Intern, third-year New College student Sydney Clingo, continued the work of logging each individual tree on the museum campus into TreeKeeper. This is an immense task, so for Sydney’s internship, her mentor Karen Smith, curator of the Mable Ringling Rose Garden, decided to begin with all of the trees in an area drawn around the main walk from the Visitor’s Pavilion to Ca’ d’Zan. For each specimen she logs, Sydney takes a photo of the full tree, the bark, a twig, a leaf, and the tree’s acorns or flowers. She also measures the diameter, and uses a special tool called a clinometer to measure the height, and enters this data and the photos into TreeKeeper.
With TreeKeeper, visitors to the museum will eventually be able to answer what Karen says is the number one question she receives out on the grounds: “What is this tree?”
TreeKeeper uses GPS to map the location and displays other basic info of trees. Visitors can use this link on their device to gather information about the trees around them when they visit. “You can not only know what the tree in front of you is, but you can see that there are other specimens or variations on campus,” Karen says. “For instance the Joy Perfume Tree is a yellow-orange near the Ca’ d’Zan, but near The Tibbals Education Center there is a white one, and they each have a different smell.”
The public can also do research at home using TreeKeeper. “Local homeowners will be able to use the Ringling Grounds and Gardens staff expertise by looking at what grows here,” Karen says. “For instance, if they are looking for a palm tree that will only grow 20 feet tall and not a royal palm that can reach 100 feet, they can see the different palm species that grow at The Ringling.”
“For our side,” Karen says as to how TreeKeeper will help the Grounds and Gardens staff, “It’s all about taking care of the tree and visitor safety.” As part of her internship, Sydney learned how to do an assessment of a tree for safety purposes, looking for overhanging branches, learning about the nutrition for the trees, and boring into the trunk for a sample to see the structure of the tree and measure its health.
Sydney studies Agroecology, or sustainable farming, and she took this internship to learn how to identify plants. “Just taking pictures of the trees has helped me become more familiar with the flora and fauna around us. I can go back over to New College and say, that leaf looks like an oak leaf.” To record these new botanical discoveries, Sydney has created a book of pressed flowers and leaves with notes on the species.
Currently, The Ringling is a level one arboretum (an area where trees are grown for education or scientific study). Karen says the goal is to become a level three arboretum, with the planting of more species, more labelling, and educational programs about the many native and exotic species. TreeKeeper is an invaluable tool to help the museum expand its arboreal offerings.
“I hope this will help people see that Ringling is more than just the art,” Sydney shared. “It’s a living museum. People comment all the time on how beautiful the property is, but this tool will help them see how much work goes into it, and will help them learn something new.”