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Arboretum celebrating some tall ‘Tales’

The Bur Oak Clubhouse is one six tree houses featured MortArboretum’s “Tree House Tales” exhibit running June 15 through fall

The Bur Oak Clubhouse is one of six tree houses featured in the Morton Arboretum’s “Tree House Tales” exhibit running June 15 through fall of 2013 in Lisle. | Photo courtesy of Morton Arboretum

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‘Tree House Tales’

♦ Through Fall 2013

♦ Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois 53, Lisle

♦ Admission: $12 for adults; $9 for kids 2 to 17

♦ (630) 968-7400;

Updated: June 14, 2012 5:27PM

The Morton Arboretum will be spinning some tall — but true — tales for the next year and a half thanks to “Tree House Tales” opening June 15 at the Lisle nature haven.

This exhibit is a follow-up of sorts to the arboretum’s popular 2004 tree house exhibit.

“We really want to continue to engage families with children,” said Anamari Dorgan, head of visitor experience. “So we thought one of the greatest ways to do that was to have another tree houses exhibition; however, one of the critical differences is that we’re also focusing on the stories the trees themselves have to tell. So each one of the structures — there are six structures, they’re all ground level for safety reasons, of course. Each one of the structures is related to an element of the tree itself and it connects to, for example, the history, the culture and the botany of the tree itself.”

Another critical difference is the set-up and duration of this exhibit, which has two phases. Six tree houses will go on display this year, all grouped in an area that’s about a four-block walk from the visitor’s center. Next summer four more tree houses will be added in a grouping a couple of blocks away from the first “village.”

The idea, Dorgan said, is to encourage exploration of nature by walking through it. The 2004 exhibit featured many more tree houses that were spread throughout the arboretum, and visitors had to drive from grouping to another. This set-up alleviates the need to drive.

Arboretum staff worked closely with museum design firm Taylor Studios in Rantoul, Ill., to create the six interactive, durable structures, which Taylor built and installed. Choosing the trees to showcase proved to be the biggest challenge, Dorgan said.

“It was really tough,” she said. “As you can imagine, there’s a lot of trees to pick from. And there were so many stories. We probably had a list of 20 or 30 trees with really intriguing stories to start off.”

The arboretum’s in-house curator of collections and exhibit developer helped to whittle the list down to 10, with tree location factoring into the choices as well.

“We didn’t want to scatter them everywhere,” she said. “So we ended up picking six trees in a similar area. They’re all visible from one another.”

This summer families can explore the Dogwood Doghouse, the White Oak Cabin, the Silver Maple Factory, the Bur Oak Clubhouse, the Empress Tree Castle and the White Pine Ship. Each tree house is built near the tree it represents and provides clues about its identity and information about its story. Dorgan predicted that the castle and ship tree houses will be popular and inspire imaginative play.

The whole idea is to make interacting with trees and nature a fun and personal experience.

“Personal is definitely the key word here,” Dorgan said. “You know, trees are really woven into the history and culture of people around the world. It’s very easy for us to take them for granted. So we really want to bring back that opportunity to the forefront to connect personally to the tree. Get to know a little bit about it, maybe think about it a bit differently or recognize it on your own block or the next time you’re out for a walk in the arboretum or somewhere else.”

Special programming will complement the exhibit. Opening weekend includes the Father’s Day barbecue from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 16-17 in the visitor’s center area, a Family Twilight Adventure (for kids younger than 10 with parents, 6 to 8 p.m. June 15, July 14 and 27, Aug. 18; $19 per person; preregistration required) and tram tours that focus on the tree tales. Also, docents will answer questions and oversee hands-on activities at the tree houses from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, June 16- Aug. 29.


♦ Chagall for Children, composed of 14 multisensory exploration stations based on Marc Chagall’s works, opens June 18 at Kohl Children’s Museum, 2100 Patriot Drive in Glenview. It runs through Sept. 2. Admission is $9.50. Call (847) 832-6600 or visit

♦ The 26th annual Scottish Festival & Highland Games takes place from 4 to 10 p.m. June 15 and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 16 at Hamilton Lakes, Interstate 290 and Thorndale in Itasca. Admission is $20 for adults both days, free for kids younger than 12 on Friday and $5 on Saturday for kids 3 to 12. Call (708) 447-5092 or visit

Jennifer Burklow is a local free-lance writer.

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