Awbury Arboretum GIS Tree Inventory

“The Awbury Arboretum Landscape Historic District…is one of the few historic districts in Philadelphia where designed landscapes are significant contributing features of the district. …[W]ell-known landscape architects, including William Saunders and Arthur Cowell…create[d] a landscape intended to echo the English countryside…Consequently, Awbury accumulated a wide variety of Victorian-era plants…Managing a tree collection is a daunting task…In the spring of 2012 it became clear to the Awbury Arboretum Landscape Committee that accurate mapping of the arboretum and its trees was a necessary predicate to landscape planning and restoration efforts, and managing the maintenance of Awbury’s aging trees.”   -Mark Sellers, Awbury Arboretum Board Chair

Before this project started in 2012, the most recent inventory of the 3000-or-so trees in the Arboretum was done in 2000. That inventory was based on hand-drawn maps and had never been updated. LDCP worked with the Awbury Arboretum Landscape Committee to design a new tree survey and database that can serve both maintenance and collections needs. We studied systems used by several comparable arboreta and botanic gardens and designed a process and a database specific to Awbury’s plant collection. So far the project has succeeded in identifying and locating over 2400 trees. Using a geographical positioning system (GPS) a survey team collects the initial data on each tree: latitude/longitude coordinates, elevation, diameter at breast height, stem count, and general condition.  Each tree is labeled with an embossed tag—to be replaced by a radio frequency (RF) tag in 2013. The canopy is plotted–by survey for specimen trees and from aerial photographs for other areas. The GPS team is then followed by a horticultural team that collects more detailed botanical and condition information. All the data is linked to maps via a geographic information system (GIS) for use in planning efforts, interpretation for visitors, and programs.

Comparison of survey data with historical maps has already helped to confirm some anecdotal and conjectural aspects of the landscape’s history.

The project received a 2013 Preservation Achievement Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia.


  • Project Management and Database: Levy DiCarlo Partners
  • Plant Identification: Denis Lucey, Landscape Manager, Awbury Arboretum and volunteers Awbury Arboretum Landscape Committee Volunteers
  • Surveying & Mapping: Professor Susan Lucas, Department of Geography & Urban Planning, Temple University, and Student Interns
  • Arm-twisting and Leadership: Mark Sellers, Board Chair
  • Software & Hardware: ESRI ArcGIS; Trimble Geo XT backpack GPS, related surveying equipment & software (donated by Keystone Precision Instruments, Inc., Allentown, PA)

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