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Season's 1st plant sale and a 'Walk in the Woods with Chemistry'

By Dave Jones on October 5, 2015 in University News

As UC Davis’ biggest and most versatile classroom, the arboretum was made for weekends like this: a plant sale on Saturday, offering lessons in drought-tolerant landscaping; and “Walking in the Woods with Chemistry” on Sunday, launching an exhibit that will run through Dec. 7.

Plant sale — This is the first of three sales this fall, all of them  celebrating 10 years of the Arboretum All-Stars, a collection of arboretum-tested plants that make for attractive, easy-care landscapes with low water needs.

“It’s an anniversary worth noting not just because it’s been a decade, but because of the impact the plants and overall program have had on the improvement in sustainability of our landscapes,” Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture, wrote in the latest edition of the arboretum’s newsletter.

Sale hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 10) at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery (it’s across from the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital on Garrod Drive, south of La Rue Road).

As usual with the first sale of the season, the first two hours are reserved for members of Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. You’re welcome to join at the gate or you can call ahead, (530) 752-4880; all members receive a 10 percent discount on plant purchases, and each new member also receives a $10-off coupon. The sale is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This season's other sales are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 14 (clearance sale), both open to the public, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More information about the arboretum's fall plant sales, including inventory.

Walking in the Woods with Chemistry — Brought to you by Dean Tantillo, professor of chemistry; Philipp Zerbe, assistant professor of plant biology; and Nhu Nguyen, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate.

The opening event, billed as a talk and tour, is set for 1 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 11) at the arboretum gazebo. Admission is free and open to the public, with all ages welcome.

Walking in the Woods with Chemistry is about molecules produced by plants, and how we use those molecules in our daily lives and how those molecules have inspired research at UC Davis and other universities.

The exhibit explores such questions as: Have you ever wondered what makes up the flavor of your wine? Or how a plant can cure cancer? What the smell is in your perfume? Or how a tree defends itself?

The exhibit comprises 13 molecules in multiple locations in the arboretum (see box). Each site includes a model of a molecule that comes from a nearby plant, and a sign identifying the molecule and its uses. Each sign also has a QR code leading you to more information.

The model-making started on a computer, using the same programs the researchers use in their labs, and ended with the models coming out of a 3-D printer. Each one is identified by Braille type.

‘The (bio)chemistry behind it all’

All of the molecules in the exhibit are also known as metabolites, which describes molecules that are part of biosynthetic pathways, i.e., the formation of chemical compounds by groups of enzymes.

Zerbe, who identified plants of interest for the exhibition, said: “My great motivation to join Dean and Nhu in this project is that we use plant-derived metabolites every day, but rarely recognize this fact. The arboretum is a fantastic place to showcase just how much our daily life depends on plants, and how researchers at UC Davis work together to better understand the (bio)chemistry behind it all.”

Tantillo and Zerbe described Nguyen as the “mastermind” behind “Walking in the Woods with Chemistry,” and she in turn credited Elaine Fingerett, the arboretum’s academic coordinator, for welcoming the idea and helping to make the project a reality.

Nguyen did her undergraduate studies at UC Davis, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in the spring of 2012 and then joining Tantillo’s lab in the fall.

“Art has always been a big part of my life, and I hope this project illustrates a place where art meets science, as well as offering a glimpse into the many connections between science and nature,” Nguyen said.

She’s no stranger to the arboretum, having been on campus since 2008. On her walks and bike rides, she said, she’s collected “an arboretum photo collection that I’m very proud of.”

Tantillo also is on familiar ground: “This exhibit allows me to combine my interests in trees, molecules they produce and walking through the woods.”

Read more about the exhibit and the process of identifying the molecules and making the models.

Tantillo Group (theoretical organic chemistry)

Zerbe Group (unraveling plant metabolic diversity for improved human well-being)

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Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,