Frequently asked questions


Why did the Arboretum need to create a Master Plan?
After two major disasters, Hurricane Ike in 2008 and a severe drought in 2011, the Arboretum lost 50% of its tree canopy and suffered subsequent encroachment of invasive species. These significant events made apparent a pre-existing condition of poor ecological health. In addition to these natural challenges, our educational programming has outgrown the current building on the Arboretum property, which was built in 1967 and expanded in the mid-1990s.
The goal of the Master Plan is twofold – to establish healthy habitats based on historical ecological conditions and to accommodate the steady growth in the number of visitors and demand for our educational programming.

What changes can I expect to see?
• Restoration of the existing landscape, including removal of invasive understory plants, establishment of woodland areas, an increase in more resilient prairie and savanna habitats, and the addition of new wetland areas
• A new entrance off of the 610 loop in addition to the existing entrance off of Woodway Drive
• Triple the amount of visitor parking
• Upgrades to the existing trail system, including new interpretive signage and educational Field Stations
• An Ecosystem Management Center to house our conservation operations
• A new administrative building for staff and volunteers
• Renovation of the existing education building
• A state-of-the-art nature playscape

When will construction begin?
In preparation for restoration and construction, clearing of invasive understory plants is already underway. Construction on the first portion of the Master Plan, including two new looped roads, additional parking, and educational wetlands, is expected to begin by early summer of 2017.

How are the improvements being funded?
The Arboretum’s board and staff have launched a capital campaign, ‘Where the Wild Things Grow,’ chaired by board members Winifred Kelsey Riser and David Andrew. We are seeking funds from foundations, corporations, individuals, and public sources.

How can I get updates?
Check our website, follow us on social media, or sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on the status of the Master Plan.

How can I help?
The best way to help is to donate to our capital campaign. Besides donating, you can also join in as a volunteer. If you are interested in getting a hands on experience please visit the volunteer page of our website to find out more.


What do you mean by restoration?
The word restoration is often associated with returning something to its original condition. While we recognize that we cannot take our landscape back to a specific time in history, we can use past ecological information and current conditions to guide us as we work to rehabilitate an area that is rebounding from the effects of multiple natural disasters. Our focus is on restoring ecological function. If the landscape is functioning well ecologically then it will be more sustainable and resilient to future stresses. As a whole it will be a healthier ecosystem.

What is a healthy habitat?
Healthy habitats are biodiverse, sustainable, and more resilient to extreme environmental conditions. A healthy habitat allows its inhabitants to thrive by providing food sources, shelter, and a place to raise young. Healthy habitats also offer a variety of ecosystem services for both people and wildlife such as cleaning water and air, reducing erosion and flooding, regulating temperature and much more.

What changes will be made to the landscape?
The main habitats that will undergo restoration and enhancements are prairie, savanna, woodland and riparian ecosystems:
Prairie and Savanna

  • Unhealthy woodland areas located on historical prairie soils will be converted to prairie and savanna. Many trees in these locations have already died due to previous major weather events. Invasive species will be removed and replaced with more resilient grasses and wildflowers.


  • Existing woodland areas will be restored by removing the invasive understory and allowing desirable species like pines and oaks to regenerate. More diverse tree species and shrubs will be planted to add to the biodiversity of the system.
  • A healthy understory of grasses and wildflowers will be established.


  • Riparian areas will be planted with diversity trees to reduce erosion and enhance water quality as well as biodiversity and habitat.

How will you monitor habitat improvement?
Our goal is to acquire baseline information before habitat change has occurred and then continue to collect data in the same locations to show the changes over time. As part of our monitoring program, we have established random plots throughout the Arboretum to track these changes. We anticipate an increase in both plant and wildlife diversity.

Who was involved in the planning, and what research was done to support their conclusions?
Proposed changes to the landscape are based on the research and planning of an integrated team of designers, ecologists, master arborists, engineers, historians and interpretation specialists. A significant portion of the Master Plan process was dedicated to extensive site analysis and listening to the needs and concerns of the Arboretum and its stakeholders. Historical ecological conditions, current site conditions and capacity, as well as the future vision for the Arboretum informed the design team’s proposed restoration plan.

What would happen if we just left it alone?
Historically, local ecosystems were managed and maintained by natural disturbances, such as grazing animals and fires. When these natural disturbances happen on a small scale, habitats become more resilient and can handle larger events, such as storms and droughts, more successfully. Modern urbanization has led to fire suppression, lack of grazers, and a reduction in small scale disturbances in many of our natural areas. Without these natural disturbances, areas that were historically open grasslands or healthy forests have become crowded with trees and shrubs. Because we have limited these natural disturbances, humans are needed “mimic” the effects of grazers and fire in order to keep the environment healthy.

What is a prairie, savanna, woodland, wetland and riparian ecosystem?

  • Prairie is a grassland dominated system with few or no trees.
  • Savanna is a primarily grassland system with some trees either well-spaced or in clusters.
  • Woodland is dominated by trees and shrubs with some grasslands in open areas.
  • Wetlands occur in all of the Arboretum’s four primary habitats and are areas that are saturated for long periods of time and support aquatic vegetation and other biological life.

Will any trees be removed?
Yes. In areas that are going to be converted from unhealthy woodland to prairie and savanna, trees will need to be removed to allow enough sunlight to support a healthy grassland. In woodland and riparian areas, many trees will be planted to increase woodland health and diversity. A rigorous assessment was conducted to determine which trees should be kept and which trees should be removed. The criteria for selecting trees for removal included: topography, soil type, species, age, size, health, spacing and location. The landscape helped inform the restoration process while small micro-topographic differences on the site called pimples and dimples informed the vegetation. Trees are better suited for the sandier pimples and grasses thrive in the lower lying clay soils of the dimples. Trees that will be removed will be re-purposed for use by the Houston Arboretum.

What is a pilot area and why are pilot areas necessary?
Before starting large scale, site-wide restoration, we wanted to find out which restoration methods would work best at the Arboretum. To test this, we created both a woodland and a savanna pilot area. These pilot areas will allow us to evaluate landscape changes on a smaller scale. We are currently testing the suitability of planted native grasses and flowers, irrigation strategies and soil amendments. The results will be used to inform future landscaping at both the Houston Arboretum and Memorial Park.

Visitor Amenities:

Will parking be easier when the project is complete?
Yes! Over the last decade, programming and events at the Arboretum have grown considerably and we know that parking, particularly on the weekends, is a huge challenge. Once both looped entrance roads are complete, we will have tripled the amount of available parking, making it easier for both regular visitors and event participants to access the Arboretum.

What facility improvements can I expect to see?

  • New Administrative Building that will contain staff offices, meeting rooms, and a space for our volunteers.
  • New Conservation Center to house our conservation operations.
  • Renovated Nature Center that will increase available classroom space so we can add new programs and reach even more students.

What about the nature playground?
Our old nature playground was built after Hurricane Ike led to the loss of several very large trees just behind our building. The 610 Entrance and Parking Loop now occupy that area, but not to worry – we are creating a larger and much more interactive space just on the other side of the Nature Center building. The new Nature Playscape will highlight Arboretum habitats through a variety of discovery areas that invite hands-on exploration by guests of all ages. Your favorite elements – log hill, rope climb, and digging areas – will be part of the new experience, but will be accompanied by more spaces to balance, build, tunnel, and explore. In the meantime, please visit the new Willow Oak Playground on the east side of the Nature Center building near the Willow Oak Trail. Construction of the new Nature Playscape is expected to begin in early 2020.

For questions regarding the master plan, please contact Christine Mansfield, Marketing & Development Associate, at 713-366-0426 or by email at