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The Morton Arboretum has promoted Senior Scientist Gary Watson, Ph.D., to head of research, overseeing the Arboretum research team that works on best practices related to the planting and conservation of trees.

Morton Arboretum promotes Dr. Gary Watson to head of research

The Morton Arboretum has promoted Senior Scientist Gary Watson, Ph.D., to head of research, overseeing the Arboretum research team that works on best practices related to the planting and conservation of trees.


Watson is responsible for guiding the myriad research projects aligned with the Arboretum’s long-range Strategic Plan objectives. These include upholding a worldwide leadership role in research to advance tree health, tree improvement, woodland conservation, and public appreciation for trees.


“Dr. Watson brings 22 years of valuable experience at the Arboretum to his new position,” according to Gerard Donnelly, Arboretum president and CEO.  “The newly- created Head of Research position enhances Watson’s opportunity to advance the Arboretum’s vision to be the leading center of tree expertise, inspiring the world to plant and protect trees.”


Donnelly noted that Watson’s professional stature reinforces the Arboretum’s leadership role in tree research, and his contributions help the Arboretum serve the public with best practices for tree conservation and planting, supporting greening initiatives in urban and natural areas.


In accepting the appointment, Watson said that a key Arboretum strength is the research team’s diverse array of significant, practical scientific knowledge about trees. 


“We use this diversity to our advantage. Each of us has the opportunity to collaborate within our own department with scientists in varied fields, from experts in soils to tree genetics to forest ecology to entomology and so on, to benefit from each other’s comprehensive knowledge and expertise. That’s not available in many other institutions,” Watson says.


Watson’s role will also include collaboration with other Arboretum departments as well, such as Education and Plant Collections. Interaction and synergy among departments strengthen all Arboretum programs.


Over the long term, Watson sees future research projects focusing on conservation of natural plant communities in the region as well as growing healthier plants in urban and suburban landscapes.  Climate change could impact both significantly. “Greater extremes in weather can affect plants as much as general warming.  Stress resulting from short episodes of severe drought, excessive heat, and excessive cold can determine a plant’s chances for survival,” Watson said.


A world-class scientist with extensive knowledge and experience in tree roots, Watson currently serves on various committees within the International Society of Arboriculture, and is the group’s past president.


He will chair the ISA’s annual conference next year in Chicago, and under the Arboretum’s auspices, has organized three, major symposia that brought together the most distinguished experts on tree roots and soils research from around the globe.


Watson has received eight prestigious awards in his field, serves on the City of Chicago’s Urban Tree Initiative and the Streetscape Committee, and has published


numerous scholarly works.

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