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Arie den Boer Arboretum

Arie den Boer Arboretum

One of the world’s largest collections of flowering crabapple trees can be found at Water Works Park. The collection is properly named after its developer, horticulturist and author, Arie Den Boer; he was the collector and originator of the arboretum in 1930. He established a collection of 300 varieties of trees in his time, which Des Moines Water Works staff now maintains through pruning and propagation. 

Arie Den Boer was perhaps the first successful nurseryman to popularize the crabapple tree with his book Ornamental Crabapples, published in 1959. His book gave a nurseryman a different take on the crabapple, warts and all, and explaining the tremendous diversity of this plant in the landscape.

Today, the arboretum includes approximately 800 trees in the collection, with the youngest trees being planted through a donor tree program. At this time, we are no longer accepting donations for new trees in the arboretum; however, donations can be made to the maintenance and care of the urban forest in Water Works Park. More information can be found at the Water Works Park Memorial Contribution page. 

The annual crabapple blossom usually blooms the last week of April and the first week of May, attracting thousands of visitors to Water Works Park.

Information about Crabapple Tree Removal

For more than 80 years, Water Works Park has been an urban refuge for recreation, respite, and reflection, including approximately 1,000 crabapple trees that make up the Arie den Boer Arboretum.  The Arboretum will continue to offer a spectacular crabapple bloom each spring.  The community’s interest, support and excitement around one of the largest urban parks in the country has grown.  As a result, multi-year long discussions, fundraising and design for improvements within Water Works Park have been developed.  Much consideration was given to placement of the improvements and their impact, including flooding risk, traffic, and safety.

Construction for the first phase of Des Moines Water Works’ community-driven master plan for Water Works Park improvements begins spring 2018.  During this 90-acre development project, approximately 180 of the 1,000 memorial crabapple trees will be removed.  Unfortunately, it is not feasible for crabapple trees to be replanted.

Des Moines Water Works notified memorial tree donors that tree removal will begin late May.  Des Moines Water Works is working to ensure loved ones continue to be honored respectfully.  Des Moines Water Works is providing crabapple tree saplings for planting at their home or other site of choice, as well as their tree’s original memorial tag.  In addition, as part of the future Water Works Park improvements, a memorial feature will be constructed that will include names of those donors.  If you did not receive a letter, it is very likely that your tree is not affected during construction for the first phase of Water Works Park improvements.

The urban forest within Water Works Park’s 1,500 acres cleans our air and water while providing the shady, riparian habitat for wildlife and recreation. With support from Tree Des Moines, Des Moines Water Works completed an assessment of over 2,800 trees in the maintained area of Water Works Park.  The assessment provided a framework detailing forestry health and maintenance needs as Water Work Park is improved. We will continue to plant trees throughout the Park to preserve the urban forest.  However, flowering crabapples have a relatively short lifespan (30-40 years) and are not particularly flood resilient.  Increased flooding necessitates utilizing hardier varieties that improve the canopy and tree diversity in the small portion of Water Works Park that is impacted.

In the coming months, park users can also expect a dedication of “The Wild,” a celebration of the over 1,400 acres of Water Works Park that will remain largely untouched. These areas will be enhanced with signage and virtual information tools that allow for more self-discovery and understanding the role Water Works Park plays in both clean water production and the many ecosystems contained within.

We invite you to join the community supporting the Water Works Park improvements for recreation, education and conservation.  You can visit to learn more about the amphitheater, play areas and other features coming in 2018, and the connection between Gray’s Lake and Water Works Park expected in 2019.  In addition, a vast portion of Water Works Park will remain largely untouched, but enhanced with signage and virtual information tools that allow for more self-discovery and understanding the role Water Works Park plays in both clean water production and the many ecosystems contained within.

It is important to note that the Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation, a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is leading the fundraising and enhanced programming in Water Works Park. Funds being raised to implement the master plan by the Foundation are from private sources and do not come from Des Moines Water Works ratepayers.


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