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Visit to the Arnold Arboretum Boston, USA

Tony Hall
5 December 2011
Blog team: 
The Arnold Arboretum on America's east coast is renowned for its autumn colour and old trees. On a recent visit, Tony Hall delved into Kew's historic links with the arboretum, through plants and plant hunting.

I recently had a wonderful visit to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston USA. 


The grounds, consisting of 265 acres (107 hectares), are open free of charge to the public from sunrise to sunset 365 days of the year.

View of Boston from the top of St Peters hill, the highest point in the arboretum

The main purpose of the trip was to look at their plant database with colleagues from IT and our Gardens Development Unit.  An Arboretum tour was included as well as a trip to Mount Auburn Cemetery on a day off, which also has some magnificent trees.

The Visitor Center in the Hunnewell Building also includes the library and offices and is close to the new Weld Hill research building.

Kew's links with Arnold Arboretum

The plant collections contain around 15,000 specimens and include many historic introductions, mainly from eastern Asia and by collectors such as Ernest Wilson Charles Sargent, Joseph Rock, and William Purdom. It is the great plant hunter Ernest Wilson who links Kew with the Arnold Arboretum. We both have plants from his original collecting trips to Hubei and Sichuan in China. Plants that are now common in gardens were new, rare and much sought after in the early 1900s.

Wilson trained at Kew in 1898 and was picked by Thistelton-Dyer, the then director, to go on a joint collecting trip for Kew and Vietch nurseries to Hubei in China between 1989-1902., and again from 1903-1905. He then left Kew to work for the Arnold Arboretum from 1906-1909 and collected for them in Sichuan province during 1910.

Some highlights

This is the original Heptacodium miconioides, with its wonderful peeling bark, showing the pink calyx long after the flowers have finished.


Heptacaodium miconioides bracts

Another highlight was this Franklinia alatamaha, an American native, perhaps last seen in the wild in 1803 by the American collector, Lyon.

Franklinia alatamaha in flower

During a wonderful tour around the arboretum with Michael Dosmann, the curator, we saw many great plants and trees and were introduced to many of his colleagues working in IT, the arboretum, and the nursery.

Autumn colour

The fall colour in this part of the east coast is legendary. But as here in the UK, this year has been a bit on and off and the autumnal reds were only just starting to show during our visit.

Acer x freemanii in its stunning fall colours

Days out

On the Sunday we enjoyed two extra excursions. First stop was at the Harvard Museum of Natural History to see the Ware collection of glass models of plants! These were so realistic as to be almost unbelievable.



After that it was on to Mount Auburn cemetery, America’s first landscaped cemetery consecrated  in 1831. This cemetery has some amazing trees among it's 5,000 mostly labelled specimens. Twenty-eight are state champions and 11 are New England champions.


Old family tombs in Mount Auburn Cemetery  

 We also saw lots of wildlife, including black squirrels - and even wolves! There were lots of amazing fungi too, including this strange looking Hercium sp.

Weird looking Hercium fungi with spines underneath

- Tony -


7 December 2011
I visited the Arnold arboretum earlier this year. Great garden and free!
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7 December 2011
Thanks for your comment. It is related. It is in the family Theaceae, although it is a monotypic genus. It is a wonderful autumn flowering shrub but not fully hardy in the UK.
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6 December 2011
That looks like a wonderful trip. The Franklinia is beautiful. It looks like a camellia. Is it related?
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