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1927 Map of the Arboretum

The Campaign for the Living Collections

A closer look at the beautiful parnassus flowers in Nantahala. Tao Deng
A closeup shot of small five-petaled white flowers.
Andrew Gapinski (Head of Horticulture at the Arnold Arboretum) and Kang Wang (Director of Education and Horticulturist at Beijing Botanical Garden) explore the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee as part of the inaugural North American expedition of the North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) in fall 2019.

Orchestrating a 10-year initiative to expand our Living Collections as a valuable resource for scientific research and conservation

The mounting effects of global change and habitat destruction threaten the survival of roughly one out of every five plant species on Earth. As ecosystems change across the world, cultivating a well-documented, institutional plant collection is not only instructive and useful to research and scholarship—it also serves a vital role in protecting biodiversity. The Campaign for the Living Collections aims to help science address global challenges over the next century by accelerating the Arboretum’s efforts to document, collect, and preserve plants, particularly those of critical conservation value. Over the next decade, these renewed efforts will develop the Living Collections as an incomparable resource for scientific study as well as a garden of outstanding substance and beauty.

Plant explorer walking through an open valley
Traveling through North Carolina mountains in search of Buckley’s St. Johnswort (Hypericum buckleyi)

Pioneering Plant Exploration

The Arboretum’s legacy of exploring and gathering plants from temperate habitats around the world is what built the renowned collections of trees, shrubs, and vines that we prize today.

Inspired by this compelling history, the Campaign for the Living Collections will reintroduce botanical exploration as a driving force for the future of curated organismic collections such as ours. Through global expeditions to inventory species in their native environments and sample existing biodiversity, this renewed focus on plant exploration will usher in the next generation of plants targeted to enhance the value of the Living Collections for research, natural history, and conservation.

Two spruce trees in the snow
Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika) – endangered in its native range in eastern Bosnia and western Serbia

Targeting Approximately 400 Species

The Campaign for the Living Collections target list—or Desiderata—consists of nearly 400 species of woody plants representing various goals for enhancing the Living Collections, including more than 150 species never before grown at the Arboretum.

Targeted plants are those that will strengthen species representation in general and within a number of prioritized genera/clades, as well as offer greater genetic diversity across populations. The target list includes taxa that the Arboretum has never attempted to grow, those that were tested unsuccessfully in the past but are worth trying again in our warmer environment, and those whose current representation in the landscape could be enhanced through additional germplasm. The Campaign also seeks to preserve germplasm of rare and threatened species in our landscape to assist research in conservation biology and to provide a safe harbor against loss.

An arborist in a tree at work pruning branches
An arborist at work pruning branches

Preserving Our Plants

Collecting seeds and other plant material from the field is only the beginning of the journey for our accessioned organisms. Once wild-collected germplasm arrives at the Arboretum, staff at the Dana Greenhouses marshal nearly 150 years of documentation to determine how to successfully propagate each plant. It can take a year or two under the right conditions for seeds to germinate, and several years in the production system for plants to transition from seedlings to mature specimens ready to enter our landscape.

As we prepare for the most significant expansion of the Living Collections in our lifetime, the ability to provide quality care for plants in the landscape is of crucial importance. That’s why the Arboretum has committed additional resources to monitoring and improving growing conditions, as well as identifying adaptive and sustainable solutions to the challenges of preserving a diverse living collection. Our comprehensive Landscape Management Plan guides the proper oversight of each specimen’s individual needs, ensuring that plants collected from natural habitats around the world will be preserved at the Arboretum for the enjoyment and education of posterity.