Mar 10 - Sep 10, 2023
Pairings of Botanical Art and Herbarium Vouchers from the Collections of the Arnold Arboretum
The Arnold Arboretum is renowned for its woody plant collections, which engage and thrill casual visitors, researchers, and scores of repeat devotees. While those well-documented plants reside outside in our landscape, additional collections of related materials held inside the Hunnewell Building add significant value to our plants as subjects of scientific and educational research. The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library holds an excellent—and often exquisite—collection of botanical prints. Our Herbarium of Cultivated Plants consists of approximately 122,000 vouchers, which are plant specimens drawn from the living collection that have been dried, pressed, and mounted on paper. Pairing representatives of these holdings provides the theme of this exhibit.
Lisa Pearson, Head of the Library and Archives, selected the botanical prints from our collection in the Horticultural Library and Archives of the Arnold Arboretum to be highlighted with variety in mind, both in terms of artists and media. Some are luxuriantly colored, and others are honed to subtle tones, fine lines, and shading. The plants’ origins were also considered. Some, like Quercus alba (white oak) and Catalpa bignonioides (Southern catalpa), are native to North America. Others are from Asia, like Blanche Ames Ames’s Davidia involucrata (dove tree) and Pinus bungeana (lacebark pine). Even Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) hails from afar—Asia and southeastern Europe. Though sampled on a small scale for this exhibit, the wide-ranging origins of these plants exemplify the diversity of temperate flora in the Arboretum’s living collection.
With botanical art examples in hand, Curatorial Assistant Devika Jaikumar researched holdings in our Herbarium of Cultivated Plants to match plant vouchers with the print subjects. Typically the Arboretum holds multiple vouchers for any given plant, so Devika often had several vouchers for each species to consider. One print, chosen for both its well-known artist and exuberant foliage and fauna, was a plant native to the New World and labeled by the artist as Steuartia in the 1740s. That tree is now identified as Stewartia malacodendron (silky camellia or Virginia stewartia). The species is represented by a voucher in the Cultivated Herbarium for the first time this year, collected by Jaikumar from a 14-year-old accessioned plant in the Explorers Garden during the 2023 flowering season.
Syringa vulgaris (common lilac)
Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau (1700-1782) was a French nobleman and scientist who published extensively on dendrology, arboriculture, and horticulture. His 1755 book, Traité des arbres et arbustes que l’on cultive en France en pleine terre, was republished from 1800-1819 and featured illustrations by the famed botanical artists Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) and Pancrace Bessa. During his long life, Redouté served as court painter to French queen Marie Antoinette and later to Empress Josephine, but it was his botanical art that brought him lasting fame. He produced over 2,100 illustrations, published over the years in volumes such as the Traité des arbres.
An herbarium voucher for this iconic shrub was collected in 1924 by Susan Delano McKelvey. McKelvey, a cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, studied with Charles Sprague Sargent after 1920, and learned about woody plants first as a volunteer in the Arboretum’s greenhouses. Early in her Arboretum career she was particularly interested in lilacs. She wrote The Lilac: A Monograph in 1928, still regarded as a key reference on the genus. McKelvey collected this voucher specimen of Syringa vulgaris accession 17363*A for her own herbarium collection, which she bequeathed to the Arnold Arboretum in 1964. The original plant, which dates to 1905 and was collected in Bulgaria, still survives in the lilac collection on Bussey Hill.
Pinus bungeana (lacebark pine)
This Illustration of a lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) cone appeared in the February 1909 issue of the long-running publication Curtis’s Botanical Magazine that described the “plants of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, and other botanical establishments.” The artist who created the original drawing was Matilda Smith (1854-1926). She was the first official artist of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and served the institution for many decades. She created more than 2,300 illustrations for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. She also had the distinction of being the second woman to be named an associate of the Linnaean Society. The illustration was engraved by John Nugent Fitch.
The voucher specimen seen here was collected in April 1984 by Richard Warren, Sandra Elsik, and Andrea Knowles. Dr. Richard Warren was Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School whose great passion was the study of conifers, a vocation he pursued at the Arnold Arboretum in his retirement. Sandra Elsik supervised the collecting phase of the massive verification project initiated by Director Peter Ashton in the 1980s to verify the identities of plants in the Arboretum’s collections, and Andrea Knowles was one of the many volunteers recruited to assist this effort.
Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana (dove tree)
Blanche Ames Ames (1878-1969) was a renaissance woman who was a notable sculptor and social reformer as well as being the wife and working partner of Arboretum Director Oakes Ames. A graduate of Smith College, she was a gifted botanical artist and often worked with her husband to illustrate plants (particularly orchids) that he collected. Ames was also a crusader for women’s suffrage and an early proponent of female reproductive rights.
This voucher specimen was taken from a centenarian specimen of dove tree (14473*A) accessioned in 1911 and planted along Chinese Path in today’s Explorers Garden on Bussey Hill. The tree was originally sent to the Arboretum from Veitch Nursery as a plant grown from seed collected by Ernest Henry Wilson on his 1900 collecting expedition in China. Veitch sent Wilson with the sole purpose of collecting the species for its commercial introduction to Western cultivation. As it happened, this honor already belonged to the Vilmorin Nursery in France, which had cultivated the species from seed by missionary Pere Farges in 1897. Today the Arnold Arboretum includes individuals derived from both of these historically-significant collections of dove tree. This voucher was collected on May 24, 1984 by David Michener, who directed efforts for the verification project, and volunteer Gerhold Fitz.
Catalpa bignonioides (Southern catalpa)
François André Michaux (1770-1855) was a French botanist who spent the majority of his life in America and studied the North American flora. His three-volume work Histoire des arbres forestiers de l’Amérique septentrionale was published from 1810-1813 and summarized his explorations with his father André Michaux west of the Allegheny Mountains in the 1780s and 1790s. The work was translated into English by Augustus Hillhouse in 1819 and titled North American Sylva. Michaux employed two notable botanical artists to illustrate this work, Pierre Joseph Redouté, who is especially known for his illustrations of roses (see Syringa vulgaris art in this exhibition), and Pancrace Bessa, who produced the Catalpa drawing here.
This voucher for Southern catalpa was collected on July 1, 1964 from Arnold Arboretum accession 12926*A, a tree accessioned in 1891 as seed received from J. H. Balch. The tree grew for more than one hundred years in the catalpa collection overlooking the lilacs on Bussey Hill, succumbing to a lightning strike in September 2006. However, the germplasm of this endangered species survives through two robust scions, 131-54*A and 131-54*B, propagated in the early 1950s and planted nearby.
Quercus alba (white oak)
Scotsman John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) was a dendrologist and landscape designer, who in 1838 coined the word ‘Arboretum’ to describe a collection of trees. He was a prolific author of gardening and horticulture books. His Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, from which this illustration is taken, was a comprehensive survey of trees growing in Britain at the time. Loudon employed a number of artists to illustrate his work, including his sister Mary Loudon. The Quercus alba illustration here is unattributed.
This voucher for Quercus alba 18054*S was collected in the landscape in October 1985 as part of the verification project. The original tree, which was removed following damage incurred in the April Fools’ Day blizzard of 1997, was among twenty accessioned white oaks grown from seed collected in 1882 from a naturally-occurring specimen of the tree in the Arboretum landscape.
Stewartia malacodendron (silky stewartia)
Mark Catesby (1683-1749) was an early English explorer of southeastern America. During his first seven-year sojourn in America, he explored the Virginia back country and traveled to Jamaica. Catesby returned to the New World in 1722 for further exploration. He was primarily a botanist, but he felt the interaction of birds and insects with plants was so important that he chose to integrate them in nearly 100 plates he engraved for his Natural History. Catesby received a specimen of an unknown tree collected in Virginia by his friend and fellow naturalist John Clayton, which he planted in his garden at Fulham in London. After it flowered in 1742, he shared the plant with John Stuart, the Third Earl of Bute, for the botanical garden at Kew. The genus name Stewartia (originally Stuartia and styled as Steuartia by Catesby) honors Stuart’s role despite its spelling, which reflects a transcription error made by Carl Linneaus when he named the species in 1753.
The voucher specimen seen here for Stewartia malacodendron, the species we can identify as the plant Catesby depicted, was collected in June 2023 by Devika Jaikumar, Curatorial Assistant. She collected this flowering branch from Arnold Arboretum accession 565-2009*B growing in the Explorers Garden. This plant is among a number of silky stewartias at the Arboretum collected as seed by Jack Johnston from a wild population growing near Clear Creek in Winston County, Alabama. Johnston is an avocational horticulturalist and propagator of regionally-native species including magnolias, franklinia, stewartia, viburnums, fothergilla, and smoketree.