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1927 Map of the Arboretum

1892: Journey to Japan

The gnarled moss covered base of a Japanese beech (Fagus crenata, accession 2122*C) grown from seed collected by Charles Sargent in Japan in 1892. Suzanne Mrozak, 2018.
The gnarled moss covered base of a Japanese beech (Fagus crenata, accession 2122*C) grown from seed collected by Charles Sargent in Japan in 1892.

Plants collected on this Expedition

Plant ID Accession Date Recieved As Origin Source

Expedition Stats

Japan

Event Type
Expedition
Collection Type
Germplasm, Herbarium Specimens
Arnold Arboretum Participants
Charles S. Sargent
Other Participants
Philip Codman, James Veitch, and Gifford Pinchot
Lake Yumoto, near Nikko, Japan, in a wood engraving by E.J. Meeker from Charles Sargent's Forest Flora of Japan, 1894.
Lake Yumoto, near Nikko, Japan, in a wood engraving by E.J. Meeker. From Charles Sargent’s Forest Flora of Japan, 1894. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

In late July of 1892, Charles Sprague Sargent and his nephew Philip Codman made a journey to Japan to botanize. They went to collect seeds and herbarium specimens Herbarium specimen: An herbarium specimen is a pressed and dried plant sample that is generally mounted on a sheet of paper. Specimens can be stored indefinitely and are used for a wide variety of botanical research. from Hokkaido and northern Honshu, but perhaps more importantly, to see the first hand the rich and botanically diverse flora in this east Asian nation.

An allée of stately Japanese cedars Cryptomeria japonica in Nikko, Japan in a photograph from Sargent's Forest Flora of Japan.
An allée of Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) in Nikko, Japan, in a photograph from Sargent’s Forest Flora of Japan. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Their objective was not only to observe and collect examples of the Japanese flora, but also to compare the morphological morphological: similarities of plants from eastern Asia and eastern North America (known as the study of biogeography).

“In Japan proper there are certainly not less than 325 species of shrubs, or 550 woody plants in all, or one woody plant in every 4.55 of the whole flora, a much larger percentage than occurs in any part of North America.”

Charles Sargent, Forest Flora of Japan

A Botanical Journey in Japan

After a month-long cruise across the Pacific Ocean, they landed in Yokohama at the end of August. They made their way north using the extensive and modern Japanese railways, periodically stopping at nurseries, gardens, other points of botanical interest. In Nikko, they admired plantings of the stately Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica).

They explored northern Honshu and then continued on to Hokkaido. There they called upon Professor Kingo Miyabe at the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University). Although he was ill and could not join them in their botanical explorations, he arranged for a guide to show them around the island.

During their exploration of Hokkaido, Sargent and Codman met the Englishman James Herbert Veitch, owner of Veitch Nurseries, with whom they traveled for the next several weeks. In search of plants for introduction to the western nursery trade and infected with a wanderlust that drew him to Asia, Veitch sought both wild and cultivated plant material.

After several weeks in Hokkaido, the party returned to Honshu to explore Mount Hokkoda in the far north of the island. Veitch then returned to Hokkaido, while Sargent and Codman returned to the Nikko area where they successfully collected a large quantity of Nikko maple (Acer maximowiczianum, accession 3337) seed.

A botanical illustration by Charles Faxon of the leaves and fruit of a Miyabe maple (Acer miyabei). This species is named for Professor Kingo Miyabe of the Sapporo Agricultural College.
A botanical illustration of leaves and fruit of the willow-leafed magnolia by Charles Faxon.
The mossy trunk of a Nikko maple (Acer maximowiczianum, accession 3337*A) from Sargent's collection of seed at Lake Chuzenji in October 1892.
The mossy trunk of a Nikko maple (Acer maximowiczianum, accession 3337*A) from Sargent’s collection of seed at Lake Chuzenji in October 1892. Suzanne Mrozak, 2019.

After ten whirlwind weeks, they finally sailed for home. With them, they carried a wealth of seeds and specimens, as well as a much keener appreciation of the botanical diversity to be found in eastern Asia.

Back in Boston

Sargent and Codman returned to Boston in December with approximately 200 seed collections and 1,225 herbarium specimens. Among the more notable collections were the willow-leafed magnolia (Magnolia salicifolia, accession 263) and the torch azalea (Rhododendron kaempferi, accession 3697), both from Mount Hokkada. Perhaps the most significant were the early-flowering hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Praecox’, accession 14714) and what was later named the Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii, accession 4681).

A Sargent crabapple
A Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii, accession 286-89*A). This plant was repropagated from Sargent’s original collection, accession 4681. William “Ned” Friedman, 2015.

Dig Deeper

Sargent authored dispatches from the field that were published in the weekly periodical Garden and Forest. These articles were compiled and published in book form in 1894 as Forest Flora of Japan.

Learn more about disjunct floras in this Arnoldia article, “Land Bridge Travelers of the Tertiary.”

Arboretum Keeper of the Living Collections Michael Dosmann talks about our long association with crabapples, including Malus sargentii in, Malus at the Arnold Arboretum: An Ongoing Legacy.”