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1927 Map of the Arboretum

Visual Archives

Azaleas in full bloom on Bussey Hill in the spring of 1940. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.
Drawer of slides from the Archives.
Drawer of slides from the Archives. Lisa Pearson, 2008.

The Arnold Arboretum Visual Archives document the history and activities of the institution. Begun in the 1880s as an adjunct to the living, library, and herbarium collections, today the Arboretum’s visual archives include over 80,000 items. Digital images, black-and-white and color prints, 35mm slides and their predecessor lantern slides, trace the creation and management of the Arboretum’s landscape, record individual plants in the living collections, present our staff, and document our plant collection expeditions.

Botanical and Cultural Images of Eastern Asia

Larix leptolepsis. Japan. Lake Chuzenji-Yumoto, Mt. Nantai at back, about 6000 ft. alt. Photo by J.G. Jack, Aug. 10, 1905.
John G. Jack photographed this stand of Larix leptolepsis at the foot of Mt. Nantai near Lake Chuzenji-Yumoto, Japan on August 10, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Collecting plants and seeds has been a core activity for our institution since our founding. The Visual Archive collection of eastern Asian photographs represents the work our intrepid plant explorers who traveled to Asia in the twentieth century. They returned with not only seeds, plants, and dried herbarium specimens, but also with remarkable images of plants, people, and landscapes. Our expedition photograph collection features images by many of our collectors.

Meet the Explorers

Ernest Henry Wilson explored Asia for the Arboretum from 1907-1920. Read about his 1907-1909 expedition to China, his 1914 trip to Japan, and his 1917-1919 expedition to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and see many of his magnificent images.

David Boufford and three Tibetan children in a grazed meadow with scrub Rhododendron along Highway 214 from Bangda (Bamda) to Qamdo, Tibet.
David Boufford and three Tibetan children in a grazed meadow with scrub Rhododendron along Highway 214 from Bangda (Bamda) to Qamdo, Tibet. Susan Kelley, 2000.

John George Jack came to the Arboretum in 1886 and held many positions on the staff during his long service to the institution. In 1905, he explored Japan, Korea, and China and took many photograph of the sites he observed along the way.

William Purdom collected plants in northern China and Gansu Province from 1909-1912. He also took a series of ethnographic images of the people of the Tibetan border regions through which he traveled.

Frank Meyer worked in China primarily as a collector of economic plants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also scouted ornamental plants for the Arboretum. As part of his purview, he documented in photographs and detailed descriptions, the uses the local people made of those plants.

Boaters on Lake Kunming at the Summer Palace, Beijing. Photograph by Stephen Spongberg, August 18, 1980.
Boaters on Lake Kunming at the Summer Palace, Beijing. Photograph by Stephen Spongberg, August 18, 1980. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Joseph Rock explored the Tibetan border regions, an area of great biodiversity, from 1924-1927.

Joseph Hers, an interpreter for the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Zhengzhou (Chengchow), Henan Province, made collections rare plants and photographs of the flora endemic to that region.

Stephen Spongberg, arboretum taxonomist made several groundbreaking trips to Asia. The first in 1977, returned the Arboretum to collecting in Japan and Korea after many decades. The second, the first Sino-American Botanical Expedition of 1980, reopened China to western botanists after a three-decade absence.

David Boufford‘s photographs illustrate several, more recent expeditions, including the second Sino-American Botanical Expedition of 1984.

The Prince of Jonê (Cho-ni), Gansu Province, ang Jiqing (Yang T'u-ssu). Photograph by Joseph Rock, April 24, 1925.
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), growing on a open air pavilion in Japan. Lantern slide purchased in Japan by John Jack, 1905.
Boatmen easing their boat over a clay dam with poles, Tangqi (Tangshi), Zhejiang (Chekiang) Province. Photograph by Frank Meyer, March 1, 1906.
Men from the Gansu-Tibet borderlands in traditional dress of long fur lined robes. Photograph by William Purdom, 1911.

Yin Kaipu Rephotography Archive

Professor Yin Kaipu of the Chengdu Institute of Biology has traveled in the same regions that Arboretum plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson explored over 100 years ago, and re-photographed many of Wilson’s photos from their original locations. His archive of over 2,400 images is held in the Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Dadu River and tributary at Shangtianba Village, Sichuan.
Dadu River and tributary at Shangtianba Village, Sichuan, photographed by Ernest Wilson, August 1, 1908.

Landscape Views

From the earliest photographs of the transformation of farmland of the Bussey Estate to the living museum of trees that we know today, our landscape views show 150 years to change to the Arboretum.

Rehder Pond, 1940.
A lantern slide of Rehder Pond in in the Fall of 1940. Arnold Arboretum Archives. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.
Flowers of the piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens).
Flowers of the piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens). William (Ned) Friedman, 2021.

ArbPix Image Database

ArbPIX (the Arnold Arboretum plant image database) is a free resource of thousands of contemporary images of accessioned plants from our living collections. These images are shared by the Arboretum for educational purposes. They are available for non-commercial use under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license.

Ernest Wilson’s New England Trees

While we think of Ernest Wilson primarily for his photographs of Asia, he left us a very special collection of photographs of New England trees. Read an overview of it and learn about his visit to an amazing elm in Framingham, Massachusetts. See the entire collection here.

Lafayette Elm, Kennebunk, Maine.
The Lafayette Elm (Ulmus americana) of Kennebunk, Maine, with Beatrice Mumford standing alongside. Ernest Wilson photographed the tree on October 12, 1926. He recorded the height as 80 feet, it’s spread as 131 feet, and massive girth as 17 feet at breast height. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Visual Archive pages are currently under construction. Thank you for your patience as we work to improve our online resources. Please contact library staff with any questions.