Each year our curation staff complete a comprehensive review of all the plants accessioned two years before (in this case, 2018)—just to triple check that no information was missing, nothing was misspelled, and that all loose ends were tied. You may ask “Why 2018 when this is an annual review? Why the two-year gap?” Simply put, the time is needed to track down and collect ALL of the data for each accession* in the Arboretum’s living collections. The team then works together auditing the information to ensure it is complete and accurate. This was a big job, as 2018 was a busy year of four collecting expeditions (Honshu, Japan; Western Hubei, China [NACPEC]; Oregon-Washington, US; and Arkansas-Oklahoma, US), nursery purchases, and repropagations—all adding up to 503 brand new plant accessions and LOTS of data! Almost everything we reviewed was in good order, outside of some missing data from a few collaborators (never fear, it is coming), some missing seed counts, and maybe a few typos.

Accession numbers are assigned to the official accession logbook at our Dana Greenhouses as soon new plant material is received. Following logbook entry an accession sheet is filled out with a bit more information and sent on to curation staff for databasing and review. The culmination of all these activities is our annual review. Each member of our team contributes a specific skill set to focus on certain type of data. Information for each accession is stored in our database of record (BG-BASE) and, for the annual review, all data collected is exported into a giant spreadsheet. Viewing accession information in this fashion allows everyone to see and filter ALL of the data easily.

The journey each new accession takes before arriving at the Arboretum is carefully researched and documented. During the audit, this sometimes means putting on our “detective hats” to sort out any mysteries we uncover, from locality information (where the accession was born), to newly uncovered historical information (for the repropagated plants), and any other mysteries or puzzles encountered. We strive to provide the most complete and accurate information in order to document the history of each accession. This is referred to as primary documentation or, more simply, the story attached to an accession when it arrives at the Arnold Arboretum. It’s part of our mission as an Arboretum to tell the stories of our trees, and they deserve their stories to be told completely, accurately, and with no stone left unturned.

Today curation staff utilize available technology to document accessions, beginning with our database of record, BG-BASE. Here is a sample record for one of our 2018 plants, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Praecox’ 164-2018, a repropagation from Sargent’s original selection of the plant in the Bradley Rosaceous Collection.

The Arnold Arboretum is honored to provide the world with access to our accession details—from both the living collections and our legacy collection (or the “dead collection”; stories are never expunged from our records). This information is readily available for viewing and download on our website using Plant Search and Arboretum Explorer, our interactive map. Curation staff are proud to contribute to the continued growth of one of the most comprehensive and documented living collections in the world and will continue to record, research, and audit our accessions—always taking care to preserve and share the stories of our plants.
* An accession is the basic unit of a collection and identified by a unique accession number. By definition it represents a single taxon, from a single source, acquired at one time, and through one means of propagation. It may comprise a single plant, or multiple plants, each identified by a letter qualifier following the accession number, or MASS in the case of mass plantings (e.g., 3-48*A, 21087*MASS).

From “free” to “friend”…

Established in 1911 as the Bulletin of Popular Information, Arnoldia has long been a definitive forum for conversations about temperate woody plants and their landscapes. In 2022, we rolled out a new vision for the magazine as a vigorous forum for tales of plant exploration, behind-the-scenes glimpses of botanical research, and deep dives into the history of gardens, landscapes, and science. The new Arnoldia includes poetry, visual art, and literary essays, following the human imagination wherever it entangles with trees.

It takes resources to gather and nurture these new voices, and we depend on the support of our member-subscribers to make it possible. But membership means more: by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum, you help to keep our collection vibrant and our research and educational mission active. Through the pages of Arnoldia, you can take part in the life of this free-to-all landscape whether you live next door or an ocean away.

For more tree-entangled art, science, and writing, subscribe to Arnoldia by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum.