Spring has arrived in all its sensational glory at the Arnold Arboretum. Across our 281 acres, dormant buds on our trees, shrubs, and lianas are responding to the appropriate environmental signals to swell, emerge, and get to work—either as agents of photosynthesis (leaves) or reproduction (flowers and cones). If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit our landscape over the past few weeks, perhaps you’ve been awed by this season’s abundant displays in our magnolia collection near the Arborway Gate, delighted in the flowering cherries near the ponds, or even caught the ephemeral wonder of colorful cones emerging from larches and spruces in our conifer collection. Even as the “resident” plants in our collection burst forth from dormancy, our talented horticultural team is adding hundreds of new accessions from our nursery and greenhouses—an annual rite embodying a sense of renewal all its own.
For while many of the new organisms being planted in our landscape this spring descend from legacy accessions in our vast living collection of trees and woody plants, many more are new to the Arboretum story—plants acquired through the coordinated work of our 10-year Campaign for the Living Collections. Since its debut in 2016, this ambitious initiative has galvanized our aspirations to amplify and accelerate our historical work in documenting, collecting, and preserving plants from around the temperate world, particularly those at greatest risk of loss through habitat degradation and climate change. Through a combination of expeditionary work, contracted collections, and institutional exchange, the Arboretum had acquired about half of the approximately 400 species targeted for the Campaign by early 2020. Then, with the arrival of the global pandemic, our progress slowed as travel restrictions limited us from all but local and interstate collecting trips. Since over half of our targeted plants for the Campaign originate in eastern Asia—a hotspot for temperate woody plant biodiversity—we knew a fresh approach would be needed to achieve our goals without greatly expanding our timeline.
Promising developments on this front have budded this spring as well. Through the generous support of friends and Harvard University alumni in China, we have initiated the China Conservation Collaboration Initiative with partners at China National Botanical Garden, Kunming Institute of Botany, and Zhejiang University. This issue of Silva includes a feature story about this unique partnership designed to explore and conserve threatened plants through cooperative engagement with our botanical colleagues. Not only will this initiative help us acquire key and elusive plant targets for study and ex-situ conservation at the Arboretum, it will also build capacity among our partner institutions in China to cultivate, preserve, and document their own living collections of rare and threatened plant species. This aspect of the initiative holds great promise for sustaining both botanical exchanges and cooperative conservation work in the future.
Our commitment to protect and preserve global biological diversity has its roots in expanding human knowledge as a university-based research museum, but today its meaning is more far-reaching and urgent as we contemplate the looming extinction crisis. While we continue to make progress on attaining our targets for the Campaign, our multifold efforts promise to make the Arboretum an even stronger and more valuable resource for scientific study—not to mention a public garden of even greater substance and beauty. We are grateful to you, as an Arboretum member, for the essential role you play in keeping the Arboretum vital and vibrant. As nature continues to cast its captivating spell on our landscape this season, I invite you to visit often to admire its handiwork among our plants. It’s an inspiring way to experience the world anew.
—William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University