Plant graduation season, an annual rite of passage at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, is an occasion for pomp and circumstance as well as a reminder of our connections to nature and the power of plants. The Plant Graduation Class of 2021 featured over 500 plants, some rare and endangered, graduating from the nursery that have now been placed throughout the 281-acre landscape of the free and open museum teaching the world about plants.

Before the plants officially graduated from the greenhouses for their new “careers” out in the field, a commencement ceremony was held to honor the budding and burgeoning Class of 2021. “The fact that there are more and more plants being planted and groomed and protected and nourished shows the importance of this place,” said Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley. “At the Arnold Arboretum we do conservation, education, and we are trying to make sure people understand their responsibilities to the planet and to their fellow species,” added Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum.

Plant Graduation for the Arboretum’s Class of 2021 included remarks by Councilman Matt O’Malley (far left), Director Ned Friedman (second from left), Greenhouse Horticultural Technologist Chris Copeland (fourth from left), and Keeper of the Living Collections Michael Dosmann (far right). Jon Hetman

While Plant Graduation Day is a moment for celebration, the Arnold Arboretum’s nearly 150 years of expertise collecting plant species has taken on new urgency in an era of biodiversity threats and climate change. Since its days as the first public Arboretum in North America, the Arnold continues to serve as a safe harbor and sentinel for plant life and has become a sanctuary for 1,500 plants of conservation concern—a number that is growing each year. “The air we breathe and the food we eat comes from plants, so it is intrinsically important that we not only protect them in nature and study how they grow and survive here at the Arboretum but be inspired by them as well,” said Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum. “Combating extinction depends on growing broad public interest in plants as awe-inspiring and worth protecting—and we’re in a race against time.”

You can visit the Class of 2021 at the Arboretum, always free and always open to all, to learn more about the Arnold Arboretum’s Living Collections or visit online for virtual tours, plant bios, and more.