The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University joins the greater community of arboreta and botanical gardens in mourning the death of Paul W. Meyer, a legend in American horticulture, who passed away on October 10 at the age of 71. Meyer, former executive director of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, shared his wisdom and professional expertise generously with the Arnold Arboretum for four decades as a member of several institutional committees and as a key partner in collaborative plant exploration and evaluation for botanical collections.
Meyer was a towering figure in the public gardens world. He served over 43 years at the Morris Arboretum, retiring as the F. Otto Haas executive director in 2019. Over his tenure, Meyer provided counsel to three Arnold Arboretum directors and served on the Arnold Arboretum Visiting Committee at Harvard University from 1998 to 2004. An expert on trees and teacher of urban horticulture in the University of Pennsylvania’s Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department, Meyer helped shape the Campaign for the Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum as a founding member of the Living Collections Advisory Board.
Naturally curious and an intrepid plant explorer, Meyer participated in many collecting expeditions around the globe, several with Senior Research Scientist Emeritus Peter Del Tredici. A strong proponent for increasing the genetic diversity of plants held in institutional collections, he was a driving force in the creation of NACPEC (North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium) in 1991 and was a frequent participant in its three decades of collaborative expeditions in China. Through his collecting prowess and generosity as an institutional collector, Meyer’s name is associated with more than 700 living and historic plants at the Arnold—spanning expeditions to South Korea in 1979 to China in 2011. In addition to supporting and advancing the work of the Arnold Arboretum as an advocate and advisor, Meyer contributed to the institution’s thought leadership in horticulture as a frequent contributor to Arnoldia and to our archives through expedition notes and images. An avid investigator, collector, steward, and photographer of plants, Meyer leaves an indelible legacy that will continue to flourish and inspire through the plants he shared with us all.