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A Walk Through Time, Part 1

Walk with Landscape Architect Rosetta S. Elkin and Arboretum Archivist Lisa E. Pearson.

We suggest starting from theSouth StreetGate.

  • 20mins
  • An easy walk with several hills, accessible for mobility impaired visitors
  • .25miles
1

Canadian Hemlock

Tsuga canadensis

Accession Number
The alpha-numeric value assigned to a plant when it is added to the living collection as a way of identifying it.
Accession Date
The year the plant’s accession number was assigned.
Common Name
The non-scientific name for the plant.
Scientific Name
The scientific name describes the species of an organism. The first word is the plant's scientific genus and the second is the specific epithet. This two-word binomial is sometimes followed by other taxonomic descriptors, including subspecies (denoted by "ssp."), variety (denoted by "var."), form (denoted by "f." or "forma"), and cultivar (denoted by single quotation marks).
Plant Family
The family to which the plant belongs.
Propagation Material
The first part (material code) describes the material used to create the plant. The most common codes are "SD" (seed), "EX" (existing plant), "PT" (plant), "CT" (cutting), "SC" (scion), "SG" (seedling), and "GR" (graft). The second part describes the lineage the plant is derived from. The last part describes the year of propagation.
Collection Data
The first part indicates provenance (place or source of origin) using a letter code ("W" = wild, "G" = garden, "Z" = indirect wild, "U" = uncertain). The second part lists the plant source. For wild-collected material, the collector, collection number, and country are given.
Location
The location of the plant on the landscape.
Hover to Learn More
2205-98-A
Pinaceae
Tsuga canadensis
EX LINEAGE 2205 - 98
-
1998
Information insufficient to determine provenance.
Canadian Hemlock
The lower trunk of a Canadian hemlock <i>(Tsuga candensis)</i>.
  • Feathery needles
    Feathery needles
  • Mature cone
    Mature cone
Number on the grounds
1384
Oldest Canadian hemlock
10712*A from 1921

Glimpse an ancient landscape on Hemlock Hill reminiscent of what you might have seen just after the last Ice Age about 9,000 years ago.

“Hemlock arrived in the northeastern United States about 2,000 years after white pine and 2,000 years before American beech, even though today it frequently grows alongside both these species, and we often think of them as members of the same plant communities.”

-David Foster, in Hemlock: Forest Giant on the Edge

As we walk along Valley Road from South Street Gate, it is worth reflecting on the name of this area. Hemlock Hill refers to the outcropping and hilly topography that lies southwest of your walk. In order to take in the full spectacle of this immense glacial pileup, cross over the wooden footbridge tucked between the Rhododendrons: you will come face-to-face with a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and glimpse into the last glacial period and beyond.

The majestic hemlock is called a “foundation species,” which means that it has a strong role in structuring other species around it, controlling biodiversity and landscape processes. It can also serve as a bellwether for its community, heralding disruption of its ecosystem. This specimen holds stewardship concern because it represents one of few historic hemlocks in the Arboretum that has resisted the hemlock wooly adelgid.

After the last Ice Age, hemlocks were an early species that appeared in the wake of the retreating ice sheet. They clung to the rocky puddingstone outcrops. The Arboretum sits upon Roxbury puddingstone, or more properly, Roxbury Conglomerate. This form of rock was formed about 580 million years ago and is composed of clast-supported pebbles and cobbles.

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  • 1 Canadian hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) on the north side of Hemlock Hill. Photograph by Alfred Rehder, 1902.
    Canadian hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) on the north side of Hemlock Hill. Photograph by Alfred Rehder, 1902.
  • 2 Canadian hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) abound on Hemlock Hill, just over the footbridge on Bussey Brook.
    Canadian hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) abound on Hemlock Hill, just over the footbridge on Bussey Brook.
  • 3 Puddingstone (Roxbury Conglomerate) on Hemlock Hill.
    A close of the puddingstone (Roxbury Conglomerate) rock that underlays Hemlock Hill.
  • 4
    A view of our Canadian hemlock from the east.
  • 5
    The stump of a Canadian hemlock (accession 2130-98*A), which succumbed to the ravages of hemlock wooly adelgid.
  • 6
    Young Canadian hemlocks on Hemlock Hill.
2

Japanese Beech

Fagus crenata

Accession Number
The alpha-numeric value assigned to a plant when it is added to the living collection as a way of identifying it.
Accession Date
The year the plant’s accession number was assigned.
Common Name
The non-scientific name for the plant.
Scientific Name
The scientific name describes the species of an organism. The first word is the plant's scientific genus and the second is the specific epithet. This two-word binomial is sometimes followed by other taxonomic descriptors, including subspecies (denoted by "ssp."), variety (denoted by "var."), form (denoted by "f." or "forma"), and cultivar (denoted by single quotation marks).
Plant Family
The family to which the plant belongs.
Propagation Material
The first part (material code) describes the material used to create the plant. The most common codes are "SD" (seed), "EX" (existing plant), "PT" (plant), "CT" (cutting), "SC" (scion), "SG" (seedling), and "GR" (graft). The second part describes the lineage the plant is derived from. The last part describes the year of propagation.
Collection Data
The first part indicates provenance (place or source of origin) using a letter code ("W" = wild, "G" = garden, "Z" = indirect wild, "U" = uncertain). The second part lists the plant source. For wild-collected material, the collector, collection number, and country are given.
Location
The location of the plant on the landscape.
Hover to Learn More
2122-C
Fagaceae
Fagus crenata
SD LINEAGE 2122
-
1892
Collected directly from the wild; origin known.
Japan
Japanese Beech
An elderly beech, a survivor of beech bark disease, now stands almost alone.
  • Scarred bark
    Scarred bark
  • Leaves
    Leaves
  • Bud break
    Bud break
Number on the grounds
12
Oldest
2122*C from 1892

Turning back towards the road, notice the drama of the beech collection.

Our featured tree is a Japanese beech, collected from the wild in Japan in 1892 by Arboretum founding director Charles Sprague Sargent. It is neither a “perfect” specimen nor one that displays an ideal form. Instead it is a survivor, both from beech bark disease and from age, that helps shed light on what humans expect trees to look like.

Beeches are large shade trees commonly planted as specimen trees in parks and gardens. Ecologically, this south-sloping hillside is an ideal habitat for many interesting beech cultivars: some twisting or weeping, others dwarf or columnar. Visually, the strong contrast between the dense forests of Hemlock Hill on one side, and the striking brilliance of the smooth, silvery-gray bark of individuals here is associated with the landscape design.

Rather than remark upon the oddity of this specimen’s shape, consider its sculptural quality in relation to the changing climate. It is suffering (or thriving) through beech bark disease, which is a recent fungal invasion, caused by an elusive relationship between insects, fungi, and spores that weaken the wood. The archive of markings that unite humans in their affection for beeches, might actually invite decay. Carvings are a kind of human affection that transmits distress rather than love.

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  • 1 A view of Fagus sylvatica 'Zlatia' from Hemlock Hill.
    A view of our survivor Japanese beech (Fagus crenata) from Hemlock Hill.
  • 2 Carvings in the bark of Fagus sylvatica 'Zlatia' accession 530-75*A.
    Carvings in the bark of the Japanese beech (Fagus crenata, accession 2122*C).
  • 3 The sinuous branches of a Japanese beech (Fagus crenata, accession 2122*C) reach skyward.
    The sinuous branches of our Japanese beech (Fagus crenata, accession 2122*C) reach skyward.
  • 4
    Our Japanese beech seems to stretch itself in the winter sun.
3

Sweet Birch

Betula lenta

Accession Number
The alpha-numeric value assigned to a plant when it is added to the living collection as a way of identifying it.
Accession Date
The year the plant’s accession number was assigned.
Common Name
The non-scientific name for the plant.
Scientific Name
The scientific name describes the species of an organism. The first word is the plant's scientific genus and the second is the specific epithet. This two-word binomial is sometimes followed by other taxonomic descriptors, including subspecies (denoted by "ssp."), variety (denoted by "var."), form (denoted by "f." or "forma"), and cultivar (denoted by single quotation marks).
Plant Family
The family to which the plant belongs.
Propagation Material
The first part (material code) describes the material used to create the plant. The most common codes are "SD" (seed), "EX" (existing plant), "PT" (plant), "CT" (cutting), "SC" (scion), "SG" (seedling), and "GR" (graft). The second part describes the lineage the plant is derived from. The last part describes the year of propagation.
Collection Data
The first part indicates provenance (place or source of origin) using a letter code ("W" = wild, "G" = garden, "Z" = indirect wild, "U" = uncertain). The second part lists the plant source. For wild-collected material, the collector, collection number, and country are given.
Location
The location of the plant on the landscape.
Hover to Learn More
265-2011-A
Betulaceae
Betula lenta
EX LINEAGE 265 - 2011
-
2011
Information insufficient to determine provenance.
Sweet Birch
The elderly gnarled sweet birch near the Spring Brook.
  • Catkins
    Catkins
  • Bark
    Bark
  • Leaf
    Leaf
Number on the grounds
36
Oldest
17679*A from 1904

Nestled on a rise above two brooks is a reminder of the old New England forest, a majestic sweet birch.

Proceeding along Hemlock Hill Road, you will see the landscape rise towards a distinct feature at the juncture of the two streams that curve through this part of the Arboretum, Bussey Brook and Spring Brook. As you journey across the footbridge, you climb to “Spring Brook Village,” the site of an ancient Indigenous camp.

Before you stands an old sweet birch that resists the classification of provenance because it may have been rooted by the time Sargent and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted began their designs. This tree is distinctive because it reminds us of the beauty and character of spontaneous plants. Because it was left relatively undisturbed, it gives us some clues about ancient Indigenous habitation in the Arboretum.

In 1934, Arboretum botanist collector Ernest Jesse Palmer wrote a report on the prehistory of the Arnold Arboretum. His studies reached across various sites on our grounds including that adjacent to our sweet birch. Palmer and Arboretum horticulturists unearthed stone tools, spearheads and projectile points. The artifacts show that ancient Indigenous people used this land as long ago as 6,000 years before the present.

What emerges from the past helps us explain the responsibilities of the present. Sweet birch is also called black birch, cherry birch, and red birch. Birches are a boreal species, occurring from northern North America to Europe to Asia, in what is considered the largest land biome.

As a young forest dweller, sweet birch has smooth, shiny, non-peeling bark. Through age and weathering, the bark begins to split, peel, and flake. The wide gray-toned splits, characteristic of an aged tree, are visible in this specimen.

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  • 1 A view from Valley Road over the Spring Brook looking west.
    A view from Valley Road over the Spring Brook looking west.
  • 2 The sweet birch (Betula lenta, accession 265-2011) silhouetted against a bright winter sky.
    The sweet birch (Betula lenta, accession 265-2011*A) silhouetted against a bright winter sky.
  • 3 This white quartz projectile point is known as a Squibnocket Triangle and dates to the Late Archaic period. When making tools, Indigenous Peoples looked for stone that would produce a sharp cutting edge. Flint and chert are easily worked but not found here. Quartz and felsite are common in this area and were used extensively. Ernest J. Palmer found this point on the grounds in the 1920s.
    This white quartz projectile point is known as a Squibnocket Triangle and dates to the Late Archaic period. When making tools, Indigenous Peoples looked for stone that would produce a sharp cutting edge. Flint and chert are easily worked but not found here. Quartz and felsite are common in this area and were used extensively. Ernest J. Palmer found this point on the grounds in the 1920s.
  • 4 Sweet birch (Betula lenta, accession 265-2011*A).
    The bark of the sweet birch (Betula lenta, accession 265-2011*A).
4

Eastern White Oak

Quercus alba

Accession Number
The alpha-numeric value assigned to a plant when it is added to the living collection as a way of identifying it.
Accession Date
The year the plant’s accession number was assigned.
Common Name
The non-scientific name for the plant.
Scientific Name
The scientific name describes the species of an organism. The first word is the plant's scientific genus and the second is the specific epithet. This two-word binomial is sometimes followed by other taxonomic descriptors, including subspecies (denoted by "ssp."), variety (denoted by "var."), form (denoted by "f." or "forma"), and cultivar (denoted by single quotation marks).
Plant Family
The family to which the plant belongs.
Propagation Material
The first part (material code) describes the material used to create the plant. The most common codes are "SD" (seed), "EX" (existing plant), "PT" (plant), "CT" (cutting), "SC" (scion), "SG" (seedling), and "GR" (graft). The second part describes the lineage the plant is derived from. The last part describes the year of propagation.
Collection Data
The first part indicates provenance (place or source of origin) using a letter code ("W" = wild, "G" = garden, "Z" = indirect wild, "U" = uncertain). The second part lists the plant source. For wild-collected material, the collector, collection number, and country are given.
Location
The location of the plant on the landscape.
Hover to Learn More
290-2011-A
Fagaceae
Quercus alba
EX LINEAGE 290 - 2011
-
2011
Information insufficient to determine provenance.
Eastern White Oak
Our white oak <i>(Quercus alba,</i> accession 290-2011*A<i>)</i> viewed from the Spring Brook footbridge.
  • Immature acorns
    Immature acorns
  • Bud break
    Bud break
  • Leaves
    Leaves
  • Mature acorn
    Mature acorn
Number on the grounds
123
Oldest
18054*B, 18054*E, 18054*G, 18054*H, 18054*I, 18054*J, 18054*L, 18054*N, 18054*T

This white oak along Hemlock Hill Road is a silent witness to the changing landscape at the Arboretum.

This magnificent white oak represents a species that was growing at the Arboretum when it was designed. It has stood proudly through disturbances from road construction to great hurricanes, transitions from forest to agriculture, from field to city.

Many of the trees on the grounds predate the mass plantings, accessioning processes, and curatorial recordings. Look at the tree’s tag: the number 2011 means that the tree was only added to the plant records 10 years ago as part of an effort to record old, spontaneously growing trees of the Arboretum. At the landscape scale, the decision to integrate the white oak is a form of recognition of past use.

White oak might be best known as a timber or fuel tree, in both settler societies and in Indigenous traditions such as Ojibwe and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). But this specimen has neither been burned nor felled, a reminder of life each season as smooth, bright green leaves emerge and cast deep shade until they turn wine red in the fall.

Telling oaks apart is always easiest with the leaves. White oaks have rounded lobes, and red oaks have pointed lobes. White oaks also have very deep grooves in the bark, by comparison. A feature so distinct in this specimen, you can see the grooves from the path. Notice the impressive spread of the canopy, and the notable girth of this venerable witness to history.

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  • 1 Workmen at the intersection of Valley and Hemlock Hill Roads in a photograph from October 1892. Our white oak may be seen in the center back of the image.
    Workmen at the intersection of Valley and Hemlock Hill Roads in a photograph from October 1892. A white oak (probably accession 286-2011*A) may be seen in the center back of the image.
  • 2 Tall branches of the white oak shine in the late afternoon sun. Compare this photograph taken from a similar perspective as the 1892 image.
    Tall branches of this white oak (accession 286-2011*A) shine in the late afternoon sun. Compare this photograph taken from a similar perspective as the 1892 image.
  • 3 The deeply furrowed bark of the white oak (Quercus alba, accession 290-2011*A).
    The deeply furrowed bark of the white oak (Quercus alba, accession 290-2011*A).
5

Nikko Fir

Abies homolepis var. homolepis

Accession Number
The alpha-numeric value assigned to a plant when it is added to the living collection as a way of identifying it.
Accession Date
The year the plant’s accession number was assigned.
Common Name
The non-scientific name for the plant.
Scientific Name
The scientific name describes the species of an organism. The first word is the plant's scientific genus and the second is the specific epithet. This two-word binomial is sometimes followed by other taxonomic descriptors, including subspecies (denoted by "ssp."), variety (denoted by "var."), form (denoted by "f." or "forma"), and cultivar (denoted by single quotation marks).
Plant Family
The family to which the plant belongs.
Propagation Material
The first part (material code) describes the material used to create the plant. The most common codes are "SD" (seed), "EX" (existing plant), "PT" (plant), "CT" (cutting), "SC" (scion), "SG" (seedling), and "GR" (graft). The second part describes the lineage the plant is derived from. The last part describes the year of propagation.
Collection Data
The first part indicates provenance (place or source of origin) using a letter code ("W" = wild, "G" = garden, "Z" = indirect wild, "U" = uncertain). The second part lists the plant source. For wild-collected material, the collector, collection number, and country are given.
Location
The location of the plant on the landscape.
Hover to Learn More
5675-C
Pinaceae
Abies homolepis var. homolepis
SD LINEAGE 5675
-
1908
Imperial Forest School, Tokyo, Japan
Nikko Fir
A stately Nikko fir <i>(Abies homolepis</i> var. <i>homolepis</i> accession 5675*C<i>)</i> adjacent to Hemlock Hill Road.
  • Immature cones
    Immature cones
  • Underside of needles
    Underside of needles
  • Mature cones
    Mature cones
Number on the grounds
12
Oldest
12410*A from 1882

The stately Nikko fir is an evergreen species that comes from the mountains of Japan.

At the Arboretum, it is impossible not to be awed by this specimen. It attracts visitors from schoolchildren to downy woodpeckers. The leaves are needle-like, but surprisingly flat and wide. They are glossy above and whitish below, indicating stomatal bloom, a waxy coating around stomata. In Japanese, this species is called urajiro-momi or “a fir tree with white undersides.”

This tree was grown from seed received in 1908 from the Imperial Forest School in Tokyo, Japan. This seed was among the 68 packets of seed received from various sources in Japan that year. During his 1892 visit to the country, Sargent networked with Japanese botanists in addition to collecting plants. John George Jack continued the practice during his 1905 expedition, spending time with Professor Kingo Miyabe at the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University) and in the field in Hokkaido. Ernest Henry Wilson, during his two expeditions to the country in 1914-1915 and 1917-1919, collaborated extensively in the field with Japanese colleagues, and it is safe to say that his expedition would not have been as successful had they not had such a fine working relationship.

Sargent described the Nikko fir in his book, Forest Flora of Japan: “The Fir of which we saw the most in Japan is the Abies homolepis… It is the common Fir of central Japan, and abounds on the Nikko Mountains between 4,000 and 5,000 feet elevation above the sea… It is a massive although not a very tall tree, apparently never growing to a greater height than eighty or ninety feet… The pale bark, the long crowded leaves, dark green above and silvery white below, and the large purple cones make this a handsome tree.”

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  • 1 This large Nikko fir (Abies homolepis var. homolepis) draws visitors from Hemlock Hill Road.
    This large Nikko fir (Abies homolepis var. homolepis) draws visitors from Hemlock Hill Road.
  • 2 Nikko fir (Abies homolepsis var. homolepsis, accession 5675*C).
    A close view of the leaves of our Nikko fir (Abies homolepsis var. homolepsis, accession 5675*C).
  • 3 Nikko fir (Abies homolepsis var. homolepsis, accession 5675*C).
    Our Nikko fir (Abies homolepsis var. homolepsis, accession 5675*C), has at some point in it's life had a branch removed here. The wound has healed and a callous has formed over the injury.