February 12 is Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday, cause for celebration here at the Arnold Arboretum. For twenty-four hours beginning after midnight, our homepage will feature a rotating set of Darwin’s quotations on trees and plant biodiversity.
Many of the key insights that Darwin used to make his case for evolution by natural selection came from his knowledge of plant domestication. Darwin keenly understood that if humans could employ artificial selection to create a myriad of horticultural varieties in mere hundreds to thousands of years, then nature, through tens and hundreds of millions of years, could yield immensely more! This is a reminder of the important role that botanical gardens, arboreta, and other natural history collections continue to play in making the evolutionary process familiar to all of us. Our collections of crabapples, lilacs, roses, rhododendrons, dwarf conifers, and many more provide living examples of random mutation, variation, and selection, the very stuff of evolution.
Take a few minutes to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin by viewing some amazing resources. The Darwin Correspondence Project is working to digitize more than 15,000 surviving pieces of correspondence, and Darwin Online shares digital copies of almost all of Darwin’s publications and private writings. In these databases, you will find much more than natural selection. Type in the keyword cherry and see what Darwin wrote about cherry trees in his various books. Or mulberry to find Darwin’s description of the trees on the property of Down House where many of his legendary experiments took place.
And finally, come today and often to the Arnold Arboretum. With some 15,000 curated woody plants and more than 2,200 species, the Arboretum is the perfect place to reflect on the depth of evolutionary time and the beauty of biodiversity.
William (Ned) Friedman
Director of the Arnold Arboretum
Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University