As a department of Harvard University, the Arnold Arboretum shares its collections and landscape with educators and students from a wide array of disciplines. The following courses, offered through Harvard College and Harvard’s graduate schools, illustrate some of the ways the Arboretum recently has contributed to the university’s educational mission. Please note these courses are administered through Harvard University and are not offered as a part of the Arnold Arboretum’s adult education program.
Dr. William (Ned) Friedman
Do you think you know who Charles Darwin was? The sober-looking, bearded scholar behind the most important paradigm shift in human history? In this seminar, students will read Darwin’s seminal work, On the Origin of Species (1859), paying close attention to the science as well as the man as revealed by his writing. Students will get to know Charles Darwin—the avid breeder of pigeons, lover of barnacles, devoted father and husband, gifted correspondent and tactician, and remarkable backyard scientist. In this latter vein, several of Charles Darwin’s classic Down House experiments that were central to making his case for natural selection and evolution will be recreated at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The class will share the myriad basic observations of organisms and their interactions with the environment that made Darwin the master of minutia and provided the foundation for his grand synthesis of evolutionary pattern and process. See an article from National Geographic about this class.
This introductory course is part of the core curriculum for students studying for the Masters in Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Peter Del Tredici, who is also on the staff of the Arboretum, will bring students to the Arboretum to study the development of form in woody plants (tree architecture) as well as the ecology of landscape maintenance. Peter has taught a number of courses at the GSD since 1992 and typically includes class trips to the Arboretum for advanced field studies on trees and landscape maintenance.
Dr. Peter Del Tredici
This class is an elective for students studying for the Masters in Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). It relies heavily on plant material collected from the Arboretum for teaching the basic principles of plant identification. Now in its third year, this course focuses on the interaction between the plant and its environment, particularly as it pertains to the cultivation of plants in managed landscapes.
During a field trip to the Arboretum, the class examines conifer vegetative and reproductive morphology, transversing the entire length of Conifer Path. Beginning with a discussion of short shoot/long shoot morphology in Gingko and Larix, the group studies male and female reproductive cones in Larix and notes the different phenological patterns of species from different latitudes. The class observes the wax plugs in stomata of pine and fir leaves, and discusses the traits that distinguish various genera. Metasequoia and Sequoia specimens are visited, and the history of Metasequoia is discussed. Taxus and several other genera are considered to exemplify the extreme imbalance between male and female reproduction. The horticultural varieties toward the end of the walk provide the basis for a discussion on the role of hormones in controlling plant morphology and environmental response.
This course looks at how natural sciences are changing our understanding of the human past. At the Arboretum, students work with Arboretum staff to take core samples from trees and examine the samples under the microscope in our undergraduate teaching lab to see first-hand how plants can inform history.
Dr. Colleen M. Cavanaugh
First-year graduate students in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology learn about the research interests and experiences of scientists in this field of study. They also learn about the myriad resources that Harvard has to offer including tours of the Arnold Arboretum led by Arboretum staff.
The class is led on a tour through the living collections of the Arnold Arboretum by staff, highlighting themes of biodiversity and conservation. This course focuses on forests and the vast range of products and services they offer human civilization, both economically and culturally. Students receive an introduction to the biology and ecology of forest ecosystems. An overarching theme throughout the course is understanding how climate change affects forests and the ecological services we derive from them, and in turn how forests impact their own growth environment and can affect global climate change.
Ivan Gaskell and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich bring a group of students and teaching fellows to the Arnold Arboretum as a field trip for their general education course, Tangible Things. The course explores the proposition that people make history through the things they create, collect, exhibit, exchange, or discard. By learning how and why particular things arrived at Harvard and what happened to them over time, students discover how material objects have shaped academic disciplines, reinforce or challenge social boundaries, and define America’s place in the world. Director Ned Friedman, Archivist Sheila Connor, and Curator of Living Collections Michael Dosmann describe the history of collecting at the Arboretum. Afterwards, Dr. Dosmann leds the group to the Dana Greenhouse and explains the principles of specimen collection and classification. The class views the propagation facilities and learns about the life cycle of specimens from seed to mature tree.
Recording from April 27, 2011
A class of Harvard freshmen visit the Arnold Arboretum in the spring as the last class of their freshman seminar course on acoustic biology and the evolution of music. The recording above is from their visit on April 27, 2011. Armed with portable sound recorders, microphones, and earphones, the students documented the sounds of nature at the Arboretum, including American toads trilling and mating in the ponds; red-winged blackbirds, yellow warblers, song sparrows, and goldfinches singing overhead; and many other migrating and resident bird species in and around the marsh and woods. Starting in January, students learned how and why animals sing, from woodwind-like birds, mammals, and frogs to the percussionist insects, and spent a semester listening through headphones to recordings of animal sounds. This trained their ears for immersing themselves in the cacophonous, multi-dimensional, surround-sound environment of the Arboretum. The students recorded toads, birds, and even underwater insects; most importantly, they left with a new enthusiasm for research and study of the ecosystems that comprise the Arboretum. One student returned a few days later to begin sampling bees, initiating a long-term study in the Farrell Lab of the diversity of pollinators at the Arboretum. Professor Farrell will continue recording sounds of Arboretum fauna.