As all of you who graciously read my Posts know, I truly love the Arnold Arboretum. It is a deeply important part of my life. That said, we are living in unsettling times, and I have been thinking hard about the interrelated questions, “what does the Arnold Arboretum stand for, and what does it mean to the world at large?” I have arrived at four basic and unalterable principles that I wish to share with you.
A commitment to protect and celebrate global biological diversity. The Arnold Arboretum has, from its first days, emphasized global biodiversity, with a mission to collect all of Earth’s woody plant taxa that can be grown in Boston. We value and preserve the abundant riches of the plant kingdom through global expeditions—from China to the Republic of Georgia, the panhandle of Idaho to the southeastern U.S., all in just the past 15 months. Our recently announced plan for a decade of intensive plant exploration places the Arnold Arboretum among the world’s most ambitious botanical gardens in the realm of collecting and protecting temperate woody plants.
A commitment to social and economic justice (human diversity). Economic and social justice elude far too many of our fellow humans. As economic disparity continues to grow, the Arnold Arboretum is one of the very few botanical gardens in the world that is free and open to all, every day of the year. We provide a world-class collection and landscape where everyone can nourish their curiosity, connect with nature, and enjoy the beauty of plants, with no economic barriers. Our free educational outreach to children from Head Start and Boston Public Schools—as well as many free learning programs for adults and families—is predicated on the notion that we are an agent for social good and human enrichment.
A commitment to rationalism and fact-based science inquiry. In a country that demonstrates a troubling (and growing) disregard for science and rational thought, the Arnold Arboretum has strongly invigorated and expanded its scientific operations with faculty, postdoctorals, graduate students, and undergraduates—from Harvard and around the world. The Weld Hill Research Building, opened in 2011, is now a vital part of the Arboretum and Harvard University, and a nexus of scientific inquiry. Here, we “grow” the next generation of scholars and leaders who will discover solutions to the overwhelming problems facing the world’s biodiversity and humanity.
A commitment to the finest horticultural and landscape care. If you have visited over the past few years, you will have seen an extraordinary commitment to enhance the condition and health of our more than 15,000 living (accessioned) plants. Moreover, you will have noticed a level of attention to our landscape that honors designer Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision and legacy. In a time of flat budgets, we have added staffing to our horticultural operations with the knowledge that every tree, shrub, and vine is intended to be cared for and shared for centuries to come.
Collect, share, study, steward. It is that simple. If you too subscribe to this vision of the Arnold Arboretum and its mission, I ask for your support to help us continue to advance these values. And if you have already made a year-end gift, thank you.
Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Director of the Arnold Arboretum