Alfred Rehder

Historical Biographies

Rehder examining a Rhododendron specimen in the Herbarium, 1939. Photograph by Dmitri Kessel.

Alfred Rehder examining a Rhododendron specimen in the Herbarium of the Arnold Arboretum, 1939. Photograph by Dmitri Kessel.

Alfred Rehder (1863-1949)

Born in Germany to a family of horticulturists, Alfred Rehder was one of the foremost of plant researchers of his day. After attending Gymnasium, he apprenticed to his father and later continued his botanical studies in Berlin. There he worked as a gardener and in 1895 became the associate editor of Moller’s Deutsches Gartner-Zeitung. He published over a hundred articles during the three years he was associated with the magazine.

In 1898 at age 34, Rehder sailed for the United States to undertake dendrological studies for Moller’s and to investigate fruit growing and viniculture in the United States for the German government. To supplement his stipend from Moller’s, Rehder applied to Charles Sprague Sargent to work on the Arboretum grounds for the princely sum of $1.00 a day. As noted in Arnoldia in 1938, “his first task was to eliminate the weeds in the then newly established shrub collection by the vigorous use of a hoe.” Sargent, impressed by his botanical knowledge and work ethic, convinced Rehder to join the Arboretum staff.

One of his first assignments was to work on the Bradley Bibliography, a massive listing of all the written works on woody plants published before 1900. The research and publication of the bibliography was funded by Abby A. Bradley as a memorial to her father, William Lambert Bradley (1826-1894) an innovator in the field of chemical fertilizers. By the time it was completed, Rehder had compiled more than 100,000 entries.

Ernest Wilson’s plant collections in China stimulated years of work on the part of Arboretum staff members, not the least being Alfred Rehder. Along with identifying and naming new plants, Rehder collaborated with Wilson to write the Plantae Wilsoniae which documented Wilson’s Chinese plant collections. In 1913 he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard University for his work on the Bradley Bibliography, and in 1918 he became the Curator of the Herbarium at the Arnold Arboretum. Over the course of his career, Rehder authored some 1,400 plant names and published more than 1,000 articles—in both English and German—in botanical and horticultural publications. His botanical legacy is significant—over sixty genera and species bear his name, including many growing in the Arboretum’s living collections like Ostrya rehderiana, a Chinese tree critically endangered in the wild.

Alfred Rehder officially retired in 1940 at age 77, but continued to work on the immense Bibliography of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the Cooler Temperate Regions of the Northern Hemisphere, published in 1949.

Archive of the Arnold Arboretum. Alfred Rehder (1863-1949) papers, 1898-1949. [pdf].

Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. The Bradley bibliography : a guide to the literature of the woody plants of the world published before the beginning of the twentieth century. Koenigstein, W. Ger. : Otto Koeltz Science Publishers, 1976.

Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. Bibliography of cultivated trees and shrubs, hardy in the cooler temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Jamaica Plain, Mass. : Arnold Arboretum of Harvard Univ., 1949.

Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. “Charles Sprague Sargent.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. vol. VIII, Lancaster, Pa. : Arnold Arboretum, 1927.

Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. “Enumeration of the ligneous plants of northern China … pt. 1-3.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. vol. iv, pp. 118-192; vol. v. pp. 137-224. vol. vii. pp. 151-227. vol. xiii pp. 385-409. Part 4, Additions and continuation. Cambridge, Mass., 1923-26.

Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. Manual of cultivated trees and shrubs hardy in North America : exclusive of the subtropical and warmer temperate regions. Portland, Or. : Dioscorides Press, 1986.

Wilson, Ernest Henry, 1876-1930 and Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. A monograph of azaleas : Rhododendron subgenus Anthodendron. Sakonnet, R.I. : Theophrastus Publishers, 1977.

Rehder, Alfred, 1863-1949. “Synopsis of the genus Lonicera.” Issued October 8, 1903. [St. Louis, Mo.] 1903. From the Fourteenth annual report of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

A complete bibliography of Rehder’s works can be found at the end of Clarence E. Kobuski’s obituary in Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, January 1950.