Botanical and Cultural Images of Eastern Asia

Botanical and Cultural Images of Eastern Asia, 1907-1927

China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan

“A good set of photographs are really about as important as anything you can bring back with you.”
— Charles Sargent to Ernest Henry Wilson, December 1906

The Arnold Arboretum’s collection of eastern Asian photographs represents the work of intrepid plant explorers who traveled to exotic lands in the early years of the twentieth century and returned to the Arboretum with not only seeds, live plants, and dried herbarium specimens, but also with remarkable images of plants, people, and landscapes.

We invite all armchair travelers who have become desktop explorers to visit early twentieth century Asia through the archival images of our earliest plant collectors.

Meet the Explorers

John G. Jack John George Jack was an educator who also explored and photographed the forest preserves and activities of the lumbering industry in Japan, as well as the forests of Taiwan and Korea.
Ernest Henry Wilson Ernest Henry Wilson visited dozens of countries, collected thousands of plant specimens (cuttings and seeds), and took thousands of incredible photographs which are available to view online.
Frank Meyer Frank Nicholas Meyer worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and through an arrangement made between Charles Sargent and David Fairchild of the USDA, sent the Arnold Arboretum plant specimens along with more 1300 photographs of plants and landscapes.
William Purdom William Purdom provides a rich ethnographic record of the people from Tibetan border region. He was interested in the anthropological and ethnographical aspects of the regions he visited, and took many shots of the people he encountered, documenting their dress and hairstyles.
Joseph Hers Joseph Hers was an interpreter for the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Chengchow, and was superbly situated to collect and photograph rare plants endemic to that region.
Joseph Rock Joseph Francis Charles Rock took numerous photographs and, independently, studied the cultures and languages of the local tribes. Rock explored, photographed, and collected plants in Asia for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Geographic Society, the Arnold Arboretum, among others.

See what they saw



Pagodas, Shrines, Temples, and Bridges


Magnificent Trees

Ernest Wilson’s photographs of Eastern Asia


Daily Life

Baskets, Food, People, Work



Boats, Farms, Rivers, Villages