Living Collections Policy

Living Collections Policy

(For additional information about the Arboretum’s Living Collections Policy, complete with an introductory article about its history and application at the Arboretum, refer to this article in Arnoldia. Note: this article describes the Living Collections Policy issued in 2007, but it is similar to this current 2012 version.)

Policy reviewed and approved on 17 December, 2012

I. Introduction

A. Purpose of the Living Collections Policy

The Living Collections Policy of the Arnold Arboretum guides the development, management, and enhancement of the institution’s Living Collections, and applies to all plants outlined below under Scope of the Living Collections.  The Living Collections Policy is written and administered by the Living Collections Committee, which comprises the Curator of Living Collections (Chair of the Committee), Director, Director of Operations, Supervisor of Horticulture, Manager of Plant Records, Manager of the Dana Greenhouses, Director of Research Facilitation, and Senior Research Scientist.  The Living Collections Policy is reviewed every five years and revised as needed.  Operational procedures related to implementation of this and related policies are detailed in other Arboretum documents including General Procedures for Managing the Flow of Plants through the Department of Horticulture (January, 2007); The Landscape Management Plan (Third Edition, 2012); and Plant Inventory Operations Manual (Second Edition, 2011).

B. Purpose of the Living Collections

The Living Collections of the Arnold Arboretum are essential to achieving its mission as a research institution dedicated to improving the understanding, appreciation, and preservation of woody plants.  As a national and international resource for research in the various fields of plant biology and beyond, the Arboretum’s Living Collections are actively developed and managed to support scientific investigation, conservation, education, and amenity roles.

C. Legal and ethical considerations

Activities related to the development, management, and use of the Arnold Arboretum’s living collections comply with all relevant local, state, federal, and international laws.  This includes compliance with regulations posed by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).  It is the responsibility of the individual acquiring plant material to research current national access laws and quarantines governing the collection, movement, and distribution of plants within and outside the US.  All taxa are evaluated for their potential invasiveness, and should invasive or potentially invasive plants be retained for their scientific value, additional management procedures are put into place for containment purposes; they are not distributed for horticultural use, but may be distributed to researchers investigating invasion biology.

D. Access and Use

The Arboretum provides open and reasonable access to the Living Collections for research, conservation, education, and amenity purposes.  Public areas of the Arboretum are open for visitor enjoyment and casual study during all hours of operation.  However, no material can be collected or removed from the Arboretum without prior permission.  This includes all access for teaching, research, and propagation purposes.  The Arboretum maintains the right to refuse access to the collections and/or associated documentation due to, but not limited to, considerations of resource limitations, availability, applicable restrictions, and time constraints.


II. Scope of the Living Collections

The Living Collections are divided into three primary categories: Core, Historic, and Miscellaneous Collections; within each are secondary collections.  This organization allows priority to be assigned to all extant, as well as potential, accessions within each category, thus guiding collections development, management, and enhancement.  It should be noted that none of the primary, or secondary, collections are mutually exclusive and that many accessions fall into multiple categories.  Also note that some plants are grown exclusively for research and experimental purposes by the faculty of Harvard University and the senior scientists of the Arboretum and are outside the Scope of this Living Collections Policy.

A. Core Collections

The Core Collections are of highest priority and receive the greatest focus with respect to development, management and enhancement.  In general, these collections are intrinsic to the mission of the institution through their research use, and preference is placed on material of documented wild origin.  Exceptions to provenance requirements are made only in specific cases when the value is significant enough to warrant accessioning.  By and large, these collections are regarded as obligatory.

1. Biogeographic Collections

Collections representing the floras of eastern North America and eastern Asia have been an important traditional focus, strongly supporting research related to the floristic relationships between these two regions.  In particular, eastern North American-Asian disjunct taxa receive high priority with respect to collections development.

2. NAPCC Collections
As part of its commitment to the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC), the Arboretum maintains and develops collections of botanical taxa within the following genera: Acer, Carya, Fagus, Stewartia, Syringa, and Tsuga.  Because they serve as national germplasm repositories, development and maintenance maximizes both inter- and intraspecific diversity.

3. Conservation Collections
As part of its commitment to the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), the Arboretum maintains and develops collections of the following species: Amelanchier nantucketensis, Diervilla rivularis, Diervilla sessilifolia, Fothergilla major, Ilex collina, Rhododendron prunifolium, Rhododendron vaseyi, Spiraea virginiana, and Viburnum bracteatumThese species, as well as other taxa of conservation value outside the scope of CPC, are developed and maintained with the goals of preserving as high a level of intraspecific diversity as is practicable.

4. Synoptic Collections
Collections of documented wild-origin species that together provide a synoptic representation of the woody flora of the North Temperate Zone are maintained and developed.  Emphasis is first placed on generic diversity, and then inter- and intraspecific diversity as is practicable.


B. Historic Collections

The Arboretum’s early contributions to plant exploration and horticultural improvement are manifested in a number of Historic Collections.  In general, these collections are maintained, but not actively developed except in cases where authentic material of Arboretum origin can be repatriated, or the material is sufficiently unique to warrant accessioning.

1. Early Arnold Arboretum Introductions

Plants collected by early Arboretum staff (e.g., C. S. Sargent, E. H. Wilson, J. G. Jack, J. Rock) may lack sufficient documentation, or be of garden origin.  However, because they represent important historical chapters in the development of the institution, they are maintained in the Living Collections.  In some cases, these accessions may represent genotypes no longer extant in the wild because of local extinction and thus have high conservation value.

2. Nurseries and Horticulturists

Accessions derived from historically significant nurseries, botanical institutions, and horticulturists (e.g., H. J. Veitch, T. Meehan, M. Vilmorin) may lack full documentation, but are maintained in the Living Collections.  These often represent the initial introductions of species into cultivation and are, in all probability, wild-collected.  In some cases, these accessions may represent genotypes no longer extant in the wild because of local extinction and thus have high conservation value.

3. Distinctive Cultivar Collections

Early in its development, the Arboretum established diverse collections of garden selections now regarded as cultivars within various plant groups (e.g., dwarf conifers, Malus, Rhododendron, Syringa).  Because of their period and the comprehensive nature of some, these collections are maintained, but not developed except in rare instances.

4. Cultivars with names proposed prior to 1953
The Living Collections contain a number of historic cultivars with Latinized names that were proposed in a botanical context prior to 1953.  While not developed, these are maintained, particularly when they represent material unique in cultivation.

5. Arnold Arboretum Cultivar Introductions
Throughout its history, the Arboretum has selected and introduced a number of clones for ornamental use, many of which were initially regarded as botanical formae but are now recognized as cultivars.  Because they arose at the Arboretum, they are maintained and development occurs only to repatriate genotypes lost by the Arboretum.

6. Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection

The Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection, while not actively developed, is of high priority within the Arboretum’s Living Collections because of its historic and aesthetic value.


C. Miscellaneous Collections

In addition to those within the above collection categories, The Living Collections comprise a number of plants grown for short-term research projects, to achieve display effects, for interpretation, for evaluation, or may fall outside of traditional scope and not even be accessioned.  However, because they play important roles in the Arboretum’s research, horticultural and educational work, they are included within the Living Collections.  These may be obligatory or discretionary, and development decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

1. Display Collections

Plants of cultivated origin, particularly cultivars selected for unique traits, serve important research and education roles; however their primary value is for display.  Examples include plants with exceptional ornamental qualities, strong adaptability to the New England climate (including resistance to stress, insects, and diseases), and those under evaluation.  These collections are regarded as discretionary and are developed and maintained as needed, with the acknowledgement that accessions may be deaccessioned when their value no longer meets the appropriate standard.

2. Natural and Naturalized Areas; Spontaneous Flora

The Arboretum landscape contains several natural areas representative of the New England Flora (e.g., North Woods, Hemlock Hill) as well as an urban wild (Bussey Brook Meadow).  Generally, these regions are maintained through natural regeneration of the existing vegetation; however development may occur under certain circumstances (e.g., restoration following major disturbance).  Throughout the Arboretum’s landscape, spontaneous generation of native, as well as exotic, plants occurs.  As a matter of course, some of these plants are removed because of their noxious characteristics, while others are left in place and may even be accessioned (in particular spontaneous interspecific hybrids or landscape specimens).

3. Interior, Greenhouse, and Nursery Collections

A number of accessions are cultivated at the Dana Greenhouses and the Weld Hill Research Facility because they lack winter hardiness and cannot be cultivated in the permanent collections.  Other plants are grown for experimental, observational, and other programmatic functions outside the scope of production for the accessioned Living Collections.  Development and maintenance of these plants is the responsibility of the primary investigator or other assigned staff member, with the understanding that these may be formally accessioned at a later time.



Appendix: Definition of terms used in the Living Collections Policy


An accession is the basic unit of a collection and identified by a unique accession number.  By definition it represents a single taxon, from a single source, acquired at one time, and through one means of propagation.  It may comprise a single plant, or multiple plants, each identified by a letter qualifier following the accession number, or MASS in the case of mass plantings (e.g., 3-48*A, 21087*MASS).

Accessioning is the process of adding specimens to the Arboretum’s Living Collections and occurs immediately at the time of entry regardless of its stage (e.g., plant, cutting, scion, seed).  All accession records are permanent and are not expunged should deaccessioning occur.

Acquisition of new accessions may be through field collection, exchange, gift, or purchase.  All acquisitions must meet specific collections development goals in accordance with the Scope detailed in this Living Collections Policy.

A collection is defined as a group of accessions organized by a particular category for curatorial, educational, research, display, or other use.  A collection need not be physically grouped together, and a single accession may be part of multiple collections.

Curation is the process of managing the Living Collections to guarantee its conservation, guide its development, ensure its documentation, and facilitate its enhancement.

Deaccessioning is the process of removing a living accessioned plant from the collections, but does not include the removal of any records.  Deaccessioning decisions are made by the Curator of Living Collections.

Development is the process by which the Living Collections undergo change through the acquisition of new accessions and the deaccessioning of accessions no longer needed.

Discretionary collections meet specific research, display, education or other programmatic needs, but are not necessarily central to the mission of the Arboretum; they can be regarded as temporary.

Enhancement is the process of adding value to the Living Collections through documentation, research, and other means.

The Living Collections comprise all plants formally accessioned, and in a broad sense also contain unaccessioned plants in natural areas and spontaneous flora.

Maintenance, from a curatorial standpoint, is the practice of vegetatively repropagating an obligatory accession in order to preserve and perpetuate its genetic lineage.  Multiple accessions of the same lineage are genetically identical.

Obligatory collections are those central to the mission of the Arboretum and are considered permanent.

A taxon (plural, taxa) is a unit of any rank within the taxonomic hierarchy (e.g., family, genus, species, variety, cultivar).