Plant Exploration

Curator of Living Collections, Michael Dosmann, collecting plants.

Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections, making a herbarium specimen of Hydrangea longipes on a NACPEC trip to China in 2010.

Plant Exploration

From the early decades of its founding, the Arnold Arboretum has built its renowned collections by exploring and gathering plants and herbarium vouchers from native habitats around the globe. Through a variety of means—from engaging individuals to seek and obtain a single taxon to multi-year and collaborative expeditions organized to inventory the flora of a specific region—the Arboretum has led or supported more than 150 discrete collecting events in over 70 countries since the late 1800s. Through this commitment, the Arboretum has amassed a premier living collection of temperate woody plants that is one of the most significant and comprehensive of its kind in the Western World.

Field work to document and obtain both native and exotic species of plants to advance the Arboretum’s mission as a research collection and museum of natural history continues to this day, and has been reinvigorated by the launch of the Campaign for the Living Collections. This 10-year initiative focuses on exploration and international collaboration to document biodiversity, conserve threatened species, and shape the Arboretum for the next century. The Campaign targets the acquisition of nearly 400 individual species of plants—more than 150 of which are new to the Arboretum—to expand and refine the collections as a living repository of natural history. This major initiative builds on the Arboretum’s legacy of discovery while recognizing and forecasting the needs of botanical research, the realities of climate change and habitat loss, and the important role botanical gardens play in documenting and preserving biodiversity.

In 2015, Arboretum curation and library staff collaborated on Expeditions Unveiled, an extensive and ongoing research project to investigate the history and impact of the Arboretum’s pioneering contributions to plant exploration. The project weaves together documentation from historical sources including annual Director’s Reports, trip reports, collecting lists, and written correspondence, in order to define and enumerate the Arboretum’s plant exploration efforts. It also crafts a system to track, document, and publish results of ongoing and future expeditionary work. The project’s comprehensive database greatly expands the scope of information available to staff, researchers, and the public about these events and their resulting collections.

In 2017, the Arboretum completed The Arnold Arboretum Expedition Tool Kit, a manual which will serve as a reference for the remainder of the Campaign for the Living Collections. A compilation of knowledge and experience from plant collectors for plant collectors, the tool kit includes references to specific resources necessary for a successful expedition.

More Resources:

Meet the Explorers – Images and notes of collecting trips in East Asia from some of the Arboretum’s earliest explorers

Plant Conservation – Initiatives to preserve and protect biodiversity locally and globally