Saluting a Paragon of Plants

by Jon Hetman, Director of External Relations & Communications
January 6, 2014

Peter Del Tredici

Saluting a Paragon of Plants

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Arboretum Senior Scientist Peter Del Tredici Retires

I consider ‘weed’ to be a politically incorrect term. There is no biological definition of the term weed. It’s really a value judgment.
—Peter Del Tredici [from Boston Globe]

Throughout its 140-year history, the Arnold Arboretum has advanced our understanding of biodiversity through the work of some of the most significant people in plant science. Among this select group is Senior Research Scientist Peter Del Tredici, who retires from the Arboretum in January 2014 after 35 years. Over that time, Peter has made many indelible contributions to the stewardship and study of the living collections as well as to the fields of plant morphology, plant exploration, public horticulture, urban ecology, and the science of climate change. A uniting theme in his work has been to bridge the gaps that traditionally separate the fields of landscape design, horticulture, and ecology.

Peter began his career at the Arboretum in 1979 as an assistant propagator in the Arboretum’s Dana Greenhouses. Over three subsequent decades at the Arboretum, Peter has been recognized for his research on an array of plants and plant families, including Ginkgo biloba, conifers and dwarf conifers, magnolias (Magnolia spp.), stewartias (Stewartia spp.), and hemlocks (Tsuga spp.). Since 1984, Peter has also curated the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection, conducting extensive research into their origins and leading a comprehensive restoration effort to return them to their traditional design. He has won numerous awards including the Jackson Dawson Memorial Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1986, the Arthur Hoyt Scott Garden and Horticultural Award in 1999, and the Veitch Memorial Medal from The Royal Horticultural Society in 2013.

Deeply interested in the Arboretum’s historical work in Asia and the introduction of Asian plants, Peter participated in eight collecting expeditions to China for the Arboretum: Hubei Province (1994), Zhejiang Province (1989 and 1995), Jilin Province (1997), Guizhou Province (2002), Jiangxi Province (2004), Sichuan Province (2005), and Chongqing Province (2007). He has also collected a wide variety of plants in various parts of North America. The author of more than 150 scientific and popular articles, Peter has contributed extensively to the Arboretum’s journal, Arnoldia, as writer of more than 60 articles, member of the editorial committee, and as editor from 1989 to 1992.

From 1992 to 2003, Peter served as Director of Living Collections, stewarding the care and expansion of Arboretum plant holdings and contributing to efforts to improve plant health and to embrace more sustainable methods of landscape maintenance. Through his leadership, the Arboretum renovated its 100-year-old drainage system to improve the hydrology of the landscape, redesigned Chinese Path in what is now the Explorers Garden, and redesigned the summit of Peters Hill.

In recent years as Senior Research Scientist, Peter has turned his attention to the study of adaptive plants in urban environments. In addition to teaching Harvard students on this topic at the Graduate School of Design, he championed the establishment of the Arboretum’s Bussey Brook Meadow as a preserve for the long-term study of urban ecology and organismic succession in disturbed landscapes. His 2010 book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide is considered a seminal work in the study of emergent vegetation, providing an objective reassessment of the critical role that naturally-occurring plants play in the health and ecological cycling of urban environments.

Senior Research Scientist, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
(July 2003 to present)
Lecturer, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
(1992 to present)
Director of Living Collections of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
(May 1992 to July 2003)
Editor of Arnoldia, the Magazine of the Arnold Arboretum
(1989 to April 1992)
Curator of the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection
(1982 to present)
Assistant Plant Propagator, Arnold Arboretum
(1979 to 1989)

Urban Ecology Resources

Peter Del Tredici (September 9–13, 2010). “A Primer on Urban Ecology.” ASLA 2010 Annual Meeting and Expo. American Society of Landscape Architects.


Del Tredici, Peter (2010). Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide. Cornell University Press.
Del Tredici, Peter (1989). Early American bonsai : the Larz Anderson collection of the Arnold Arboretum. Jamaica Plain, Mass. : Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.
Del Tredici, Peter (1984). St. George and the Pygmies: The Story of Tsuga Canadensis ‘Minuta’. Theophrastus.
Del Tredici, Peter (1983). A Giant Among the Dwarfs: The Mystery of Sargent’s Weeping Hemlock. Theophrastus.

Additional Resources
Harvard Magazine: The Living Dinosaur


The Ginkgo’s Secrets
Repotting Bonsai at the Arnold Arboretum

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