Arboretum collecting expedition sources Midwest native plants

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The Arnold Arboretum’s 281-acre landscape is a living museum, displaying plants sourced from all corners of the temperate world for conservation and study. To expand and refine these collections, staff participate in plant exchanges with sister botanical gardens and plant conservation partners, and whenever possible, collect seed directly from the wild. Recently, the Arboretum mounted a fall expedition in the US Midwest in search of naturally occurring native plants to expand holdings and fill gaps in its collections inventory.

The documentation, or backstory, associated with each of the Arboretum’s accessioned plants—the 15,000 plus trees, shrubs, and vines that are recorded, mapped, and tracked by curatorial staff—is a good indication of its value to the Arboretum and science. Knowing precisely where a plant comes from can be important data to researchers. Wild-collected individuals carry the genetic characteristics of their source population, which can aid efforts to conserve and reintroduce threatened and endangered species to their habitats. For these reasons, the Arboretum has sent staff into the field—particularly throughout temperate Asia and North America—for more than a century in search of new species, as well as expand the genetic diversity of species already in cultivation.

This work continues to drive much of the Arboretum’s strategy for plant acquisition today, with renewed vigor since the opening of research facilities on the Arboretum grounds at Weld Hill. In late September, curator of Living Collections Michael Dosmann was joined by former curatorial fellow Jonathan Damery to scout and collect woody plant species in southern Illinois and Indiana. In their five days in the field, the pair collected propagation material in the form of fruit and seed for 24 species, including hickory (Carya spp.) and maple (Acer spp.), two of six national collections held at the Arboretum for plant conservation. Among other compelling acquisitions are three new vine species for the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Collection—wild yam (Dioscorea quaternata), greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia), and woodbine (Clematis virginiana)—as well as a native burning bush species, Euonymus atropurpureus. Voucher specimens including fruits were also obtained to document the species collected for the Arnold Arboretum herbarium.