"On (these) acres much the best arboretum in the world can be formed." - Frederick Law Olmsted, 1880
The Arnold Arboretum was established in 1872 when the trustees of the will of James Arnold, a whaling merchant of New Bedford, transferred a portion of his estate to Harvard College. In the deed of trust, income from the legacy was to be used “for the establishment and support of... the Arnold Arboretum, which shall contain, as far as practicable, all the trees [and] shrubs . . . either indigenous or exotic, which can be raised in the open air.” It soon became a key link in the Emerald Necklace, a seven-mile-long network of parks and parkways that Olmsted laid out for the Boston Parks Department between 1878 and 1896.
Today, the Arboretum is a public park and a research institution, managed through a public-private partnership between the City of Boston and Harvard. It covers 281 acres and its collections include some 14,760 accessioned plants representing 3,800 botanical and horticultural taxa (kinds), with particular emphasis on the woody species of North America and eastern Asia. There is an especially comprehensive representation of Fagus (beech), Lonicera (honeysuckle), Magnolia, Malus (crabapple), Quercus (oak), Rhododendron, and Syringa (lilac). In addition to its living collections the Arboretum holds a herbarium collection in excess of 1.3 million specimens (part of a collection of 5 million specimens held collectively by the Harvard University Herbaria) and library holdings in excess of 40,000 volumes, some of which are located in Jamaica Plain and some in Cambridge at the Herbaria.
The Arboretum offers a web-based tool that allows researchers and visitors to explore and locate specimens throughout the park: http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/home. A non-profit group runs tours and programs: http://www.arboretumparkconservancy.org. Lilac Sunday, which has been held on the second Sunday of May for more than a century, is the Arboretum's annual celebration of the coming of spring.