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Library of the Arnold Arboretum


Sargent at the Arboretum

The Arnold Arboretum is not a School of Forestry or of Landscape Gardening...[I]t has been managed not merely as a New England museum but as a national and international institution working to increase knowledge of trees in all parts of the world and anxious to help a student in Tasmania or New Caledonia as in Massachusetts. An institution with such ambitions must be equipped to answer any question about any tree growing in any part of the world which may be addressed to it.

Charles Sprague Sargent, 1922


Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) was educated at Harvard, served in the military, and traveled Europe for a few years before returning to Boston and taking over the management of the family estate, Holm Lea. Sargent did not have a formal botany education but possesed good botanical instincts. He was called to Harvard in 1872 and soon assumed the Directorship of the Arnold Arboretum.

In 1863 James Arnold of New Bedford, Massachusetts left over $100,000 to Harvard for "...the promotion of Agricultural, or Horticultural improvements...". This gift was combined with a parcel of land in Jamaica Plain given to the university in 1842 by Benjamin Bussey. Unfortunately with the small stipend of only $3,000 a year, it seemed impossible to turn the land into a flourising Arboretum.

Sargent, along with Frederick Law Olmsted, undertook a massive job. They worked to convince both the Harvard Corporation and the city of Boston that it would be in Harvard's best interest if the city took the land. The city would then lease the property back to Harvard for 1,000 years, at $1 a year, with an option to renew. In that way the city of Boston would bear the cost of constructing roads and paths and Sargent's funding could go towards the development of the grounds. This was no small undertaking, but finally both parties agreed in December 1881. The Arboretum was now part of the city's "Emerald Necklace" and Olmsted and Sargent began the difficult job of planning and designing the Arboretum.

Sargent served 54 years as Director of the Arboretum. During that time it grew from the original 120 acres to 250 acres. Sargent also continued his own research and writing. He wrote many books including Silva of North America, Trees of North America, and Forest Flora of Japan. He also served as editor for the journal Garden and Forest.

Besides collecting plants and specimens, Sargent also acquired books and journals for the Arboretum library. The collection grew from no books in 1872 to over 40,000 by 1929. Most of these were purchased at Sargent's own expense. By the time of his death Sargent had donated his entire library to the Arboretum as well as a large financial gift for upkeep of the existing collection and the purchase of more materials.

In 1954 many of the library materials of the Arnold Arboretum were moved to Cambridge and merged with the Library of the Gray Herbarium while all of the books and journals and most of the archival materials related to the living collections remained in Jamaica Plain.

Today, the Library of the Arnold Arboretum in Cambridge specializes in the identification and classification of "old world" plants, with special emphasis on Southeast Asia. The subjects include systematic botany, floras of the old world, literature on woody plants, and books on poisonous plants.

The Library of the Arnold Arboretum stacks are closed and the collections are non-circulating. Materials may be consulted in the Botany Libraries' main reading room, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

To obtain more information about Library of the Arnold Arboretum's collections or for a specific reference request email us.


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Last updated May 2013
Copyright 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

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