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Tree collecting is becoming a conservation mission with plenty eager to sign up

Of all the things you might amass, trees would have to be one of the most unwieldy. They take up space and they soak up time. It's not a pursuit for the restless. But it's hard to keep a good tree collector from grouping trunks and canopies, foliage and flowers. Their plantations spill over hectares and change with the seasons.

In 1838 the pioneering Scottish botanist and garden designer John Claudius Loudon came up with a name for such a collection: "arboretum". The term stuck.

Loudon himself designed one – all magnolias from the US, maples from China and horse chestnuts from Germany – for a landholder in Derby, who promptly gave it to the people of the city to become Britain's first public park. It was 1840 and this merging of personal collecting and public amenity brought arboreta into the public consciousness.

Max Bourke, a Canberra-based arboreta enthusiast, will this month give an online talk about Loudon's role in the evolution of tree collecting, and discuss arboreta more generally.

Bourke says hundreds or arboreta have been planted in Australia, with their roles having varied over time. In the early years of European settlement they were often established as parks and leisure spaces, but by the end of the 19th century they were increasingly set up to foster scientific research, including testing tree species for forestry operations. While these arboreta could still be as beautiful as cathedrals, they had the bent of a laboratory.

In this time of global warming and species extinction, Bourke says arboreta have now entered a third stage – that of the conservation mission. He says arboreta are increasingly being established, at least in part, to preserve trees that are endangered in the wild.

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Friday, November 13, 2020