The trees along this lane create a peaceful corridor.


A botanic garden features plants in cultivated collections.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an arboretum?

Differences Between Arboreta and Botanic Gardens

  • An arboretum is "a place where trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes."

  • A botanic garden is a place "for the exhibition and scientific study of collected, growing plants, usually in association with greenhouses, herbariums, laboratories, etc."

  • A common element in both definitions is the idea of scholarship. This is the most essential activity of arboreta and botanic gardens, and explains why they are usually affiliated with universities. Gardens and tree-covered landscapes whose sole purpose is pleasure or diversion do not qualify as arboreta.

Historic Context

  • The earliest botanic gardens were assembled in medieval times for the cultivation and study of medicinal plants. Later, the growth and importance of botanic gardens and arboreta was fueled by eager interest in the decorative and economic possibilities of newly discovered plants from distant corners of the world.

  • Botanists frequently accompanied eighteenth- and nineteenth-century voyages of discovery, and their collections (living and preserved) were gathered into botanic gardens and arboreta for classification and study.

Modern arboreta serving contemporary needs

The discovery of new plants and plant taxonomy are important, but modern arboreta and botanic gardens are more likely to be used for purposes that were not envisioned a century or two ago:

  • Sources of otherwise unavailable DNA for studying plant relationships;

  • Repositories for plants whose existence in the wild is precarious;

  • Resources for evaluating the medicinal properties of plants;

  • Facilities for educating the public in the plant sciences;

  • Demonstrations of garden design and varietal performance;

  • Institutional leadership in conservation efforts.

The Arboretum at Penn State - gardens and much more

  • Botanic and horticultural gardens are prominent in our plans, but "botanic gardens" does not seem broad enough to encompass all that we have in mind for this facility, including such things as a relocated turfgrass research facility and an air quality education center, not to mention a breeding orchard for blight resistant American chestnut and a recreated central Pennsylvania prairie patch.

  • The broad scope of programs envisioned for Penn State's facility led us to choose the broader term "arboretum."

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