Arnold Arboretum Celebrates Plant Graduation Class of 2021

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Plant graduation season, an annual rite of passage at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, is an occasion for pomp and circumstance as well as a reminder of our connections to nature and the power of plants.

Commencement speaker District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley and Arnold Arboretum staff pose with Class of 2021 Honorary Degree recipient, Cercidiphyllum japonicum [katsura tree]; (Image courtesy of the Arnold Arboretum)

The Plant Graduation Class of 2021 took place on April 2 and featured more than 500 plants, some rare and endangered, graduating from the nursery and finding placement throughout the 281-acre landscape of the free and open museum teaching the world about plants.

Before the plants officially graduated from the greenhouses for their new “careers” out in the field, a commencement ceremony was held to honor the budding and burgeoning Class of 2021.

“The fact that there are more and more plants being planted and groomed and protected and nourished shows the importance of this place," said District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley.

“At the Arnold Arboretum we do conservation, education, and we are trying to make sure people understand their responsibilities to the planet and to their fellow species,” added Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum.

While Plant Graduation Day is a moment for celebration, the Arnold Arboretum’s nearly 150 years of expertise collecting plant species has taken on new urgency in an era of biodiversity threats and climate change. Since its beginnings as the first public arboretum in North America, the Arnold has served as a safe harbor and sentinel for plant life and has become a sanctuary for some 1,500 plants of conservation concern – a number that grows each year.

“The air we breathe and the food we eat comes from plants, so it is intrinsically important that we not only protect them in nature and study how they grow and survive here at the Arboretum but be inspired by them as well,” said Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum. “Combatting extinction depends on growing broad public interest in plants as awe-inspiring and worth protecting – and we’re in a race against time.”

“Being a part of the horticulture team, you really get to see people’s connections with plants – it really uplifts their spirit to have this wonderful greenspace to come to and enjoy in the middle of the city,” said Rachel Brinkman, Assistant Manager of Horticulture at the Arnold Arboretum.

“We grow plants from around the world and plant them in a public park. These plants are accessible to the residents of Boston and this is a place where people can be inspired by and learn about plants from around the world,” added Chris Copeland, Greenhouse Horticultural Technician at the Arnold Arboretum.

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