After the long Boston winters, there is nothing like getting outside during spring. While my absolute favorite place to visit in the spring is the Boston Public Garden, Arnold Arboretum is a very close second. And the highlight during spring at the Arboretum is definitely the lilacs!
History of Arnold Arboretum
The Arnold Arboretum has been around for over 100 years. Back in 1872, the trustees to the will of the owner of the land, whaling merchant James Arnold, transferred a portion of it to Harvard University to be used as an arboretum. Ten years later in 1882, Harvard University granted the land the arboretum is on to the City of Boston to be included in the 7 mile long public parks system known as the Emerald Necklace which was designed by famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. This agreement is to last 2,000 years, so the Arnold Arboretum is hear to stay for well past our lifetime!
The Arnold Arboretum is located in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston which is also home to the brewery of the most famous beer brewed in Boston, Sam Adams. The arboretum covers 281 acres and includes a living collection of 15,500 plants, a herbarium of 1.3 million specimens and a library with over 40,000 volumes. The arboretum is used by Harvard University to study plant biology, evolution, ecology and horticulture.
The Lilacs of Arnold Arboretum
There are many different flowers and plants to see and a lot of different walks to take, but the lilacs are the star of the show in the spring. There are over 400 lilac plants in the arborteum representing 179 different kinds of lilac. They can be viewed from late April thru mid to late May each year.
The lilac collection at Arnold Arboretum is one of the oldest and largest in North America and is thought to date back to as early as 1806 before the Arboretum was even established. The oldest lilacs in North America are located just an hour north in Portsmouth, NH and it’s said they were planted in 1750. Lilacs are so popular in the New England states as they are best grown in colder climates. While lilacs have a history in North America, the vast majority of lilacs originated in Asia and the most common type of lilac, Syringa vulgaris originated in eastern Europe.
When most people think of lilacs, they think of the color purple, but lilacs come in a whole rainbow of colors. My favorites are the purple, pink and white variety and when you see them all together the colors contract each other well.
While walking thru the lilac collection, take note of the signs. There are stories behind many of these lilac plants. Whether it’s a lilac cultivated, donated or named in honor of someone, each story is great to read and makes walking thru the garden more interesting. A self guided tour is available to learn more about the lilacs.
The lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum are so popular that in 1908, Lilac Sunday was born. This annual event was originally held when the lilacs were at peak bloom, but it has since moved to the second Sunday of May, Mother’s Day. The event features guided tours of the lilacs and is the one day of the year that picnics are allowed in the arboretum. In 1997, a new lilac was cultivated at the Arboretum and was named Lilac Sunday after this popular annual event.
More than lilacs
There are many other flowers and plants to see in the Arboretum and spring is a great time to see them. There are many paths throughout the arboretum to take. There are many self guided tours you can take both virtually online or while in the park on the Expeditions app to learn more about the different plants as you walk thru the park.
The Arboretum is a beautiful place to spend a spring day and it’s large enough that you could easily spend an entire afternoon there. They also have a visitors center which is interesting to check out as well. The visitors center has been closed for the past year.
Visiting Arnold Arboretum
The Arboretum is open daily from sunrise to sunset and admission is free. It’s accessible by public transportation and there is free on street parking outside the Arboretum.
Who wants to head to Lilac Sunday next year?
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