By Mari Ann Loucks, Marketing Associate

As a new employee at The Dawes Arboretum, I often had to explain to my friends and family that a park is different from an arboretum. Merriam-Webster defines an arboretum as “a place where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes.” In other words, think of an arboretum as a tree museum.

While there are quite a few things that differentiate us from a park, these are the main differences:

  1. Parks typically have common plants often found in nurseries. The Dawes Arboretum has rare and unique plants in addition to the common plants.
  2. We research and evaluate our plants, keeping very detailed plant records to ensure that The Dawes Arboretum continues to expand the knowledge and love of trees and nature for all visitors and the scientific community. More than 16,000 plants on Arboretum grounds bear labels that provide specific information. Look for a post label along a trail or hanging tag from branches on the north side of the plant.
  3. Parks tend to have playgrounds and sport courts and while we want you to enjoy our many marked trails, some recreational games that you would play in a park such as throwing a Frisbee, could cause harm to our plants and trees.
  4. Arboretums have exceptional plant diversity. On our grounds, this includes thousands of different plants ranging from woody trees and shrubs to herbaceous perennials. Several of The Arboretum’s most renowned plant collections even belong to the Plant Collections Network, a group of North American botanical gardens and arboreta that coordinates a continent-wide approach to preserving plant genetics.
  5. Parks typically receive funding from a government source. The arboretum is funded through donations from the community, memberships and our endowment created by the Dawes family.
  6. The Dawes Arboretum has a multitude of conservation efforts including habitat restoration and invasive plant control. Visit our exceptional created wetlands, the Dutch Fork Wetlands off of White Chapel Road.
  7. We focus heavily on education so that we can share the knowledge we have obtained through nearly 100 years of plant records. Our extensive educational programming includes a six-month residential training program for emerging professionals in the field to live and work on Arboretum grounds and learn from our conservation and horticulture teams.

Arboretums and parks have some similarities, but have very different focuses. I hope this helps answer any questions you may have about what those differences are!