Virtual Arboretum Resource Page

The Virtual Arboretum (VA) is computer-based, thus digital, representation of a defined, woody plant collection that shows the location, name, spacing, size, traits, and sometimes a digital image of the actual plant taxon. Frequently they are linked to Plant Collection Accession databases so you can also learn about the tree's sourcing, accession number, measurements, literature citations, and more. Usually you zoom in and out, move around the plantings, down roads, and sometimes see a real picture of the tree, shrub, or vine in question. I must quickly add that the virtual arboretum is not the same is most popular virtual tours which only contain photos from a plant here or there, are loosely or not connected to a complete map, have no interactive or search functions and are very simple in their technology. Indeed, the best kind of virtual arboretum is one called the Interactive Virtual Arboretum (IVA) because the user can manipulate their location on a map, search for taxa name, search by GPS grid, zoom in and out, move about space (similar to Google Maps and Google Streetview), and otherwise make the arboretum's representation react to their input. I've even used these to find a rest room and that may be a more pressing need than finding Picea abies 'Cranstonii' on the next hill.

The term virtual arboretum is sometimes used for a campus, city, or region which thinks that cataloging all the old trees in the city or region is something more than it was 50-100 years when those trees were planted. These we call Regional Tree Finders because they are not a defined, woody plant collection in any true sense, conduct little or no scientific research, and they are not curated or managed as is a true arboretum or botanical garden, even if they have regular arboricultural care. The Campus Virtual Arboretum is a very valid concept but it should be rigorously curated, updated for scientific purposes, with detailed data available to researchers, professors, and students, and have an organization that is close to or identical to botanical garden system. The Interactive Garden Map or Interactive Arboretum Map is a different thing than the true VA.These typically have you click a highlight on the overall garden map to show a specific garden name and theme and sometimes a small gallery from it. Showing just threes pictures from the conifer collection does not count as a virtual arb, friends.

The virtual arboretum is not a new concept in terms of the internet. It started sometime in the 80's with CAD-type drawn garden beds that let you click on a plant shape and see it's name and maybe something about it. None of these survive today as far as we can determine. Later you got a picture of the plant itself by clicking it's picture or name or icon. These took two forms, one the Real Virtual Arboretum, a faithful representation of the real space in time with known plant and the Fictional Virtual Arboretum that was entirely made up. The later let people dream of vast gardens they did not have space, time, or money to actually make real. Some fantasy plans were designs that later turned into reality. Whether then virtual arb actually exists or is a complete fantasy of the human mind, they are more than 3-dimensional and can change over time in the 4th dimension. If you append the term 4-D to these type of VA's, this implies the garden can be aged or de-aged, making the plants grow ahead in time or receed to an earlier year.

Let's take a look at some of the best and most interesting IVA's and this in itself is instruction enough. Play with them awhile and that is the best way to learn:
  1. US National Arboretum (USNA) Arboretum Botanical Explorer (ABE) - this system shows not only plants but also features which can be selected or deselected, garden dedications, origin of the plant, and a sort plant selection system by plant class (dwarf shrub, evergreen vs. deciduous, annual, etc)
  2. Harvard's Arnold Arboretum Explorer - very robust for one of the world's most important historical woody plant collections. The plant you find here are not only some of oldest in the Western World for the taxon (because they introduced and/or named them) but are many times the largest known for older cultivars. 
  3. University of Washington, Washington Park Arboretum Interactive Map - there are both desktop and smartphone versions. Very impressive. It can be confusing at first so press + a few times to drill down to the actual plant blobs.
  4. J.C. Raulston Arboretum (all taxa list) - they take a different approach. First of search for a plant name or click on a plant from the complete inventory. Next you get a highlighted bed number. Click on that  and the taxa's location appears.
  5. Dawes Arboretum Explorer - any many ways the Dawes is the best, most complete overall collection of woody plant cultivars in North America. Where else are you going to find 62 Fagus, 407 Acer, 392 Ilex, 252 Picea, 89 Aesculus, 63 Ginkgo, 117 Quercus, 100 Hamamelis, 352 Pinus, and 142 different Viburnum taxa? They took over the mantle of the Arnold decades ago. And unlike many woody collections they have both the very old stuff and the new, rare clones too. Their mouse-over functions on the map are very quick, allowing you to virtually browse many beds and borders in little time.
  6. University of Georgia campus arboretum - this shows major trees on the UGA Athens campus and is useful for students studying their plant ID. Whether you want to see a Wirt L. Wynn holly or an Autumn Sunset serviceberry, this site is here to help.
  7. Elmhurst College Arboretum hosted by ArborScope™ - Bartlett Tree Research offers the ArborScope™ service that helps institutions manage their tree populations on maps. That is very close to a virtual arboretum if not identical because there is curation of the arboricultural nature.
  8. Charles R. Keith Arboretum (Pickoretum) - this collection near Chapel Hill, NC has more than 5000 different woody taxa due to decades of work by retired Duke University Professor Charlie Keith. In some genera more species than anyone else including the famed Arnold Arboretum; partly because USDA 7 allows both very hardy and subtropical taxa in one garden. Now in private hands it is being developed under the name Pickoretum (for the site's original Pickard Mountain)it can be rented. The site linked here has mostly dot and no search functions but you'll find some interesting imagery and names. 
To add a collection or comment on this page email ornamentals       @ and include "virtarb" in the subject line. We manage over 45 websites so it's important we get you to the right editor.

Copyright 2016. Laurence C. Hatch. All Rights Reserved.