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An arboretum (plural: arboreta) in a narrow sense is a collection of trees only. Related collections include a fruticetum (from the Latin frutex, meaning shrub), and a viticetum, a collection of vines. More commonly, today, an arboretum is a botanical garden containing living collections of woody plants intended at least partly for scientific study. An arboretum specializing in growing conifers is known as a pinetum. Other specialist arboreta include saliceta (willows), populeta, and querceta (oaks).
Egyptian Pharaohs planted exotic trees and cared for them; they brought ebony wood from the Sudan, and pine and cedar from Syria. Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt returned bearing thirty-one live frankincense trees, the roots of which were carefully kept in baskets for the duration of the voyage; this was the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees. It is reported that Hatshepsut had these trees planted in the courts of her Deir el Bahri mortuary temple complex.
Arboreta are special places for the cultivation and display of a wide variety of different kinds of trees and shrubs (that is ligneous plants). Many tree collections have been claimed as the first arboretum, in most cases, however, the term has been applied retrospectively as it did not come into use until the later eighteenth century. Arboreta differ from pieces of woodland or plantations because they are botanically significant collections with a variety of examples rather than just a few kinds. Of course there are many tree collections that are much older than the eighteenth century in different parts of the world. Probably the most important early proponent of the arboretum in the English-speaking transatlantic world was the prolific landscape gardener and writer, John Claudius Loudon (1783–1843) who undertook many gardening commissions and published the Gardener's Magazine, Encyclopaedia of Gardening and other major works. Loudon's Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, 8 vols., (1838) is probably the most significant work on the subject in British history and included an account of all trees and shrubs that were hardy in the British climate, an international history of arboriculture, an assessment of the cultural, economic and industrial value of trees and four volumes of plates. Loudon urged that a national arboretum be created and called for arboreta and other systematic collections to be established in public parks, private gardens, country estates and other places. He regarded the Derby Arboretum (1840) as the most important landscape-gardening commission of the latter part of his career because it demonstrated the benefits of a public arboretum (for more details see below). Commenting on Loddiges' famous Hackney Botanic Garden arboretum, begun in 1816, which was a commercial nursery that subsequently opened free to the public, for educational benefit, every Sunday, Loudon wrote: "The arboretum looks better this season than it has ever done since it was planted... The more lofty trees suffered from the late high winds, but not materially. We walked round the two outer spirals of this coil of trees and shrubs; viz. from Acer to Quercus. There is no garden scene about London so interesting". A plan of Loddiges' arboretum was included in The Encyclopaedia of Gardening, 1834 edition. Leaves from Loddiges' arboretum and in some instances entire trees, were studiously drawn to illustrate Loudon's encyclopaedic book Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum which also incorporated drawings from other early botanic gardens and parklands throughout the United Kingdom.
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