Matthaei Botanical Gardens (University of Michigan) Records

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Matthaei Botanical Gardens (University of Michigan) records

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Matthaei Botanical Gardens (University of Michigan) record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

Researchers may also be interested in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum (University of Michigan) Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Established in 1897, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, with its mission to study and disseminate knowledge of plants as they exist in nature, serves as an educational resource for the university and local community. In 2004 the Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum were joined as a single administrative unit. The records document the Gardens' various organizational, research, and community service activities.

At the time of the founding of the University of Michigan in 1817, administrators provided for the establishment of a "Botanic Garden." However, it was not until 1897 that the gardens were established. At that time, they served as an adjunct of the Department of Botany and the College of Pharmacy, located on the central campus. When this location proved to be inadequate, professors Frederick C. Newcombe and Volney M. Spaulding attempted to obtain a new site.

In 1906, Professor Newcombe successfully secured twenty-seven acres of land, located between Geddes Avenue and the Huron River, from Dr. and Mrs. Walter H. Nichols. In order to enlarge this property, George P. Burns, later the first director of the gardens, acquired twenty-five acres of adjoining property from the city of Ann Arbor and another thirty acres from the Detroit Edison Company.

The new "Botanical Gardens and Arboretum" existed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Botany, of which Director Burns was a staff member. Burns' appointment as director began in 1907 and ended in 1910, at which time he left Ann Arbor to head the Department of Botany at the University of Vermont. After several acting directors, Henry Allan Gleason became director and served from 1915 to 1919.

Dissatisfaction with the Geddes area site arose around 1913, because the land was not flat enough for experimental gardens. President Hutchins reorganized the administration of the gardens by creating a "committee of management," who purchased an additional twenty acres of land in 1914, near Packard Road beyond the city limits. This site later became known as the "Iroquois Site." The Department of Botany and College of Pharmacy utilized this site, while the Departments of Landscape Design and Forestry continued their use of the Geddes site. The latter eventually became the Nichols Arboretum.

Harley Henry Bartlett succeeded Gleason in 1919, and soon President Hutchins once again reorganized the administration of the gardens. The Botanical Gardens became an autonomous department in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Although the Department of Botany was to have no control over gardens policies or budgets, the gardens directorship was to be filled by a faculty member from the department.

The "Iroquois Site" remained the location of the Botanical Gardens through Bartlett's tenure as director, which ended in 1955. Bartlett was succeeded by A. Geoffrey Norman. As the rapidly developing city of Ann Arbor encroached on the site, it became an unsuitable location for the gardens. To remedy the situation in 1957, Mr. and Mrs. Fredrick C. Matthaei gave approximately 250 acres of land near Dixboro, to which the university added an additional 100 acres. The dedication took place on June 14, 1962, and in 1969 the property was renamed the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in honor of the donors.

After the move, several important facilities, such as a conservatory, greenhouses and classrooms, were built through three-phased construction from 1959 to 1965. With the increase in facilities and the expanded availability of natural areas, research and teaching opportunities at the Gardens considerably expanded.

Dr. Warren H. Wagner, Jr. succeeded Dr. Norman as director in 1966, and Professor Erich E. Steiner succeeded Dr. Wagner in 1971. In 1974, during Steiner's tenure, the Gardens' membership program, "Friends of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens," was established. This group, comprised of Ann Arbor area residents, conducts annual fund drives for the gardens. Steiner resigned in 1977 and was replaced by Professor William S. Benninghoff, who had been very active in the development of the Dixboro site. He was later succeeded by Catherine Bach (1985-1987); Anton Reznicek (1987-1989); Erich Steiner (1971-1977, 1989-1991); William S. Benninghoff (1977-1986); Catherine Bach as Acting Director (1986-1987); Anton A. Reznicek (1987-1989); Patricia Hopkinson as Acting Director (1991-1994); James A. Teeri (1994-2002); and Brian J. Klatt as Interim Director (2002-2004).

The Gardens typically have over 30 research projects conducted each year by University of Michigan and non-University of Michigan researchers. In addition, the Gardens provides plant material for U-M courses and is the site for regular classes or field trips for approximately 20 classes from U-M and six other colleges and universities. In addition to research, thousands of visitors come to the Conservatory and grounds each year to participate in adult education courses, volunteer activities, and special events or just to visit the grounds. Two auxiliary organizations that are vital to the success of these programs are the Friends of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, founded in 1974, and the Docents, who were formally organized in 1982.

In 2003, the associate provost Janet Weiss explored the possibility of combining the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum. In 2004 the two units were united as a single independent unit of the University of Michigan. In 2007, the Botanical Gardens celebrated its 100 year anniversary. A separate records group for Nichols Arboretum is available at the Bentley Historical Library.

Further information can be found in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum collection, which covers the records of the units after they combined.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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