Rare Plants and Trees
The original owner of the Merion property, Joseph Lapsley Wilson, planted over 200 species of trees between the 1880s and 1922, when Dr. and Mrs. Barnes purchased the land. Several of the rarer varieties, including many from Asia, were acquired after the 1876 Centennial Exposition that took place in Philadelphia. A selection of trees remain from these original plantings, such as the fern-leaf beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Laciniata'), which typically grows in much of Europe before giving way to the Oriental beech that populates parts of Asia. Also remaining is a large honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), a late-spring bloomer that is native to North America.
Under the directorship of Mrs. Barnes, the Arboretum gained other rare trees and plants. The unusual appearance of the monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), which is native to South America's Andes range and a relative of the Norfolk Island pine, has made it a visitors favorite. The Arboretum's redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), typically found amid the coastal forests of Northern California, is a rare sight in these parts.
When asked to describe the smell of lilacs (Syringa), many people simply say they smell like spring. Which means that in May, when the Syringa xhyacinthaflora cultivars, Syringa vulgaris cultivars, and Syringa xprestoniae cultivars varieties all come into bloom, the whole Barnes Arboretum is awash in the scent of spring.
Several varieties of Paeonia can be found in the Arboretum, including one from a seed cultivated by Laura Barnes herself. A late spring bloomer, each peony variety has its own distinct scent, and the flower types are as diverse as their perfumes. The Barnes's peony collection shares a garden with the Foundation's honey bees. Some people have picked up the rose-like scent of the flowers in the honey available in our shop each spring.
There are over a dozen varieties of magnolias in the Barnes Arboretum, and each spring into early summer they put on an impressive show. With cascading flowers in various shades of pink, they make a perfect backdrop to the Merion campus's main entrance. The flowering plants of the Magnolioideae species may have a long history, dating back to the days before bees, but seeing them in bloom never gets old.