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An arboretum is a botanical garden primarily devoted to trees and woody plants, forming a living collection of trees intended at least partly for scientific study.

According to the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, the term was first used by J. C. Loudon in 1838 in a book on arboreta and fruit trees.

Autumn colours at Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire, England.

The first public 'arboretum' was Derby Arboretum, laid out by J.C. Loudon, and donated to the citizens of Derby by Joseph Strutt, September 1840, The Derby Arboretum was the first landscaped public park in England. In 1859 it was visited by Frederick Law Olmsted on his European tour of parks, and it had an influence on the planting in Central Park, New York. Loudon wrote a catalog of the trees in Derby Arboretum, 1840; unfortunately, industrial pollution killed most of the original plantings by the 1880s, but it is currently being renovated and replanted according to Loudon's original layout.

Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts is one of the oldest, largest, and most famous arboreta in the United States. It was established in 1872 on 265 acres (107 hectares) of land in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston and was guided for many years by Charles Sprague Sargent who was appointed the Arboretum's first director in 1873 and spent the following 54 years shaping the policies and programs. By an arrangement with the city of Boston, the Arnold Arboretum became part of the famous "Emerald Necklace," the 7-mile-long network of parks and parkways that Frederick Law Olmsted laid out for the Boston Parks Department between 1878 and 1892.

In 1927 the U.S. National Arboretum was established in Washington D.C. on 446 acres; currently it receives over half a million annual visitors. Single-genus groupings include: hollies, crabapples, azaleas, magnolias, boxwoods, dogwoods, and maples, as well as collections of daffodils, irises, daylilies and peonies. Other major garden features include displays of aquatic plants, the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, the Asian Collections, the Conifer Collections, native plant collections, and The National Herb Garden and the 'National Grove' of all the designated State Trees.

The Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin is a study collection devoted to ecology rather than systematics. Founded in the 1930's, it was a Civilian Conservation Corps project which attempted to restore a body of land to its presettlement state. Portions of the Walt Disney nature documentary, "The Vanishing Prairie," were filmed there, notably the prairie fire (filmed during a controlled burn at the Arboretum).

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