Sunday, May 31, 2015

Park vs. Arboretum: What’s the Difference?

Many people refer erroneously to Morris Arboretum as a ‘park’. In fact, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is not a park; it is an arboretum which is a botanical garden specializing in trees.

Here are 5 differences between a park and arboreta/botanical garden:

  1. Parks are intended mostly for recreation vs. arboreta/botanical gardens which focus on Plant Science Research, Education, Conservation and Horticultural Display.
  2. Parks have functional landscapes and plantings such as playing fields and picnic groves, vs. arboreta/botanical gardens’ curated labeled living collections, interpreted exhibits, and managed habitat areas.
  3. Parks are typically publicly funded by taxes vs. arboreta/botanical gardens which are typically community supported by gifts, memberships and use fees.
  4. Parks encourage sports and dog walking vs. arboreta/botanical gardens where sports and pets are not permitted.
  5. Parks typically trend toward monoculture with little biodiversity (with exceptions for managed natural areas) vs. arboreta/botanical gardens, which are typically high in biodiversity.
So now you know the difference! Share your knowledge with friends.

Article contributed by Susan Crane, Director of Marketing, Morris Arboretum


  1. Friend of Morris ArboretumJune 2, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    I am a Morris Arboretum member and public garden enthusiast. Thank you for writing this article to shed light on the important differences between parks and arboreta/botanical gardens! I would like to point out though that arboreta/botanical gardens often have their own unique aims/focuses, with missions that do not all include Plant Science Research, Education, Conservation and Horticultural Display. Some arboreta/botanical gardens solely focus on conservation and do not emphasize horticultural display; on the other hand, the primary aim of other arboreta/botanical gardens is to create an oasis of beauty and focus very little on educational activities or research. In addition, different arboreta/botanical gardens possess varying rules that apply to their grounds. For instance, there are several arboreta in the U.S. that do in fact allow leashed dogs (examples include Cornell Plantations and the U.S. National Arboretum).

    There is a big world of public gardens out there, each unique and beautiful in their own way!

    1. Excellent points! Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful contribution to this topic. Morris Arboretum is lucky to be part of the more than 30 public garden in the Philadelphia area and each have their own unique and important focus as public gardens/arboreta. We hope more people like yourself take an interest in learning about these special places and all that they offer.