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Arboretum of the Forest-Technical Academy in St Petersburg, Russia

Volume 2 Number 6 - June 1996

N.E. Buligin and G.A. Firsov

The Arboretum of the Forest-Technical Academy (formerly the Imperial Forest Institute) was founded in 1833 in honour of the 30th anniversary of the Forest Institute. The education Park of the Forest Institute was founded six years earlier (1827). The Botanic Garden of Forest-Technical Academy (KFTA) now consists of the Park, the Arboretum, the nurseries, the floricultural plantation and the greenhouse and makes up an united educational and scientific complex.

It has an area of 65 ha and is situated in the northern part of St Petersburg (60 N, 30 E) in the subzone of south taiga, in north-western part of Ladoga-Ilmen floristic district.

Even under the comparatively favourable situation of the arboretum, the introduction of outdoor arboreal plants has many problems. The main ecological factors which limit the introduction of plants are the short summer period without frosts, the lack of warmth and the long hours of daylight during the period of vegetation, the low temperature conditions during winter and the lack of snow cover (especially in recent years).

The pride of the arboretum are the exotic trees planted in the Upper Garden and Lower Garden, the Park and two nurseries. The Lower Garden was laid out under the guidance of the gardeners Busch and Iensh. From 1846 until 1861 the dendro-collection developed under the leadership of dendrologist R. Shreder. He was the first to publish dendrological reports about the arboretum and estimate the frost damage of plants after severe winters. According to Shreder, there were about 500 taxa in the arboretum in 1860 which was more than in any other arboreta of Russia at that time.

The creative approach to introduction of arboreal plants was the distinctive feature of Prof. Egbert Wolf who was in charge of the arboretum from 1886 until 1931. Wolf tested the ligneous plants of different living forms, from dwarf shrubs and semi-shrubs to large forest trees (2,800 species and cultivars of 350 genera and 105 floristic regions of 91 provinces (according to the divisions of A.L. Tachtajan). The most famous of his publications is a vast survey about the frost-hardiness of arboreal plants (1917). But the main result of Wolf's introductory work was the creation of a unique collection of trees before the Second World War. Egbert Wolf became the first Professor of the Chair of Dendrology at the Forest Institute (1919), a position which had been founded by the the Academician, V. Sukaczev.

In 1931-1936 the work of replenishment of the dendro-collection was headed by P.A. Akimov, and after that by N.M. Andronov (1936-1971) and N.E. Buligin (1971-1991). The dendro-collection suffered in the Second World War (800 taxa in 1947 reduced from 1,212 in 1936) but in 1967 it had increased to 1,400 species. At that time Prof. P.L. Bogdanov replenished the collection by different cultivars and hybrids of his own selection (Populus x leningradensis, P.x newensis).

At present there are 1,132 species and cultivars in the arboretum which belong to 158 genera of 54 families, as well as 250 species in the nursery which are being monitored until they are planted in the arboretum.

Although, new species are planted in the arboretum every year. Nevertheless, taxonomically the collection is somewhat poorer compared with 1960-70. The severe winters of 1978/79, 1984/85 and especially 1986/87 (the absolute minimum was -43) account for the loss of many non-hardy species.

In total, more than 4,000 species and cultivars have been grown in the arboretum during the last 160 years. Some species of Russian flora and neighbouring countries were introduced into the world culture by way of the arboretum of KFTA.

The Coniferous collection is the most interesting. It includes 133 species and cultivars of 12 genera and 4 families (Picea - 28 taxa, Pinus - 21, Larix and Thuja - 18). The broad-leaved taxa represent about 1,000 taxa of 145 genera and 50 families. Shrubs and small trees of shrub-like habit predominate (Acer, Crataegus). But there are large forest trees as well (Betula, Tilia, Juglans), semi-shrubs (Hypericum, Ruta, Helianthemum), dwarf shrubs (Zenobia, Vaccinium, Rhododendron), lianas (Actinidia, Celastrus, Lonicera). The most fully represented genera are Lonicera (54 species and cultivars), Acer, Spiraea (48), Crataegus (41), Sorbus (38) and Rhododendron (35). There are many decorative and attractive flowering shrubs in the collection which have been used in urban and domestic plantings in Russia (Rhododendron, Hydrangea, Weigela, Forsythia).

The present collection represents flora of six floristic regions of the world of 54 provinces of the Northern Hemisphere (according to the divisions of A.L. Tachtajan). Only 63 species (5.5%) are native to the environs of St Petersburg. The species from the Eastern Asiatic region (south Russia, Far East, Korea, Japan, China) predominate (348 taxa), followed by the circumboreal species (Europe, Siberia, Canada), Atlantic North America and Rocky Mountain regions. The fewest trees in cultivation are from the Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian regions (174 taxa, mainly garden hybrids).

631 species and cultivars are quite winter-hardy which give the opportunity for their use in city planting on a large scale.

A valuable aspect of the collection is the prevalence of fruit-producing species giving viable seeds. There are 78 seed-producing species and cultivars among the Coniferous taxa (60%), 15 of which self-sow and there are 828 fruit-producing taxa among broad-leaved plants (82%), 88 of which self-sow. The experience of growing planting material from native seeds for the last 30 years has helped N. Andronov and N. Buligin introduce about 150 species into the city plantings of St Petersburg (eg Acer tegmentosum, Euonymus macropterus, Crataegus chlorosarca).

In 1955-1973, N.E. Buligin and N.M. Andronov established an arboretum in a forest farm in Lisino and in other forest farms in the region. These arboreta have become additional trial centres and provide different ecological conditions.

The work of improving the tree collection of the arboretum of KFTA is based on the following criteria:

  • The members of the staff are responsible for deciding which species and cultivars are grown. This is important to prevent the clogging of the collection with accidental exotics, which unfortunately occur even nowadays.
  • The supply of plant material for students of KFTA studying courses in dendrology and decorative horticulture.
  • The creation of dendrological displays of species and cultivars most suitable for city planting in NW Russia, as well as the display of rare and disappearing species listed in the Red Book of Russia.
  • Research workers and employees of the arboretum have accumulated a great deal of experience in growing introduced arboreal plants. There is a need to document and complete these records for publication.
  • Development of more effective techniques for growing the most valuable introductions, not only for our own purposes, but also to help other arboreta and both professional and amateur gardeners.