Botanic Gardens Conservation International
BGCI provides a global voice for all botanic gardens, championing and celebrating their inspiring work. We are the world's largest plant conservation network, open to all. Join us in helping to save the world's threatened plants.

Arboretum of Komarov Botanical Institute in St Petersburg, Russia

Volume 2 Number 5 - August 1995

O.A. Svjazeva & G.A. Firsov

The Botanical Garden of the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences owes its origins to Tsar Peter the First ,who founded it in 1714 for growing pharmaceutical and exotic plants.

It is situated in the centre of St Petersburg at Aptekarskii Island (60º05 N 30º02 S, 1.5-3 m. above sea level) and occupies an area of 18.9 ha. In 1823, it became the St Petersburg Imperial Botanical Garden. The oldest trees and shrubs were planted at this time (Larix sibirica, L. gmelinii, Quercus robur, Tilia cordata). It is one of the oldest parks in the city and is a good example of landscape architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century. It has the richest tree collection in north west Russia, only comparable with the Arboretum of the St Petersburg Forest Academy.

The cultivation of trees dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. There were 54 names in the first catalogue published by I. Siegesbeck in 1736. The number of species doubled 20 years later. The collection was developed through the work of many outstanding botanists and gardeners of the 19th and 20th centuries (F. Fischer, E. Regel, C. Maximovicz, A. Trautvetter, V. Uhanov, A. Golovach, B. Zamjatnin). Expeditions throughout the Russian Empire and neighbouring countries and seed exchange contributed plants to the garden. As a result there are about 1,500 species, varieties and cultivars of woody plants grown outdoors. The collection consists of 3 parts: the Park-dendrarium (827 taxa), the Nursery (500 taxa) and the Rosarium (340 taxa of wild and garden roses).

Unfortunately, the garden is too small to include all woody plants hardy in St Petersburg. It now illustrates the most characteristic species for the Boreal zone and those of scientific interest. The present principles of the collections policy are the following:

  1. Maintenance and care of the core collection developed over many years
  2. Enrichment with rare, endemic and disappearing species, as well as botanically interesting, decorative or economically valuable species and cultivars
  3. Trials of new, previously unknown species or repeated trials of absent ones

The tests of plants begin at the Nursery and continue in the Park. The adaptability of plants to the local climate is assessed annually by examination of winter hardiness, phenological observations and biometrical measurements which permit recommendations for wider cultivation.

The collection of the Arboretum was damaged to a great extent during the 2nd World War and the Siege of Leningrad and the most severe winter of the 20th century (1941/42). But, due to hard work and efforts of B. Zamjatnin and A. Golovach, the number of species has surpassed the pre-Äwar level and rare and interesting plants, such as Kalopanax septemlobus, Microbiota decussata, Metasequoia glyptostroboides and Ginkgo biloba were introduced.

The main factor limiting introduction of arboreal plants to St Petersburg is winterhardiness. The ability of plants to survive during winter is influenced by the average and duration of winter temperatures, the duration of frosts, the absolute minimum of temperature, the oscillation of temperature during day and night and the presence and depth of snow cover. So called abnormally severe winters which usually take place every ten years on average are particularly unfavourable for introduced plants. The last such winter was in 1986/87 when many trees and shrubs were killed or frostbitten, such as Juglans regia, Armeniaca sibirica, Oplopanax elatus, Acer trautvetteri and others.

The taxonomic analysis of the collection shows that the best represented family is the Rosaceae - 31 genera and 215 species and cultivars. Families Araliaceae, Caprifoliaceae, Fabaceae include 6 genera each. There are 98 species and cultivars belonging to the Pinophyta, the largest family among them is Pinaceae. Several genera include a large diversity of species, varieties and cultivars: Acer (49), Lonicera (38), Betula (32), Crataegus (37), Spiraea (28). Geographically, the best represented in the collection are species of the former USSR (281), including 115 Far East species, 69 European, 19 from Middle Asia, and 29 from the Caucasus, 12 of which are considered endemic (e.g. Sibiraea altaiensis, Sorbocotoneaster pozdnjakovii, Crataegus almaatensis). There are 24 species included in the Red Data Book of USSR and 14 species in the Red Data Book of Russia (e.g. Betula schmidtii, Prinsepia sinensis, Picea glehnii). The richest from foreign floras are species from North America (137) and Eastern Asia (166) including 99 taxa from China and Japan.

Ecologically, trees and shrubs of the forest zone of the Northern Hemisphere, from plains and mountains, predominate. The main forest types are Coniferous and small-leaved and broad-leaved forests of Eurasia and North America. Understorey species are also represented and there are species of forest-steppe and steppe and as an exception, the species of semi-deserts and deserts (Tamarix ramosissima, Lycium turcomanicum).

There are about 100 species which have their northern limit of outdoor cultivation in St Petersburg: Juglans regia and Armeniaca vulgaris, Cerasus mahaleb may produce seeds here, whereas Pinus pallasiana and Pterocarya pterocarpa do not produce seeds. Some species can only survive under snow cover (Buxus microphyllus, Hedera taurica), while others are highly susceptible to frosts (Liriodendron tulipiferum, Catalpa speciosa, Gymnocladus dioicus). Some reach the size of small trees, which may be frost-bitten after severe winters, where they have not been covered by snow or soil and cannot be restored (Juglans regia, Cladrastis kentukkea).

The Komarov Botanical Garden has been the largest centre of introduction in Russia and was famous for its Siberian plants as early as the middle of the eighteenth century. Nearly 200 kinds of trees, shrubs and lianas have been introduced into cultivation by way of St Petersburg Botanical Garden and 54 of them are still represented here (e.g. Picea obovata, Pinus pumila, Pyrus ussuriensis, Padus maackii).

The structure of the dendro-collection has been considerably changed recently on account of its replenishment with new conifers, lianas and some other groups of plants (Acer). The conifers are one of the attractions of the Arboretum and moreover the native flora of north western Russia is poor in conifers (only 3 species). Seeds of these have been received from natural provenances. The most stable conifers for city conditions are Larix species. The oldest specimens grown are about 200 years with nearly 30m. trunks. The pride of collection is the only Russian specimen of Larix decidua "Pendulina" and the only specimens of Picea likiangensis and Picea gemmata in St Petersburg. Climbers were cultivated in the garden as early as in 1830s.

From the Far East V. Komarov introduced Aristolochia manschuriensis in 1909 and Tripterigium regelii was grown from seed collected by A. Golovach in the Far East in 1962.

There are more than 3,000 specimens of woody plants from annual seedlings to large trees in the Nursery which existed in the Garden long before the Park-dendrarium. The main tasks of the nursery are the following:

  1. the trials and observations for introduced plants
  2. the growing of trees and shrubs for restoration of specimens in the park
  3. the maintenance and care of plants in cultivation in the nursery

The main task of the staff of Arboretum is to maintain the existing park landscape, replace unhealthy plants and enrich the collection with rare and botanically interesting species.

O.A. Svjazava, G.A. Firsov
Botanic Gardens of the Komarov Botanical Institute
Korablestroitelely Street 42-4003
199155 St Petersburg