How to Build an Arboretum

What is an Arboretum?

It is a place with an exhibit of trees and other plants for display or scientific study. An arboretum is a single site or place, whereas arboreta, the Latin plural, refers to several sites or places.

The Tennessee Division of Forestry started the Arboretum program in 2000. At that time, a site that allowed public access and had at least 30 tree species labeled with common and scientific name was eligible to apply for Tennessee arboretum status. In 2007, the program was handed over the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council, and their website has the current information regarding rules, fees, and requirements for becoming a Tennessee Certified Arboretum. Currently (2018), over 90 sites across Tennessee, including parks, school grounds, universities and colleges, cemeteries, museums have become an arboretum.

Sources and References for Identifying Trees

If you are interested in identifying and labeling trees for arboreta certification, the Council currently (2011) uses the following reference as its official name source: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr, 6th Edition, 1998, Stripes Publications, Champlain, IL.

Additional resources and references that may be used for tree identification, whether labeling trees or just enjoying learning different species, include:

  • Most foresters use Textbook of Dendrology by Harlow & Harrar, the most current Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York
  • The Audubon society publishes a Field Guide to North American Trees, authored by Elbert Little, 1980, Chanticleer Press, New York
  • Another excellent source for non-native trees in ornamental landscapes is Trees by Allen Coombs, a Smithsonian Handbook series, 2002 Dorling Kindersley, London.
  • The Arbor Day Foundation also offers 2 What Tree is That? identification Guides, one for Eastern forest trees and a second for Western forest trees.

Assistance in identifying trees may also be obtained by contacting the following:

  • Forester with the Tennessee's Division of Forestry.
  • University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. A directory of County agencies can be found at
  • Other local knowledgeable individuals may include landscape architects, arborist, nurserymen and others. Some individuals may charge a fee while some may be willing to volunteer their services.

In addition to the above references, there are numerous tree identification websites sponsored by Universities across the country, and recently tree ID a smart phone app has become available.

Labeling Trees

If one is pursuing arboretum certification status by the Tennessee Urban forestry Council, be sure to consult their website for the latest rules and information for labeling trees (see the link above). General information about labeling trees is described below.

Some tree labels can be quite sophisticated and contain information about the tree species, its size and shape, or other information. The most common tree label contains the scientific and common name of the tree.

The scientific name is comprised of two words and is listed in Latin. The first name is the genus of the tree and the second is the species. Sometimes a cultivar or variety name may be added to the scientific name. the genus name is always capitalized while the species name is never capitalized. The common name is also listed on a label, usually above the scientific name. Occasionally a label may list two or more common names if they are frequently used by the general public (Example: Silver maple, also Water maple).

Example of a label with scientific and common name:

Silver maple
Acer saccharinum

Labels may be located on a separate post next to the tree or attached to the tree trunk. A post may be best for young trees or trees with multiple trunks that branch close to the ground. When attaching a label to the trunk of the tree, it is best to use aluminum nails (steel nails and screws have additional problems that aluminum nails do not). The most effective way to display a label on a tree is to use a spring behind the label, and only place the nail half way into the tree. This will allow the tree to grow for several years before the label would need to be reset on the tree.

Regardless of how labels are attached to the tree, they should be checked annually, and removed and reattached when tree growth begins to envelop the label.

To view a current list of Tennessee Certified Arboreta by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council visit there website -