The Asian collections include plants from the floristically rich regions of Central and Western Asia, China, Japan, and Korea. The latter three countries are especially rich in plant life because they escaped the effects of glaciations, which swept through much of Europe and the northern parts of North America about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, decimating many plant species on these continents.
This species richness has been attracting plant explorers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Numerous species have already been collected, documented, and introduced into western culture. The pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) was growing in the Elgin Botanical Garden in Manhattan as early as 1811. There are many other species that have been in cultivation in the United States for many years and it is inconceivable to think of today's gardens without some Asian plants. Some examples are the ginkgo or maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba), tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis), viburnum (Viburnum), forsythia (Forsythia), and rhododendron (Rhododendron).
The Arboretum has participated in numerous collecting expeditions to China and the Russian Far East, bringing back new and exciting species. The Asian collections display plants collected from past explorations, and from seed exchanges with other explorers. The collections are organized on the Arboretum grounds to take advantage of the landscape and environmental features appropriate for these Asian plants.