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Library collections

Lilium centifolium, 1933 Hand-colored zincograph by Lilian Snelling.
Lilium centifolium, 1933 Hand-colored zincograph by Lilian Snelling




The Sterling Morton Library supports the work and mission of The Morton Arboretum. Devoted mainly to the literature of botany and horticulture, especially as it relates to trees and shrubs that can be grown in northern Illinois, the collections of this special library are a unique resource in the Chicago area. Open to all, the Library and its collections present scholarly and general interest information resources about plants.


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Collections in the Reading Room

Suzette Morton Davidson Special Collections

Collections in the Reading Room  

Most of the circulating collections of the Sterling Morton Library are housed in the Library's main reading room. Borrowing privileges are granted to Arboretum members, staff, and volunteers. Nonmembers are encouraged and welcome to use the collections on site. The children's collection, part of our circulating collection, focuses on books with positive environmental messages about trees, nature, ecosystems, birds, and animals.

Within these collections, you'll be able to:

  • Review native flora in Plants of the Chicago Region by Swink and Wilhelm
  • Learn when is the best time to prune forsythia in Lewis Hill's Pruning Made Easy
  • Develop a greater appreciation of botanical art through Wilfrid Blunt's The Art of Botanical Illustration
  • Gasp at the antics of Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Discover how to propagate a katsura tree in Michael Dirr's The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation
  • Study new watercolor techniques in Exploring Flowers in Watercolour by Siriol Sherlock
  • Read about two remarkable scientists in The Natures of John and William Bartram by Thomas Slaughter

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eBook Collection

Through a consortium of botanical and horticultural libraries, the Sterling Morton Library offers thousands of eBooks for digital borrowing. 

Begin at the login page.
Enter your official Sterling Morton Library patron number (conveniently found on the back of your Sterling Morton Library card) in the box.  
  • Hint: Your patron number will begin with: 28070 … and no spaces are necessary.

Not sure or need a reminder of your patron number?

  • Contact a Library staff member in person, by phone (630-719-2429), or via email.
Haven’t registered in the Library yet?

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The reference collection is for on-site use only and contains general reference works (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases) along with more specialized works related to Arboretum subjects of focus.

Within this collection, you can:

  • Consult The Birds of North America—a comprehensive reference covering the life histories of North American birds
  • Read about noted horticulturist and plant breeder Luther Burbank in the Encyclopedia of Gardens
  • Locate historic plant images of the white oak (Quercus alba ) by perusing Index Londinensis to Illustrations of Flowering Plants, Ferns and Fern Allies
  • Uncover an interesting quote in A Dictionary of Environmental Quotations
  • Find sources of biographical information about Andre Michaux in Biographical Notes upon Botanists
  • View white pine wood samples in Hough's Encyclopedia of American Woods
  • Peruse the Arboretum's Tree & Shrub Handbook
  • Skim the entry on the Berberidaceae (Barberry family) in the Dictionary of Gardening

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Title page from The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists Magazine, 1838
Title page from The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists Magazine, 1838
Current journals are housed in the Library's main reading room. With over 200 current titles received plus hundreds of titles no longer active, the journal collection reaches audiences interested in scientific, general interest, plant society, and botanic garden/arboreta publications.

Within this collection, you'll be able to:

  • Study an article about wisteria in Chicagoland Gardening
  • Peruse the current and selected back issues of Fine Gardening
  • Plan a visit to Sissinghurst by reading about that great garden in different journals
  • Review issues of Horticulture published in the 1940s
  • Skim the latest issue of Ecology
  • Access Garden, Landscape & Horticulture Index to assist in the exploration of our journal collection. This index provides abstracts and limited full-text for articles from more than 300 core publications covering horticulture, garden and landscape design and history, botany, ecology, plant and garden conservation, garden management, and horticultural therapy.

View the journals currently received in print by the Sterling Morton Library: 

PDF iconCurrent Print Journals Received 2014

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Suzette Morton Davidson, granddaughter of Arboretum founder Joy Morton, was significant to the development and growth of the Arboretum, and to the Library and its Special Collections. Named to honor her considerable contributions, the collections include the Archives, Rare Publications, and Art.

Enhancing and supplementing our Circulating and Reference Collections, these special resources provide critical information to the study of botany and horticulture. Whether an early herbal detailing the medicinal uses of plants, a planting plan of Garfield Park by Jens Jensen, a recently published limited edition book about Shakespeare's flowers by Gerard Brender à Brandis, a hand-colored lithograph by Redouté, or the first taxonomic description of a certain species of maple, all of these works combine to create a rich resource to consult.

The Suzette Morton Davidson Special Collections can be viewed in three distinct divisions of Archives, Rare Publications, and Art.


With several hundred feet of original manuscript material, artifacts, audio/video material, maps, and images in its care, The Morton Arboretum's Archival Collection houses not only the historical and operating records of the Arboretum but also the landscape plans, correspondence, and photographs of several prominent landscape designers, as well as papers of the education program founder and a collection of butterfly and moth specimens collected in 1895.

Within the archives can be found:

  • Institutional archives including papers, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, maps, audio/video recordings, and artifacts relative to the founding, early history, and continued operation of the Arboretum.
  • Papers, photographs, and artifacts related to Arboretum founder Joy Morton and his family's involvement with the Arboretum
  • Papers, photographs, correspondence, and artifacts related to Joy Morton and the Morton Salt Company (*more papers relating to Morton's business endeavors can be found at the Chicago History Museum)
  • Landscape drawings by Arboretum landscape architects and garden designers ranging from O.C. Simonds’ early plan of the Arboretum through current landscape architecture
  • Landscape plans, drawings, papers, correspondence, and photographs of several significant prairie school landscape designers such as O.C. Simonds, Jens Jensen, and Marshall Johnson
  • Papers, correspondence, photographs, artifacts, audio/video recordings,  and artwork by May T. Watts, founder of the Arboretum's education program and renowned teacher, author, and naturalist
  • Papers, manuscripts, and artwork of Alice Thoms Vitale, author of Leaves: in Myth, Magic & Medicine
  • More than 500 mounted butterfly and moth specimens collected in 1895 by noted naturalist Sherman Denton
  • More than 30,000 images in slide, print, and digital format that include images of the Morton family and the early Arboretum landscape, living collections, natural areas, and staff 

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Joseph Dalton Hooker from “Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker” by Leonard Huxley, London, John Murray, 1918
Joseph Dalton Hooker from “Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker” by Leonard Huxley, London, John Murray, 1918
Rare Publications  
The Rare Publications Collection contains more than 5,000 volumes, including journals, nursery catalogs, and books dating back to the fifteenth century. Included in this special collection is a significant group of herbals, works by and about Linnaeus, trees, gardening, nature printing, and landscape architecture.

This collection includes:

  • Herbals of the 16th and 17th centuries including the great herbals of Fuchs and Brunfels of Germany, Mattioli of Italy, Dodoens of Holland, and Gerard of England
  • Robert Furber's Twelve Months of Flowers published in 1730—this celebrated and beautiful flower catalog presents almost 400 different flowering species, grouped according to the month in which they flower
  • Pliny's Natural History published in Parma in 1481
  • First edition of Species Plantarum by Linnaeus published in 1753—the starting point for modern botanical nomenclature
  • Broadside from William Prince Nursery, Flushing, Long Island, printed in 1771—the first commercial nursery catalog of the Colonies
  • Complete collection of Curtis's Botanical Magazine dating from 1793
  • Collection of regional historic nursery catalogs such as Vaughan, Buckbee, and Shumway starting in the late 19th century
  • Earliest published list of plants in a botanical garden by Girolamo Porro from 1591
  • First folio edition of Philip Miller's The Gardeners Dictionary published in 1731
  • One of the most important pre-Linnaean works, Hortus Elthamensis by Johann Jakob Dillenius published in 1732

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Magnolia, by Mark Catesby
Magnolia, by Mark Catesby

Art Collection  

The Art Collection contains more than 12,000 works of art, including original paintings, pen and ink, colored pencil, scratchboard drawings, nearly 1,000 nature prints, as well as a variety of lithographs, etchings, engravings, aquatints, and commercial reproductions of plants and the insects/animals related to them.

Some highlights of this collection include:

  • 72 exquisite original gouache paintings by Barbara Regina Dietzsch, an 18th century German artist
  • Numerous prints from Audubon's glorious Birds of America
  • Original artwork by contemporary local artists Nancy Hart, Carol Lerner, Tony Tyznik, and May T. Watts
  • Hundreds of nature prints created by author Alice Thoms Vitale used to illustrate her book Leaves : in Myth, Magic & Medicine
  • Hand-colored stipple engraved plates of trees by Pierre Joseph Redouté
  • Trudy Nicholson's scratchboard of a white oak
  • Hand-colored engravings by Georg Dionysius Ehret
  • More than 60 watercolor paintings depicting mushrooms by Illinois artist Helene Warder Beggs
  • 24 stipple-engraved plates of flower portraits from Les Fleurs Dessinées d'après Nature (Paris, 1801) by Gerard van Spaendonck
  • Hand-colored engravings by Pancrace Bessa

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Nursery Catalogs  
A treasure trove of information, the Library actively acquires and maintains a collection of nursery catalogs. Whether the catalog provides plant illustrations with detailed cultural information or is simply a price list, the current collection is used primarily by gardeners and horticulturists to locate and research plants. The historic collection is useful to researchers, artists, and garden restorations to aid in special projects. 

Finding tools that aid in locating a desired plant include:

Our current nursery catalog collection will help you:

  • Find a nursery source for blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana)
  • Discover what varieties of lilacs were sold by nurseries in 1945
  • Locate a nursery specializing in wildflowers

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