Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Biology

History of the Späth-Arboretum

Carl SpäthFriedrich SpäthLudwig SpäthFranz SpäthHellmut SpäthHerrenhaus - heutiges Institutsgebäude

From 1720 onwards, the Späth dynasty of gardeners developed a horticultural business over six generations, which was soon to gain worldwide recognition. Franz Späth hundredfold expanded the cultivated area taken over from his father in 1863. The origin and the name of the Berlin district "Baumschulenweg" go back to his work. In 1879 he had the garden around his villa transformed into an arboretum.

Since 1961 the collection of woody plants and the former home of Franz Späth belong to the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. They have been affiliated with the Institute of Biology since 1995 and are scientifically supervised by the Botany & Arboretum working group.


» The origin of the Arboretum »

» Development as a university teaching and research institution from 1945 to the present day »

» Conversion of the former rosarium into the Systematic section  »


» The origin of the Arboretum

Büste von Gustav Meyer im Treptower Park
Photo: Georg Slickers
HerrenhausBlick ins Arboretum Teichanlage


The Arboretum (from Latin arbor = the tree) was founded in 1879 by Franz Späth. The owner of the famous "Baumschule L. Späth" ("L. Späth Nursery") had the garden of his villa redesigned in the style of an English landscape park according to plans by the Berlin City Garden Director Gustav Meyer. Meyer designed such well-known Berlin parks as Friedrichshain, Humboldthain, Kleiner Tiergarten and Treptower Park. The rose collection (Rosarium ») on the opposite side of the villa also dates from this period.

From collection trips to North America, Near, Middle and East Asia as well as to South-Eastern Europe undertaken on behalf of Späth, the trees and shrubs brought along were tested in the Arboretum for their horticultural value and their thriving in the Berlin climate. Späth's own breeds were also tested in the Arboretum. Some woody plants were used as mother trees for the production of seeds and scions for varietal reproduction. 

The Arboretum was also a representative display of the nursery's performance. The effect and use of trees, shrubs and climbing plants, regarding garden design esthetics, were thus in the foreground.

Tor zum ArboretumArboretumplan um 1930Rosarium

By 1930, the complex had grown into a magnificent park with a pond and a rock garden, laid out as an sunken garden in keeping with the taste of the time. The site was divided into different sections. A historical plan shows that sections 1 and 2 included the rosarium and that the newly introduced plants were tested in sections 25 to 39. Franz Späth and his son, the subsequent company owner Hellmut Späth, liked to use the Arboretum for representative purposes and festivities. During visits by distinguished guests, memorial trees were planted, e.g. lime trees by Prince Bismarck (1884) and Field Marshal Count Moltke (1888). Renowned dendrologists such as Gerd Krüssmann worked here.


Besuch von Fürst Bismark 1884 im Arboretum

Besuch von Feldmarschall Graf Molke 1888 im Arboretum








After the death of Dr Hellmut Späth in 1945 as a political prisoner in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the tree nursery including the Arboretum was administered via the Treuhand, the state holding company, and afterwards became a state-owned enterprise. The Arboretum was largely unused. 

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» Development as a university teaching and research institution from 1945 to the present day

Blick ins ArboretumDentrologischer Führer 1970Index Seminum 1973Blühender Baum im Arboretum

On September 1, 1961, the Arboretum was handed over to the Institute of Systematic Botany at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The villa was converted into an institute building. The valuable collection of woody plants has been preserved, maintained, systematically expanded and made accessible to university teaching and research, dendrological experts and the general public. The uprating of the park into a fully-fledged botanical garden began, presenting the entire diversity of the plant world to visitors and students alike. From the very beginning, the medlar was chosen as the symbol of the Arboretum of the Humboldt-Universität.

The Arboretum has been involved in seed exchange with botanical gardens all over the world since 1963 and has contacts with some 800 institutions. Since 1966, the Arboretum has enriched the life of the Berlin-Treptow district with cultural and scientific events. 

When the Museum of Natural History at Humboldt-Universität was founded in 1969, the Institute of Systematic Botany was incorporated as a department "Botany and Arboretum". In 1977 the Arboretum including the building was registered in the list of monuments of Berlin, the capital of the GDR.

Sonntagsführungen durch den Gartenoberinspektor Justus Consmüller 1975Arbeiten an der Teichanlage 1977Titelblatt der populärwissenschaftlichen Broschüre "... im Arboretum 1975"

At the end of the 1970s, the staff of the Arboretum began planning and redesign work for the former Central School Garden in Berlin-Blankenfelde. As with the animal park Friedrichsfelde for zoology, a new site was to be built for botany in the eastern part of the city. The execution of the plans was not completed after 1989. Today, the district of Pankow has a valuable 34 ha park with the public Blankenfelde Botanical Park.

Since 1963, scientific publications have been issued continuously at the Institute. In 1970, the first "Dendrologischer Führer durch das Arboretum des Museums für Naturkunde der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin" ("Dendrological Guide to the Arboretum of the Museum für Naturkunde der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin") was published.  The edition of the international journal for botanical systematics "Feddes Repetorium" was taken over by the Institute from 1964. In the 1980s, the Arboretum was involved in the design of two stamp series ("Rare woody plants" and "Poisonous plants"). The acquisition of Prof. Dr. Werner Rothmaler's private library in 1963 formed the basis for the establishment of a specialist library. In 1976 Prof. Walter Vent published the 4th edition of W. Rothmaler's "Exkursionsflora für die Gebiete der DDR und der BRD" ("Excursion flora for the areas of the GDR and the FRG"), with the collaboration of botanists from the Arboretum. As part of the public relations work, popular scientific publications such as leaflets for individual sections of the collection or specific plant groups, postcards, information sheets or the brochure "Images from the Arboretum" were published.


Index Seminum 1973

Dentrologischer Führer 1970Fedders RepertoriumExkursionsflora

In 1995, the Institute of Systematic Botany became the "Systematic botany and Arboretum research group" and was integrated in the Institute of Biology of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences I (since 2014 Faculty of Life Sciences) of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Since the end of the 1990s, the complex has been called the "Späth-Arboretum der Humboldt-Universität" in recognition of Franz Späth's services to the establishment of the collection and to dendrology.


Professor Vent bei einer Führung mit Studenten 1975Konzert im ArboretumÜberreichnung der Jubiläumsplakette zu "100 Jahre Arboretum" durch Prof. Wiedenroth (Botanik) an Dr. Richard von Weizäcker 1998


Photo: H. Kostial
In 1998, the International Dendrology Society awarded the Späth-Arboretum, to date as the only botanical garden in Germany, its plaque of honour in recognition of the uniqueness and value of its collection of woody plants and as a sign of its special worthiness of protection. Today over 1600 different and scientifically documented woody plants grow on an area of 3.5 ha together with about 2500 different species of herbaceous plants in various sections of the collection.

Students of biology, horticulture and other subjects as well as prospective biology teachers use the facility for courses and final degree theses. The institute building houses conserved botanical collections and laboratories used for research and teaching.

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» Conversion of the former rosarium into the Systematic section


On the side of his villa, opposite the 3 ha large Arboretum, Franz Späth had a 0.5 ha large Rosarium laid out. Like the Arboretum, the edge of the Rosarium with its woody vegetation was designed in the style of an English landscape garden. The Rosarium itself, on the other hand, was given an axis-symmetrical ground plan with a water feature in the middle. The water basin, first decorated with a column, later with a sculpture, is preserved in its original layout after reconstruction. The design of the beds and their accentuation by rose-ringed pergolas and borders with boxwood hedges changed over time (see Fig. 1-4, Barthel 2015).


Chart: Sophie Barthel


Chart: Sophie Barthel

Fig.1: Plan of the Rosarium, ca. 1870    Fig.2: The Rosarium around 1955

Like the nursery, the Rosarium was badly damaged during the battle for Berlin in 1945. At the beginning of the 1960s, neither the fountain sculpture nor roses were preserved. The Rosarium was a collection of roses of extraordinary diversity: one or two of the approximately 500 varieties of roses offered by the company L. Späth were planted on the relatively small area of the Rosarium (Krüssmann 1980). The collection of roses not only included the current catalogue assortment, but also roses from all over the world. A pink-white almost stingless wild rose was grown from seeds from Kurdistan, which was described in 1910 as a new species, Rosa britzensis Koehne, and marketed by Späth.

In 1961 the Rosarium was handed over to Humboldt-Universität together with the villa and the Arboretum. On the area of the former Rosarium a "Systematic section" was established, which already contained about 1000 species in 1972. The plants are not arranged here according to garden architectural aspects, but grouped according to their phylogenetically founded kinship. The Systematic section makes it possible to compare morphologies within a plant family and between closely related families in a very small space. It was and is therefore an indispensable infrastructure for academic teaching at Humboldt-Universität, especially in the fields of biology and horticultural sciences.

Chart: Sophie Barthel


Chart: Sophie Barthel

Fig.3: The systematic division around 1976   Fig.4: The systematic division 2015

In a semicircle closing the systematic beds a collection of about 250 different aromatic, medicinal and poisonous plants was established.

Besides the herbaceous plants of the system, the woody plants that currently surround the plantation are remarkable. Among them are 13 trees from the founding period of the Arboretum, mainly oak, beech and ash species, some of which are among the largest of their kind in Germany due to their trunk size, the so-called champion trees.

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Image sources:

Pictures not marked by name are from the Späth book of 1930 and from the archives of the Arboretum.


BARTHEL, S.; 2015. Brandenburg in Berlin. Neukonzeption des ehemaligen Späth'schen Rosariums als Garten der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Flora. Masterarbeit an der TU Berlin, Institut für Landschaftsarchitektur und Umweltplanung, Fachgebiet Vegetationstechnik und Pflanzenverwendung, Betreuung Prof. N. Kühn; S.8

KRÜSSMANN, G.; 1980. Zur Geschichte der Dendrologischen Abteilung der ehemaligen Baumschule L. SPÄTH. In: W. VENT, Hrsg. 1980. 100 Jahre ARBORETUM BERLIN Jubiläumsschrift, Akademie-Verlag Berlin, S.215-224