History of The Greenlandic Arboretum – University of Copenhagen

History of The Greenlandic Arboretum

August 2001. The old Arboretum in Narsarsuaq: Viggo Johansen, forest technician from North Norway at the side of a Picea glauca x sitchensis (x lutzii) from the Kenai peninsula in Alaska. The Plants were produced in the  Alstahaug nursery in North Norway not far from where Viggo was raised.


The Greenland Arboretum is an idea that began at the end of the 1980's after the trial plantations in Narsarsuaq became more and more comprehensive.  This was the result of the systematic plantings of Dr. Agro. Søren Ødum (1937-1999), which began in 1976.  Søren Ødum planted a number of species and provenances in May 1976, but because of a drought in the following summer many of the plants died that year.  Today only 21 trees remain from this planting.  They represent 7 species and 14 provenances, primarily from the Rocky Mountains in the USA.  The source of this material was the collecting expedition of the Hørsholm (Denmark) Arboretum to the USA in 1971. 

In 1978 and 1979 Søren Ødum worked further north, in Sødre Strømfjord/Kamgerlussuaq.  First in 1982 he resumed his activity in Narsarsuaq together with Poul Bjerge.  They restarted with Alaska material, among which was the well-adapted white spruce from Broad Pass in the Alaska Range. Today, after 20 years, these trees are up to 3.5 m tall.  In 1982 Søren Ødum participated in a collecting expedition to Northwest North America which resulted in very exciting material for the Greenland trials.  In 1983 Søren and Poul continued the plantings, where the Alaska collection was expanded and material from the collection in 1971 was replanted.  The collecting expedition in NW North America was repeated in 1985, and resulted in a very extensive collection from this area. In 1984 and in 1986, they continued with the plantings of this material.  In addition, plant material from the northern Nordic countries, Sweden, Finland and Norway was introduced.  In 1987 there was a larger planting of material.  These were primarily, seedlings from seed collected in 1982, and 1985 but also from the collection in 1971.  Moreover the collection of broadleaved trees (angiosperms) had developed well with the planting of species of Betula, Alnus, Prunus, Sorbus, Populus and Salix as well as other. 

A large-scale establishment of shelterwood trees was started in 1988 with the planting of 20000 trees of three different taxa. These were the white spruce x Sitka spruce hybrid (Picea x lutzii) (10000 individuals), Norway spruce from Mor I Rana in Northern Norway (4000) and lodgepole pine from Stewart Crossing in Yukon (5000 individuals).  The idea behind the background plants was to create a forest climate, where in the future one could plant species that require shelter.  These shelterwood plantings continued in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2001, and will continue again in 2002.

The planting in 1988 was carried out as a student project of Kenneth Høegh (agriculture student), Mads Nissen (forestry student) and Anders Jensen (forestry student).  Agronomist Kenneth Høegh and forestry candidate Mads Nissen had continued the work with the development of the Arboretum up through the 1990's, in cooperation with Søren Ødum. 

Throughout the 1990's and into the year 2000 a much larger number of species and provenances have been introduced.  They have come from collections in N.W. North America (1991), East and Central North America (1993), the Central Alps (1999) and in Siberia (2000) as well as other places.

A number of volunteers have participated in the work on a philanthropic basis, as well as co-workers from the Arboretum in Hørsholm Denmark, the Iceland Forestry Service, students from the Agricultural University in Denmark, and agriculture students from the Upernaviarsuk research station, as well as other individuals.

The first stock taking of the Arboretums plants came in 1992, when Mads Nissen completed a report on the Arboretum. This report as since been revised and broadened, and now occurs both as a database and a spreadsheet program. 

The goal of the Arboretum is to establish a collection of trees and bushes from both the alpine and the arctic tree-lines of the Northern Hemisphere.

The collection will certainly be of recreational value in the future, as a botanical garden, as a local attraction and as a tourist attraction. The plants will also be an excellent climate indicator, as well as be a guide or reference for plant choice in the Southwest of Greenland.

The establishment of the Arboretum is primarily financed by external sources.  Funds which can be mentioned are: The Royal Greenland Fond, Danish Crown Prince Fund, Aage V. Jensens Fund, Folketingest Greenland Fund, NATOs Grants Committee, Bestle, and most recently the Nuna-Fund under the Greenland Bank.

The Arboretum was officially opened in August 2004, when the Nordic Arboretum Committee had its yearly meeting in Narsarsuaq.

The Arboretum is probably one of the most extensive tree-line arboreta in the world, comprising about 150 hectares, with about 110 species and about 600 provenances of trees and bushes.