New year will bring new director to arboretum

Sandra Storey

MOSS HILL—William “Ned” Friedman, an evolutionary biologist who has done extensive research on the origin and early evolution of flowering plants, has been appointed director of the Arnold Arboretum.

Friedman, set to start full time on Jan. 1, will be the eighth director of the local arboretum, which is administered by Harvard’s Office of the Provost and located on the Roslindale/Jamaica Plain border. He also will be a tenured professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.

In a telephone interview on Monday and in official statements, Friedman said one of his priorities will be working closely with the arboretum’s neighbors in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.

He has been getting to know both neighborhoods over recent months, he said, as he has been back and forth from his current home in Colorado every few weeks. A typical day starts where he stays, at Taylor House Bed and Breakfast in JP.

“I like to walk for an hour in the Arboretum, then set off to learn what the neighborhoods are like,” he said. He spoke of going into a butcher shop and fish store in Roslindale Village. “I’ve been sampling the restaurants in JP,” he added, “and that makes me a very happy guy.”

He also walks through the residential neighborhoods, looking at people’s plantings, some of which seem to have come from the arboretum’s plant sales. “I love to walk,” he said several times.

Friedman said he wants to make sure, as the new Weld Hill Research and Administration Building opens—with its emphasis on science and environmental biology—that the arboretum hosts as many programs as possible for the neighborhood.

He plans to launch what he is calling the “Director’s Lecture Series at the Arboretum” that will make cutting-edge research by leading scientists from Harvard and around the world accessible to the public.

“I am looking forward to meeting and talking to everyone in the neighborhoods,” he said, adding, “I also want to take messages in about how people think the arboretum can be more dynamic in the neighborhood.”

“Ned’s appointment underscores Harvard’s commitment to integrating the incredible resources and opportunities presented by the arboretum with the important work of our scientists here in Cambridge,” said Harvard Provost Steven Hyman.

Friedman has been a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado since 1995. As professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard, he will conduct research in the new Weld Hill building and teach at Harvard’s Cambridge campus.

Friedman pointed out that Arnold Arboretum is a complex institution to manage, as it is a public park, horticultural center, science facility and outreach enterprise all in one.

Part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks, the 265-acre Arnold Arboretum, founded in 1872 and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is free and open to the public every day of the year. Its programs and events include lectures and community outreach initiatives in neighboring schools. Nearly 70 people are on the staff, including park maintenance personnel and researchers.

Previous arboretum Director Bob Cook took retirement in December 2009 after 20 years. Deputy Director Richard Schulhof moved on in 2009 as well, to take the directorship of California’s Los Angeles County Arboretum.

The author of more than 50 publications, Friedman’s research has focused on patterns of plant morphology, anatomy and cell biology. He was recently acclaimed for his discovery of a new type of reproductive structure in an ancient flowering plant that may represent a critical link between flowering plants and their ancestors.

Friedman also has a keen interest in the history of science, particularly the intellectual history of evolutionism. He has designed and taught courses on the life and work of Charles Darwin and other historical figures, and lectured on the subject at natural history museums and other venues.

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