Madison was a fast-growing city in the 1920s. Fortunately, some leading citizens recognized the need to preserve open space for Madison’s residents. Most of the Arboretum’s current holdings came from purchases these civic leaders made during the Great Depression. In addition to inexpensive land, the Depression brought a ready supply of hands to work it. Between 1935 and 1941, crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps were stationed at the Arboretum and provided most of the labor needed to begin establishing ecological communities within the Arboretum.
Efforts to restore or create historic ecological communities have continued over the years, with the result that the Arboretum’s collection of restored ecosystems is not only the oldest but also the most extensive such collection. In addition to these native plant and animal communities, the Arboretum, like most arboreta, has traditional collections of labeled plants arranged in garden-like displays. These horticultural collections, featuring trees and shrubs of the world, are the state’s largest woody plant collection.