Biologist To Lead Harvard Research Arboretum

William “Ned” Friedman, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Colorado, will take charge of the Harvard-administered Arnold Arboretum at the end of the semester as the University continues efforts to consolidate its disparate research programs.

Friedman will assume a tenured professorship in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology alongside his role as director of the oldest public North American arboretum—essentially a park used for research in plant sciences.

Provost Steven E. Hyman, who has overseen the University’s concerted effort to build cross-disciplinary and cross-school collaboration, said Friedman’s dual roles will establish a stronger tie between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Arboretum.

“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,” Hyman wrote in a public statement.

Friedman said that he wants to expand the presence of the Arboretum in undergraduates’ lives, noting that his experience working in a botany lab as an undergraduate at Oberlin College awakened his life-long passion for all things green.


“I had never been that happy,” he said of his experience, adding that working in a lab is “another avenue to discovering what you’re born to do.”

Friedman also said he plans to expand the Arboretum’s programming aimed at local residents.

“We are opening our doors, and we are very eager to welcome people to the arboretum,” said Friedman, adding that he plans to launch a Director’s Lecture Series to make cutting-edge research by leading scientists from Harvard and around the world accessible to the public.

Designed in the 1870s by Frederick Law Olmsted—who also laid out New York City’s Central Park—the Arboretum is part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace along the city’s western edge.

In addition to serving as a center for plant and tree research, the park is also open to the public.

The 265-acre facility, one of several nature reserves in the region administered by the University, has not had a permanent director since Robert E. Cook stepped down in December after 21 years of service.

Friedman will arrive to the state-of-the-art Weld Hill Research and Administration Building, a new facility that will enhance the Arboretum’s botanical research capabilities.

“I’m about as excited as any human being can be about this,” said the botanist. “It really is a dream come true to be placed in an environment where I am surrounded by a world of plants.”

OEB Assistant Professor Charles C. Davis said he is looking forward to Friedman’s arrival.

“He is a dynamic speaker, a gifted teacher, and a very well respected scientist,” Davis said. “He’s the complete package.”