The Massachusetts Horticultural Society Digitized Its Botanical Prints

Flora and fauna for days.
massachusetts horticultural society

Lilium canadense, red and yellow forms. / Photo provided by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society

More than 1,000 rare botanical prints are now online for your viewing pleasure, courtesy of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the Boston Public Library, and the Digital Commonwealth.

The oldest prints date back to 1620, and continue through 1969. Previously, most of the illustrations were only viewed by horticultural scholars and scientists during visits to the Mass Hort library. It took three months to digitize and catalog the prints, which have been divided into categories like plants, flowers, fruit, orchids, lilies, roses, cherries, and grapes.

“Digitizing the prints in the 21st century is what the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is doing to encourage people to really connect again to the natural environment, and to learn more about gardens and plants,” Katherine Macdonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, told Boston.

She says the digital portal allows for the public to cultivate an appreciation for the art and science of horticulture from the comfort of their own homes.

“It’s in the same vein of trying to share information in a way that’s accessible by more people than just ones who come here,” Macdonald says. “Letting people enjoy the prints is part of our mission.”

The digital collection includes the work of noted botanical illustrator and Hingham native Isaac Sprague. The only other major collections of Sprague’s work can be found at the Smithsonian, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Boston Athenaeum, and Harvard University.

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society is home to the oldest horticultural library in the United States. It dates back to 1829, and contains contains prints, books, collections of seed catalogs, and other rare materials. Today, Mass Hort is known for its annual Flower & Garden Show—its first major exhibit was mounted in 1968 in Horticultural Hall on Mass Ave. (coincidentally, the building where Boston offices are located.)

You can see the digitized prints at digitalcommonwealth.org.

Massachusetts Horticultural Society Library, 900 Washington Street, Wellesley, masshort.org.


Madeline Bilis Associate Editor at Boston Magazine @madelinebilis
mbilis@bostonmagazine.com