Established in 1967, the Arboretum was one of the first nature education facilities for children in the state of Texas, and it continues to provide nature education for more than 10,000 children annually and reach over 600,000 visitors each year.
The land on which the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center sits is part of Memorial Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. From 1917 to 1923, the land was the site of Camp Logan, a World War I Army training camp. After the war, in 1924, the land was deeded to the City of Houston to be set aside as a park dedicated to the memory to the fallen soldiers of World War I.
The idea to create an arboretum began with local ecologist and educator Robert A. Vines who advocated carving out a piece of land from Memorial Park to serve as a nature sanctuary. In 1951, City Council agreed to his proposal and set aside 265 acres as an arboretum and botanical garden; since that time, roads and their rights-of-way have reduced the size of the arboretum to 155 acres. Vines’ intense botanical research sparked the interest and enthusiasm of Mrs. Susan M. McAshan, Jr., and in 1966, through a major contribution from the McAshan Educational and Charitable Trust, the Aline McAshan Botanical Hall for Children was funded.
On February 17, 1967, ground was broken for a nature center building. In the 1980s, the organization changed its name from the Houston Botanical Society to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center to better represent the wild and natural quality of the surrounding grounds.
In 1995, funds from a capital campaign provided for a building renovation and the installation of new, state-of-the-art Discovery Room exhibits. This expansion allowed for an increase in the variety of Nature Center program offerings and sparked a surge in attendance.
The Meadow Restoration Project began in 1999 with a gift from Marie and Anthony Kraft. Through cooperation of many state and local agencies, the Arboretum was able to perform a much-needed prescribed burn to renovate soil and improve vegetation in the meadow.
The Charlotte Couch Memorial Birding Walkway was dedicated in the fall of 2000. Designed and built to reduce impact to the forest habitat, this raised walkway allows visitor access to views of Buffalo Bayou and the forest canopy while protecting a fragile ecotone.
A Wildlife Garden, which demonstrates plantings appropriate to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other wildlife to an urban backyard, and the Carol Tatkon Sensory Garden featuring native plants attractive to the senses are the latest additions to the Arboretum’s ever-changing landscape.