Skip to main content

Papers of Frank N. Meyer, 1906-1914: Guide.


This small collection consists of copies of letters written by Frank Meyer, two field notebooks, and photographs and negatives. Born in Amsterdam, Meyer was a restless man who travelled and lived around the world, especially in America and East Asia. Much of Meyer’s collecting and work in Asia focused on fruit trees and edible plants. The materials in this collection primarily document Meyer’s research and travel in Asia between 1906 and 1914, though there are some biographical materials, as well. Further information on Frank Meyer can be located through NARA or the USDA; specific instructions/locations are provided later in this guide.


  • Creation: 1906-1914.

Terms of Access

Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Terms of Use

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.

Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.


0.42 linear feet

This collection consists of a folder of photographs and negatives of Frank Meyer and scenes from his expeditions, copies of letters to E.H. Wilson from 1907, biographical information, and printouts from the National Archives of indices of Meyer’s photographs from that collection. In addition, there are two of his field notebooks. Additional information may be found in the USDA, Bureau of Plant Industry publications – Plant Immigrants and Seeds and Plants Imported and the USDA, Bulletin of Foreign Plant Introductions. All are available in the Arnold Arboretum Library.

Biographical Note

Frank N. Meyer was born Frans Meijer in Amsterdam in 1875. His family was not well off financially, so young Frans was sent to work at the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens at age 14, as a gardener’s helper. He proved an able assistant and worked his way up to the position of head gardener in charge of the experimental garden. His aptitude caught the attention of the director of the experimental garden, Hugo de Vries, who became his mentor and encouraged him to take some university courses on botany.

Meyer, ever a restless man, set out for America, by way of England, in 1900. He arrived in the United States in late 1901 and applied for a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where he worked for about a year. He then journeyed to Mexico to study and collect plants before returning to America in 1904. At that time, he was approached by the head of the Foreign Plant Introduction Section of the USDA, David Fairchild, who asked if he would make a collecting trip to China for the department. Meyer quickly accepted and began preparations for the trip.

He arrived in Peking in September 1905, on an expedition that would last two and a half years and would take him to the Ming Tombs Valley, Mongolia, Manchuria, Korea, and Siberia. It was during this expedition that he had a tense meeting with E.H. Wilson in Shanghai in February 1907, concerning collecting requirements; however, they later became good friends. Meyer concentrated on collecting seeds and scions of fruit trees and other edible plants such as the Chinese pistachio (Pistacia chinensis), wild peach trees (Prunus davidiana) and a dwarf lemon (Citrus x meyeri), as well as ornamentals such as a maple (Acer truncatum), a columnar juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Columnaris’) and the Amur lilac (Syringa amurensis.)

Meyer returned to the United States in 1908 and spent the next year visiting agricultural experiment stations and sorting the photographs from his expedition. In the fall of 1909, he returned to the Far East by way of Europe, where he visited Kew and other botanical gardens on the continent. Meyer continued on to Crimea, where he made several significant discoveries and continued on to Azerbaidzhan, Armenia, Turkmenestan, and Chinese Turkestan, all the while collecting numerous specimens for the U.S.D.A. and the Arnold Arboretum.

The beginning of 1911 found Meyer and his party exploring and collecting along the border of Mongolia and Siberia. Political unrest forced him westwards instead of continuing on into China. He journeyed up the Volga and then on to St. Petersburg and Western Europe. He returned to the United States in April 1912 on the Mauretania, one day behind the ill-fated Titanic.

After a brief sojourn in America, Meyer prepared to return to Asia. The U.S. Office of Forest Pathology tasked him with finding out whether chestnut blight was of Asian origin. He was able to prove that it had indeed developed in China. In December 1913, he and his party left Peking for Shannxi Province, then on to Shanxi and Henan Provinces, all the while collecting numerous specimens, scions, and seeds. He had intended to explore Kansu, but the loss of his interpreter and the presence of bandits curtailed his activities. The expedition returned to Peking, but soon set off again for the same area of country from which they had just returned, journeying on to Kansu and the Tibetan borderlands. News of the outbreak of World War I upset Meyer badly. That, combined with difficulties he had been having with his interpreter and collie laborer, led to an incident in the remote town of Siku in which Meyer either pushed or threw the pair down a flight of stairs. The matter ended up before the local magistrate and through the intervention of Reginald Farrar, who was also plant hunting in the area at the same time, Meyer was acquitted. In November 1914, he journeyed north to Lanzhou to collect more specimens and finally began the return trip to Peking at the beginning of 1915. After packing his specimens and collecting additional materials at Fairchild’s request the party traveled south to Hangzhou by way of Nanjing, and on to Shanghai and Japan, and finally to America.

Meyer’s fourth expedition set off in mid-1916 and was tasked with collecting wild pears (Pyrus ussuriensis and P. calleryana) because they were found to be the only varieties capable of withstanding fire blight (Bacillus amylovrus). Meyer and his interpreter and guide, Chow-hai Ting, journeyed up the Yangtze River to Ichang in search of the Callery pear (P. calleryana), and later traveled to Jingmen, where he collected 5000 pounds of pears. Meyer returned to Ichang and was trapped there by civil unrest, being forced to spend the winter of 1917. In May 1918, he and his guide managed to return to Jingmen and collect his belongings and catch a ship down the Yangtze bound for Hangou. From Hangou, he and his guide boarded a steamer for Shanghai on June 1, 1918. That evening, Frank Meyer either fell or jumped from the steamer to his death. His body was found in the Yangtze, 30 miles from Wuhu, and was buried in Shanghai.


The Meyer collection is organized in 3 series:

  1. Series: I. Biographical Material and Correspondence
  2. Series: II. Photographs (see also the Frank N. Meyer Photographic Collection)
  3. Series: III. Field Notebooks

Physical Location


Other Finding Aids

Additional Frank Meyer correspondence can be found by searching the Arnold Arboretum Correspondence Database.

Acquisition Information

Provenance: This collection was transferred to the Arnold Arboretum with the establishment of the archives in 1984.

General note

Catalog Record in HOLLIS.

Processing Information

September 2007, December 2009.

Processing Information

Processing Information: Lisa Pearson, November 2001; revised, Jessica M. Parr, July 2003; revised, Sheila Connor, May 2009.

Meyer, Frank N., 1875-1918. Papers of Frank N. Meyer, 1906-1914: Guide.
Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Arnold Arboretum Archives Repository

The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library is a specialized collection devoted to the study of temperate woody plants. We collect works on botany, horticulture, floras, urban forestry and taxonomy. The library contains more than 25,000 volumes and 40,000 photographs, and includes an archive that both documents the Arboretum's history and is a repository for 19th, 20th, and 21st century horticultural and botanical collections.

125 Arborway
Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA