Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

Who was John Caspar Wister?

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With a weather forecast of 100% chance of heavy rain tomorrow, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to Tyler Arboretum tomorrow morning for the Rhododendron Stroll (maybe next Friday at 10AM, the weather will be better!).  So I decided to learn more about the Rhododendron Garden, starting with the name on a plaque I have come across many times when I’ve ventured off the Scenic Loop:


The name “Wister” is certainly visible around the Arboretum, and this plaque in the Rhododendron Garden gives a hint as to the contributions John Wister made to the Arboretum.  I knew prior to seeing this plaque that Wister was the first-ever director of Tyler Arboretum, but then my internet search led me to more titles for John Wister, such as “dean of American horticulturists,” “Mister Rhododendron,” co-founder and president of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (now the American Public Gardens Association), and secretary of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

I won’t repeat here everything that can be found online about Dr. Wister – such as the fact that he was a private in World War I, had an honorary doctorate degree from Swarthmore College, did not get married until he was 73 years old, etc.  The Wikipedia page on John Wister has a nice listing of the books he published, and thanks to a tip from one of Tyler’s horticultural staff, I found some papers written by Wister that are archived online.

If you want to get a sense for John Wister (1887-1982) and his amazing depth of knowledge relating to rhododendrons, azaleas, and other horticultural topics, I encourage you to read through these short articles in the Journal American Rhododendron Society (feel free to search their archives for the complete record of Wister publications – well over 50 exist!):

Additional papers written in this journal about John Wister include:

In addition to the sites I linked above, please do take the time to look at the sections on Tyler’s website (the Tyler Topics Winter 2011-12 issue, and the About and Donor pages) to learn more about this remarkable, passionate man that literally laid the groundwork for us to have this Arboretum and amazing rhododendron garden that we have today.

Author: Dr. G

Dr. Laura Guertin, Professor of Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine. Learn more at

One thought on “Who was John Caspar Wister?

  1. Pingback: A Rhododendron Stroll at Tyler Arboretum | Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

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