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Dr. James Chester (J.C.) Raulston: Home

Dr. James Chester (J.C.) Raulston

Dr. James Chester (J.C.) Raulston, 1994 (Left), Raulston in front of Arboretum sign, 1976 (Right)

Horticulturist and Director of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Arboretum, Dr. James Chester (J.C.) Raulston became well known for growing and distributing plants. In 1976, Raulston worked with his graduate student Fielding Scarborough to develop the NCSU Arboretum and starting with 8 acres of land, the arboretum included woody and ornamental plants. The goal of the arboretum was to "affect the range and variety of plants produced and used in the N.C./ southern eastern U.S nursery landscape industry" (Raulston 9). By 1980, initial membership into the arboretum began and new members were called "Friends of the NCSU Arboretum." Supporting Raulston's initiative to build new infrastructure, maintain the plant collection and purchase new plants, many nursery owners, arboreta, landscapers and horticulturists became members of the arboretum (i.e Sandy Creek Nursery, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Sunbelt Planning Associates, etc.) (Ward 97).

Visiting various nurseries and gardens, Raulston collected plants and seeds and brought them back to the arboretum for trial and allotment purposes. Growing and distributing plants in NCSU Arboretum became so popular, Raulston created NCSU Arboretum Plant Distribution lists and sent it to multiple botanical and research institutions. Using the lists, external institutions were able to request plants for their garden. In Mertz Library's Index Seminum collection, Raulston's 1987 NCSU Arboretum Plant distribution list was found. Mertz Index Seminum collection contains seed exchange lists between botanical gardens and arboreta around the world. The lists are useful for researchers as it provides botanical gardens propagules plants and helps identify new plant species grown during a specific time.

Mertz Library Collection: NSCU Arboretum Plants Available for Distribution List, 1987

Image: Mertz Library Index Seminum copy - Raulston's NSCU Arboretum Plants Available for Distribution List, 1987

After Raulston's plant collecting expeditions, he shared his findings with his students, allowing them to bag their cuttings and attend trade shows (Raver 1996). Students also learned outside the arboretum by participating in annual study trips, visiting many gardens and see horticultural sights (Raulston 22). With Raulston's extensive experience in the horticulture industry, support and guidance, he became a mentor to top horticulturists: Daniel J. Hinkley (Kinkenberg, 1999), Robert M. Hays (Raver, 1997), Tony Avent (Druse, 2003), David Barkley (Grady, 2003) and former NYBG Director, Dr. Kim E. Tripp (Raver, 2000). In 1995, Tripp and Raulston collaborated, publishing a book about ornamental trees and shrubs titled, The Year in Trees: superb woods plants for four season gardeners. 

Image: Dr. James Chester (J.C.) Raulston teaching, 1995 (Left), Raulston group portrait including Dr. Kim E. Tripp- second to right, 1990 (Right)

Raulston enjoyed teaching and learning about new plant groups and observing the seasonal changes in plants. When thinking about how much fun he was having in the horticulture field he thought, " this point there isn't a person or position anywhere that I know of that I'd trade jobs with, for the teaching and arboretum development are exactly what I love" (Raulston 23). With his love for connecting people and plants he also became an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Rauston came out at the age of 35 and partook in pride parades across cities in New York, California and Las Vegas (Hunt, 2021). He organized an informal network of LGBTQ horticulture professionals and named the group the Lavandula and Labiatae Society. Raulston held group meetings in his home, fostering an inclusive, welcoming safe space for all to gather.

Image: J.C. Raulston on Front Tractor with Tree, 1983 (Left), Raulston in Arboretum, 1976 (Right)

Today, the NCSU Arboretum continues to honor Raulston for his contributions, naming the arboretum the JC Raulston Arboretum. A public botanical garden based at North Carolina State University, Raulston cultivated an educational greenspace for the horticultural community. His efforts brought people together and created a diverse collection of superior landscape plants for many to enjoy. Identified as a passionate plantsman and one of the world's greatest gardeners, Raulston's legacy and impact will always be remembered.


[All] Dr. James.Chester (J. C.) Raulston - Images courtesy of JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University.


Druse, Ken. "You Want a Nursery? Here's a Reality Check." New York Times (1923-), Sep 11, 2003, pp.1.

Grady, James. T. (2003, July 4). “Successful Gardener” newsletter honored again. Star News Online.

Hunt, David. “People, Plants and Pride: The Passions of J.C. Raulston.” NC State News, 26 June 2021,

Raulston, James. C. The Chronicles of the NCSU Arboretum: The Collected Newsletters from the First Decade at the NCSU Arboretum. J.C. Raulston, NCSU Arboretum, 1993.

Raver, Anne. “James Chester Raulston, Horticulturist, Is Dead at 56.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Dec. 1996,

Raver, Anne. "Robert Hays, 38, Propagator at Brooklyn Botanic Garden." New York Times (1923-), Jul 20, 1997, pp. 27.

Raver, Anne. "Human Nature: Rare Firs Stand Tall Against Extinction.” New York Times (1923-), Mar 16, 2000, pp. 1.

Raulston, James Chester ---Mertz Library Vertical File

Ward, Bobby J., and Roy C. Dicks. Chlorophyll in His Veins: J.C. Raulston, Horticultural Ambassador. BJW Books, 2009.