Stretching to the north of Buffalo Bayou, this arboretum occupies the southwestern section of the 1,500-acre Memorial Park, which was established in 1924 on the site of Camp Logan, a World War I military base. In the 1940s, naturalist Robert Vines campaigned to establish a nature sanctuary in Memorial Park. In 1951, an undeveloped 265-acre section of the park was designated for use as an arboretum and botanical garden. That section was already physically separated from the larger part of Memorial Park by a north-south railroad (built in about 1915). Road construction in the 1960s reduced the parcel to 155 acres.
The arboretum developed slowly, with mature trees dominating its landscape until 1967 when a nature center was constructed in the northern section and hiking trails were developed throughout. In the late 1970s, trees were cleared to create a large pond and meadow near the railroad. In 1995, the nature center was renovated and expanded, and an elevated boardwalk was installed near the bayou five years later. Impacted by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and a drought in 2011, the arboretum lost a majority of its mature tree canopy, making it vulnerable to invasive species. In 2013, Design Workshop was commissioned—aided by Reed Hilderbrand and Lake Flato Architects—to undertake a master plan, which outlines strategies to restore a variety of ecotypes, including prairie, woodland, riparian, and savanna. In 2014, the master plan received an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.