CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University can now boast about its new arboretum status for the tree-filled campus after accreditation from ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program, an international organization that recognizes excellence in tree-focused gardens.
The only program of its kind in the world, ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program recognized the value of the 423-acre core campus arboretum that includes many of the more than 65,000 individual trees and shrubs on the 570-acre campus, said Ryan Contreras, associate department head of the Department of Horticulture and professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The accreditation validates OSU’s long recognized reputation as a beautiful, walkable campus that encourages potential students to enroll, Contreras said.
“The accreditation formalized the collection,” Contreras said. “Our campus is a living, learning laboratory. It’s important aesthetically, but also for research, teaching and outreach. We have a diverse group of plants and moving forward proper curation will maintain the character of OSU’s historic campus as it grows and develops and increases its public outreach and education.”
Contreras started the process for accreditation in 2011 when he received a grant for an intern to inventory the woody plants on campus, which has significant collections of magnolia, elm and oak and one of the largest assortments of rhododendrons in the country with more than 7,000 shrubs. Last year, Dan Blanchard, a graduate student in horticulture, began identifying and labelling the trees on campus, as well as compiling the history of OSU’s landscape. Blanchard, who dug through piles of historical data in old binders, glass slides and maps, has been responsible for labelling 100 plants so far and has a goal of 1,000, which would assist in increasing the university’s standing to the third level of the four-level ArbNet accreditation program.
“Since its inception OSU has been a beautiful campus with a wide diversity of trees and shrubs,” said Joe Majeski, director of facilities services. “These plants have been collected from all over the world, inspiring numerous generations. They have been here from the beginning to educate our students and community. It has become even more important to recognize the importance of planting, caring for and preserving trees amongst our campus buildings and grounds. We as a community stand together to make the statement that we value these beautiful specimens and how trees and shrubs are so essential and greatly contribute to improving the quality of our lives. Our arboretum status makes that statement.”
OSU already has Tree Campus USA status, has been recognized by Tree Campus Higher Education from the Arbor Day Foundation for 15 years in a row and contains several Oregon Heritage Trees, including the trysting tree, a gray poplar where students once met for romantic assignations. The elm row gracing lower campus gets the most notice because of its location near a well-used street, but the historic moon tree planted outside the George W. Peavy Forest Science Center from seed taken into space by the Apollo 14 mission is popular, too.
Beginning as the campus farm in 1871 and becoming the campus grounds of OSU in 1889, the original 35 acres of lower campus is home to some of the oldest trees planted on the grounds. Among them are two blue atlas cedar planted in 1892 and the signature giant sequoias planted around 100 years ago in the Memorial Union quad, Blanchard said. Many of the trees were planted when landscape architect John Charles Olmstead, who designed more than 60 public spaces in the Pacific Northwest, including Portland’s Forest Park and hundreds more nationally, gave the campus its historic design. When the Memorial Union was built in 1927, A.D. Taylor, a landscape designer from Cleveland recruited by then OSU president William Kerr, refreshed the landscape design and a later revised in 1945.
Todd Cross, OSU landscape supervisor, said the accreditation is a long time coming for a campus that draws students and their parents because of its beauty and trees.
“People have made the decision to come here because they feel good,” Cross said. “There’s good energy. That’s the trees. The most important thing we have on campus is the trees. They last much longer than we do. Like the three giant Oregon white oaks at Magruder Hall, which were here before America was a country. They are sentinels of campus, watching over everything.”
As a part of the accreditation, an organizational board had to be formed and a strategic plan written, Contreras said. Blanchard developed an ambitious website with a searchable map of 680 OSU trees. The map will continue to be updated with the ultimate goal of 100% of the campus core being mapped and at least one of every taxon labeled. The map is intended for the public – events are required for accreditation – as much as students and faculty. OSU’s Arbor Day event is the largest. The next step is finding funds for a curator, which Contreras said is essential to keep arboretum accreditation.
“Creating the OSU Campus Arboretum just seems like such an obvious thing,” Contreras said. “We have an incredible collection of woody plants. But if you don’t know about them, you don’t care. I’ve watched students and visitors walk through plant beds, which causes plants to break or decline. They take it for granted that the land is here and don’t feel connected to it. This is an opportunity for deeper appreciation for everyone.”
About the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences: Through its world-class research on agriculture and food systems, natural resource management, rural economic development and human health, the College provides solutions to Oregon’s most pressing challenges and contributes to a sustainable environment and a prosperous future for Oregonians.