Kent Theiling began working towards our certification as an arboretum as soon as he came to Washington University in 2009. An early piece of that work was public outreach with annual spring and fall tree tours organized by Kim Cummins. By 2018 self-guided tours became possible with QR coded tree tags, created by Student Technology Services, that could be scanned with a phone and would take the viewer to a web page with information about the tree in front of them. The arboretum website was completed, and we became registered as a Level I arboretum with Arbnet in 2019. Chris Anderson took over as landscape manager when Kent retired and with additional programming and 50 more trees on the website, we were elevated to a Level II arboretum in 2020.

From the start, the arboretum has served as a student engagement tool. Students from Student Technology Services developed the website while two semesters of the community-engaged capstone experience course, the Sustainability Exchange, helped populate the website content and develop outreach tools and programs to connect the arboretum with the Washington University community. In addition, the Arboretum has been used for programming with visiting schools, like Forsyth Elementary School, which developed their own student-led tree tagging tour after being inspired during a tour of Washington University campus. Over the summer, the tree tags were also used for programming with Washington University College Prep program, which provides college experiences for first generation high school students. The arboretum is currently incorporated into courses in Biology, College Writing, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and English.

But long before we became an arboretum, we had a long history of planting trees to help turn our campus from a collection of beautiful granite buildings into a lush and inviting space for study and learning.   Some of the key milestones include:

1885 The Henry Shaw School of Botany was founded at Washington University.

1905, March 28 The faculty passed the Tree Committee Resolution in support of planting trees on campus.

1908 Alumni of the University sponsored the planting of 466 trees.

The oak allee from Brookings Quad to Umrath was called faculty row

The allee from Umrath to Francis Field was the student row, divided into sections for seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen with seniors closest to the dorm and freshmen closest to the gymnasium.

1909 Washington University in St. Louis received 90 trees from Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon:  25 red oaks, 25 chestnut oaks, 40 white oaks.  These were planted on the path from Graham Chapel to McMillan

1912 A Kentucky Coffee tree was planted on the north lawn east of Brookings Hall.  The tree was planted to commemorate the Brazillian Pavilion at the World’s Fair.  The Governor and a Count and Countess from Brazil were present for the ceremony.

1932 White Birch were planted in the area south of Wilson Hall (currently the Biology/Psychology courtyard) for George Washington’s 200th Birthday.

1932  Japanese cherry trees were planted on the East Lawn in front of Brookings Hall.

2010 Washington University joined the Arbor Day foundation as a Tree Campus

2019 Washington University became certified as a level I ArbNet Arboretum

2020 Washington University became certified as a level II ArbNet Arboretum

The campus of Washington University was essentially bare of trees in 1922. While we have added dozens of buildings to campus over the past century, we have also added a rich and diverse canopy of trees to the landscape.