Penn named an arboretum, and other green news

Penn’s 300-acre campus in West Philadelphia boasts nearly 7,000 trees from more than 200 species. Large, old trees, like the Penn Treaty Elm on College Green, enhance the historic character of campus, and new trees, like those recently planted in Penn Park’s orchard, are a vital part of the University’s ever-growing and evolving greenery.

For decades, the University, and specifically Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES), has put in place a talented team to prune, plant, and replace trees when necessary, and monitor them for disease. FRES has also worked diligently to record the campus tree collection—an inventory seen on Penn’s very own Plant Explorer website.

As a result of all these efforts and more, Penn was recently awarded a Level I Accreditation by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program, recognizing the University as an arboretum. Penn is among only 23 universities worldwide that have received such a designation, and the first in the Ivy League.

“We’ve been doing it for a long time,” says Bob Lundgren, the University’s landscape architect. “It’s really a great recognition of how well we care for and manage our trees.”

Lundgren adds that Penn is particularly unique in that it also owns the Morris Arboretum—the official arboretum of Pennsylvania—located in Chestnut Hill, about 15 miles from campus.

“We work with the folks at the Morris Arboretum, doing research, all the time,” he says. “We trade trees; take trees from here and put them there, and vice versa. It’s great to have these two microclimates under one university: one that’s urban and another that’s rural.”

In addition to its arboretum status, for the eighth year in a row, Penn has been named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. That label is boosted by FRES’ tree committee, made up of members from within the University, including faculty, staff, and students, and people outside of Penn as well.

Students have played a major role, for example, in helping to flesh out Penn’s first orchard, located at Penn Park. For three years, a wide variety of fruit trees and bushes, as well as shrubs and edible plants, have been planted and maintained by volunteers. (Those interested can stop by in the afternoon on Tuesday, May 2, to continue the efforts. Register here.)

“We like to call the orchard, as our co-sponsor the Philadelphia Orchard Project does, a ‘food forest,’” Lundgren says. “It’s meant to raise awareness that it is very possible to grow a decent fruit tree in the city. It’s not that hard if you do the right thing, and doing the right thing is relatively simple.”

Down the road, Lundgren says, he’d love to see goods from the Penn Park orchard used in the University’s eateries. Keeping an eye on the buds, he expects there to be a nice harvest this fall.

“I’d love to be able to say, someday, that all the apples in the dining commons are from our orchard,” he says. “It’s part of the spirit in general that we are working toward planting more responsible trees and productive plantings across campus.”

To celebrate Penn’s newest awards, as well as Arbor Day, Lundgren, along with landscape planner Chloe Cerwinka, will lead a tour of campus highlighting its most interesting trees, on Friday, April 28. Meet at the front steps of College Hall at 1 p.m.

It’s a perfect opportunity to learn about, and take ownership of, Penn’s important landscape, Lundgren says.

“I went to school here, too. It’s so easy to go from one class to another, and the world around you doesn’t really exist,” he says. “It’s important to take a step back and realize what’s here. Own it, and take care of it.”

When it comes to trees, it’s not just Penn’s campus that the University is investing in—it’s the Greater Philadelphia area, too. Back by popular demand, Penn’s Creating Canopy program, in partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, is giving away trees to University and Health System employees who have pre-registered. Trees should be picked up in the parking lot at Penn Park, located near the intersection of 31st and Lower Walnut streets, on Thursday, May 4, between 2 and 6 p.m. Those unable to pre-register should still consider stopping by after 6 p.m. at the pickup area, as there are typically a few trees that go unclaimed.

“It’s a great effort to increase our regional canopy,” Lundgren says. “It’s also fun. Get the family together, dig a hole, and plant a new tree. Plant a legacy. It’s a relatively simple way to make our environment better.”

Penn Arboretum