The stories trees tell

In a photo essay, Penn Today highlights some of campus’s most iconic trees.

treaty elm tree in front of college hall
In 1683, William Penn is believed to have signed a peace agreement with the Lenape people under a towering elm at what is now Penn Treaty Park along the Delaware River. Though no written record confirms the location, a Benjamin West painting depicting the scene has since become iconic, ensuring the elm’s place in history. A descendent of the tree has graced College Green for well over a century.

The trees on Penn’s campus have history and gravitas. Not only do they provide beauty and shade, habitat for wildlife, a sink for carbon emissions, and a taste of nature in the city, but many also carry interesting backstories.

From the Treaty Elm on College Green to the fig and plum trees in Penn Park Orchard, different trees serve as reminders of various stages of campus life and its evolution. As an accredited arboretum, Penn honors these incredible life forms with annual care and monitoring. And the planting is never done, with new and special specimens added regularly, subtly enhancing the verdant canopy. Community members can even enjoy the display from home, with virtual tours and historical information available through the Penn Plant Explorer.

Campus trees, by the numbers

12: Years in a row that Penn has been named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation

6,800: Number of trees on campus

1896: Year the University's Penn Treaty elm was planted

1,576,717: Pounds of carbon stored by trees on campus

$51,871: Building heating/cooling energy costs saved each year because of campus trees

115: Height in feet of a dawn redwood in Kaskey Memorial Park

More than 240: Number of species represented by campus trees and shrubs

2017: Year campus was accredited as a Level 2 Arboretum by ArbNet

100: Free trees available to Philadelphia residents in this year's Creating Canopy giveaway

In honor of Earth Day 2021, Penn Today is putting some of the more iconic and storied trees on campus in the limelight.

a student studies under a cherry blossom tree at cohen hall
Delicate cherry blossoms abound on campus during the first part of April. While the Morris Arboretum is home to an astounding diversity of cherries—roughly 75 types—the core campus holds its own with a couple dozen types, totaling around 150 trees.

 

elm tree in the quad
The so-called “Quad elm” is another striking specimen, with a canopy that sprawls more than 85 feet across in the upper courtyard of the Quad. To stave off Dutch elm disease, Morris Arboretum’s Urban Forestry staff has developed a special care and management plan to sustain this and other rare trees on campus.

 

fig tree in penn park with student working in orchard
The first plantings in the Penn Park Orchard included fig and several other fruit trees. Since its beginnings in 2014 and with support from partner the Philadelphia Orchard Project, the space has evolved into a food forest, complete with dozens of varieties of edible plants including vines, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and, of course, trees.

 

londonplane trees in front of the palestra
When Shoemaker Green was revamped in 2012, great care was taken to preserve six London planetrees. The trees, originally planted following World War II, now stand around 80 feet tall, and sequester 470 pounds of carbon each year, according to a 2015 study.

 

magnolia tree that mcharg planted
Several magnolia trees on campus were planted by Ian McHarg, a renowned landscape architect credited with co-founding the first Earth Day. McHarg intentionally planted the trees within local microclimates, along south-facing building facades, where they could flourish despite being at the northern end of their typical range.

 

treaty elm on college green
When the Penn Treaty Elm was planted on College Green in an 1896 ceremony, then-chief of the U.S. Forestry Division B.E. Fernow characterized the symbolic event as a memorial to “moral rectitude and advanced national economic thought.”

 

students on college green near love statue
In addition to their environmental benefits, campus trees provide a soothing canopy under which community members can soak in the benefits of time in nature.

 

 

 

cherry blossoms in front of fisher library
Penn is the only Ivy League university with a campus that is an accredited arboretum. This recognition underscores a commitment to rigorously care for the University’s thousands of trees, representing hundreds of species.