Penn’s urban forest

Penn’s West Philadelphia campus is home to 240 different tree species, which put on a show during the fall season.

autumn leaves in front of fisher fine arts

Penn’s campus is home to 240 trees species. From fiery red maples to glossy-leaved southern magnolias to the historic Penn Treaty Elm, trees demarcate space, providing shade, animal habitats, meet-up points and picnic spots. Yet “trees are one of those things that seem to get taken for granted in a lot of ways,” says Chloe Cerwinka, landscape planner at Facilities and Real Estate Services. “People only notice them when they’re not there.”

During the fall, however, trees become neighborhood showoffs, changing from green to yellow, orange, red, and even deep purple, like Liquidambar styraciflua, the American sweetgum along Hamilton Walk. Also along Hamilton Walk is a large gingko, one of Cerwinka’s favorites for autumnal color, when the leaves turn a brilliant golden yellow and drop abruptly at the first hard frost of fall. “This creates that beautiful sight of yellow leaves carpeting the ground,” she says. Penn Plant Explorer, an app and website that allows users to search and explore botanical species, hosts an autumn color tour highlighting some of the most vibrant specimens.


For the 14th year in a row, Penn has earned Tree Campus Higher Education recognition, an Arbor Day Foundation program that honors colleges and universities for promoting healthy trees and conservation. The designation is an honor and an opportunity to show how much work is put into maintaining the thousands of trees in Penn’s urban forest, Cerwinka says. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, well, you know, plant a tree, it just grows, does its thing. That’s all there is to it.’ But it really takes a lot of planning and a big vision with resources behind it.”

Campus trees are checked for safety, measured on a three-year cycle, pruned, watered, and monitored for pests and diseases, which are becoming more prevalent with the onslaught of climate change, Cerwinka says. Forest diversity is essential to adapt to climate change, she says. “The more diversity you have, the more able you are to deal with the next pests or diseases that are going to come our way.”

Beyond Penn’s campus, Facilities and Real Estate Services also works closely with the urban forestry team at Morris Arboretum & Gardens, Penn’s 90-year-old, 92-acre expanse in the northwest corner of Philadelphia. Morris Arboretum is open to the public with free admission for Penn Card holders and has over 13,000 tagged plant specimens and several notable trees, including dawn redwoods and the rare Engler beech.

penn fres with a leaf blower