Penn’s Unique and Diverse Green Canopy

At the heart of Penn’s campus on the popular College Green sits a massive 135-year-old American elm. The tree is a descendent of the original “Treaty Elm” under which William Penn signed a peace agreement with the Lenape Indians in 1683.

The American elm is just one of the more than 6,500 trees that help beautify the University’s urban campus, along with dozens of gardens and parks.

“Trees have been shown time and time again to have a lot of benefits to people,” says Joshua Darfler, manager of the James G. Kaskey Memorial Garden, also known as the Biopond. “And since we are in such an urban setting—we’re surrounded by a city that isn’t very much covered by trees—I think it’s great that we really focus on making sure we have a diverse and healthy tree canopy.”

Just this past Earth Day, on Friday, April 22, a unique specimen tree, the Prunus “Helen Taft,” which was collected by the Morris Arboretum, was planted outside of Claudia Cohen Hall.

“It’s a descendent of the original cherry trees that were gifted from Japan to the U.S. and exist on the Washington Mall,” explains Robert Lundgren, University landscape architect in the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services. “President William Taft’s wife, Helen, planted them [in 1912].”

By design, Penn has promised to plan, grow, care for, and raise awareness and education around trees. That’s why, for the seventh year in a row, the University has earned the title of Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Events to celebrate the most recent acknowledgment took place during the spring semester, and included lectures, tours on campus, and the launch of the Penn Plant Explorer website.

The interactive website is linked to the University’s comprehensive tree inventory, and allows users to locate and learn about significant trees, specialty gardens, urban parks, and edible plants throughout campus. There are also 10 different nature tours available on the website, for users to follow on their own.

Lundgren says the University’s commitment to its environment and landscape dates back to when Ian McHarg, a landscape architect and one of the founders of Earth Day, was a professor here. He adds that Penn’s green campus is clearly one with a lot of diversity.

“If you love to run, go to Penn Park, run a loop and cover miles,” he says. “If you don’t want to do that, go sit next to a blooming tree in the Shakespeare Garden or the James G. Kaskey Park, an intimate, passive spot.”

Being able to share its beauty because it’s a public campus, Lundgren says, makes Penn proud.

“It’s something we can give back to the city,” he says.

Penn’s Unique and Diverse Green Canopy