Nov. 20, 1997
Vol. 17, No. 5

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    Beyond beautiful: Campus now official botanical garden

    By Dawn Conner
    News Office

    The University campus is not just another pretty campus -- it's now an official botanical garden. The University was granted this recognition by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, and is the only campus in the Chicago metropolitan area to achieve this distinction.

    "The designation should increase the University's visibility," said Richard Bumstead, University Planner in Facilities Services. "It's one more reason to come to the University of Chicago."

    Over the past few years, Facilities Services has improved the landscape of the University, with the latest enhancement scheduled to appear in the Main Quadrangle this week: small white Tivoli lights decorating the trees. The lights will be on in the afternoons and evenings through February or March, brightening and beautifying campus throughout the winter.

    But being recognized as an official botanical garden is more than just a matter of beauty: gardens must be open to the public and function as educational display or research gardens, plants must be labeled, records must be kept of plantings, and at least one professional staff member must be assigned to their care. In addition, brochures outlining walking tours and the history of the campus landscape and plant life are expected to be available in January.

    What sets the Chicago campus apart is its collection of true-variety trees and plants, some of which have unique histories, Bumstead said. For example, the Washington Elm, located on the Main Quadrangle outside of Rosenwald Hall, arrived as a seedling from Mt. Vernon. The tree was dedicated in 1932 by the Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth.

    The University also boasts one of the largest stands of American elm trees in the city. Because of an active management program by the University during the last 20 years, the century-old trees, also found on the Main Quadrangle, have not succumbed to disease. "At one time, the whole Midway was planted with American elm trees," Bumstead said. The fact that the remaining elms survived in such close proximity to diseased trees makes them all the more noteworthy, he added.

    These are not the oldest trees on campus, though -- that distinction belongs to the black, bur and swamp white oak trees in the Classics and Social Sciences quadrangles. The trees -- native marsh oaks -- are older than the University itself, which was constructed around the oak stands.

    Plants from the same era can be found around Botany Pond, where the aralia plants that grow east of Hull Gate are believed to be a strain cultivated before the turn of the century by John Colter, the first chair of the Botany Department.

    Much of the plants on campus -- including true varieties of viburnums, amelanchiers and hawthorns -- originate from the late 1920s and early 1930s when Beatrix Farrand, a well-known landscape architect, was brought to the University to design landscaping around the newly constructed Rockefeller Chapel, Burton-Judson Courts, International House and the Oriental Institute.

    Many improvements, though, have been much more recent. In the past 18 months, Facilities Services planted evergreens and hollies to add winter color to the Main Quadrangle, and yew hedges now define the quadrangle's perimeter.

    The botanic garden project is ongoing, and Facilities Services has many other improvements in the works, Bumstead noted. Plans are in place to make the smaller quadrangles, such as the Classics and Social Sciences quadrangles, collection areas to grow and display a broader selection of plant materials within the traditional functions of the quads.

    Plans are also underway for the building of a large fountain in the center circle of the Main Quadrangle. "The fountain will be 50 feet in diameter, with many water jets. It will be quite elegant," Bumstead said. The University is currently seeking a donor to fund the construction of the fountain. For more information about the project, contact Bumstead at richard_bumstead@fpm.uchicago.edu or at 702-1700.