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Northwest Missouri State University

Northwest Arboretum History

The Northwest Missouri State University campus serves as the home to some of the oldest and most majestic trees in the region and was designated in 1993 by the Missouri State Legislature as the official Missouri Arboretum. Since 2013, the campus has been identified as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management, and it has achieved Level II accreditation in 2018 for meeting management standards and professional practices outlined by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program.

Every location has its own sense of place. The trees growing in the Missouri Arboretum give Northwest a very welcoming sense of place. Visitors to campus get a sense of entering a residential neighborhood rather than an institutional setting. The trees are only part of the experience. Benches, gardens and gathering areas provide places to visit and enjoy each other's company as well as the lovely surroundings.

Northwest's history of tree management goes back to before the institution's founding when 85 acres of today's 330-acre campus were part of a tree farm and nursery established by Thomas Gaunt in 1857. Northwest was founded in 1905 and the Gaunt home, which is listed by the National Register of Historic Places, now serves as a residence for the University president and his family.

During the campus' earliest days, groundskeepers interplanted fast-growing, short lived trees with slow-growing, long lived trees. This rapidly brought beauty and shade to the new campus. After the sturdy slow-growing trees became established, fast-growing, weaker trees were removed. President Uel Lamkin brought gingko trees from China between 1921 and 1945, and they still stand today at the southwest side of the Administration Building. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, graduating classes donated trees. Flowering crabapple trees planted behind Colden Hall were donated in memory of President Robert Foster’s mother.

Maintaining the campus trees has had its challenges as well. In the 1970s, Dutch elm disease wiped out all but one of the American elm trees on the University campus. A December 2007 ice storm ruined more than 40 percent of the trees on campus, and an August 2011 “super storm” brought winds in excess of 80 mph while defoliating nearly 80 percent of trees, stripping off bark and severing limbs; 24 trees had to be removed. Drought conditions also have caused the groundskeepers to alter their irrigation practices to ensure the trees’ longevity.

Managing an arboretum that is used as a workspace and laboratory on a busy campus is a challenge. Seasonal changes, tree life cycles, and the needs of a variety of users of that workspace sometimes conflict. Trees are planted, pruned for a variety of purposes and eventually removed when their existence conflicts with the way we need to use their space. Sometimes they are in the way of construction projects. Sometimes they senesce and decline due to their age and due to the tough conditions in which they must live.

Just as trees growing in forests compete with each other for sunlight, essential elements and water, trees growing on campus compete with lawn grasses for moisture and essential elements. They deal with soil and climate factors that are radically different from the forests where they grow best. Northwest cares for its trees in a way that imitates their natural environment, placing a ring of wood chip mulch to discourage fierce competition from grasses. The mulched areas also keep mowers and weed trimmers from damaging the vulnerable root crowns at the base of our trees. Northwest's trees are pruned to improve their form, minimize conflict with people and vehicles, and to enhance pedestrian safety.

Among the Missouri Arboretum's distinctions, it is a recipient of the 2000 Communitree Award, presented by the Missouri Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council and the Forestry Division of the Missouri Department of Conservation, "for exemplary stewardship of community trees." In 2001, Northwest and the city of Maryville received the Communitree Award for its bypass project east of Maryville at the intersection of highways 71 and 136. The Northwest campus also was named one of the “50 Most Amazing University Botanical Gardens and Arboretums in the U.S.” by