By Melissa Maypole
For many of us, botanical gardens and arboretums are beautiful places to visit and serve as peaceful settings for relaxation, family time, or recreation. The gardens and arboretums on this list, however, serve a higher purpose. Not only do they beautify their campuses and communities, they also serve as environmental stewards, outdoor classrooms, and living laboratories. These university botanical gardens and arboretums add value to the college experience by offering hands-on learning experiences and research opportunities that students won’t find anywhere else.
The best of these natural teaching settings have close connections with university programs and degree paths in agriculture, plant science, and environmental studies. They also have strong community outreach programs and allow students to participate in volunteer programs, service learning projects, and internships. These opportunities allow students to get their hands dirty and acquire the training and networking experiences they need to be successful in their chosen career paths. In evaluating the top university botanical gardens and arboretums, our editors looked for schools that not only maintained a manicured landscape, but also made the most out of their facilities’ resources by bringing the learning outdoors and turning theoretical concepts into real-world experiences for their students.
Rating and Ranking Methodology
Awards and Recognition
2 points—Major (national or international) award or recognition
1 point—Regional or local award or recognition
Variety of Species
3 points—Over 5,000 different plant species represented
2 points—Over 3,000 different plant species represented
1 point—Over 1,000 different plant species represented
Conservation and Education
1 point—Endangered plant species represented
1 point—Presence of educational outreach programs
1 point—Presence of horticultural library
1 point—LEED green building on site
Connected University Degree Programs
2 points awarded for school of agriculture (or related discipline) on site
1 point for presence of a connected degree program (i.e., horticulture, ecology, botany, etc.)
1 point—1 point awarded for each unique feature that “wowed” us
After evaluating these and scores of other outstanding candidates, it is our opinion that these 50 are indeed the most amazing university botanical gardens and arboretums in the United States today. We list them here by the number of points awarded in accordance with our rating and ranking system. In cases where two or more facilities received the same amount of points, we listed them alphabetically by university name.
University of California Botanical Garden
University of California
The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley boasts a history almost as rich as its soil. In fact, its roots began in the 1870s when the founding Dean of Agriculture, Eugene W. Hilgard, planted its first few seedlings. Twenty years later, the garden was formally established by the chairman of the Botany Department, E.L. Greene, at which time it began to flourish. Today, the garden is the proud home of over 13,000 different flowers, shrubs, and plants from across the globe. It serves not only as a natural instructional facility for students studying plant sciences at the university, but also a beautiful learning tool for the community’s children and adults alike. The garden staff offers a variety of tours and educational programs, as well as a summer camp for kids ages 5-10.
For more information: University of California
University of Chicago Botanic Garden
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago Botanic Garden is one of the few botanical gardens in the United States that encompasses the entire campus. Across the 217-acre Hyde Park campus are over a dozen gardens which display a variety of plants and flowers, both common and uncommon. Some of the most notable varieties include the rare aralias along the edge of the Hull Gate fence, the Washington Elm that was planted in 1932 as a patriotic gesture to celebrate George Washington’s bicentennial birthday, and a collection of “true” (not hybrid) varieties of shrubs. The botanic garden is considered a school in and of itself by the university faculty, and interested students can pursue a Ph.D in Landscapes, Ecological, and Anthropogenic Processes. In 2006, the Garden received the Award for Garden Excellence by the American Public Garden Association.
For more information: University of Chicago
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
University of Minnesota
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum spans nearly 1,200 acres and is blooming with over 5,000 species of flowers, shrubs, trees, and other plants. This makes it not only a rich educational resource for students at the University of Minnesota, but also one of the top tourist attractions in the area, as well as a nationally acclaimed horticultural field laboratory. The arboretum’s pine and ornamental grass collections were included in the North American Plant Collections Consortium, a division of the American Public Gardens Association. Students taking courses in the Department of Horticultural Science are happy to have one of the top Horticultural Resource Centers in the Upper Midwest just a short drive from the arboretum. Employment and internships are also available for students who wish to gain hands-on experience in their chosen fields.
For more information: University of Minnesota
University of Washington Botanic Gardens
University of Washington
The University of Washington Botanic Gardens has such a vast collection of plants, trees, and shrubs (over 10,000 strong!) that it has become an international hotspot for ecological research and teaching. Its 230-acre on-site arboretum alone hosts many plants that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Students in the College of the Environment, and especially those enrolled in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, will find the gardens and arboretum to be an invaluable learning tool. Additional student opportunities include internships or opportunities to become a research assistant or simply volunteer. Conservation is also a visible priority for the botanical gardens, second only to education. Several endangered species find their homes here, and the University is an active participant in rare plant care and conservation.
For more information: University of Washington
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Located in the beautiful fantasy vacation destination of Honolulu (wow factor!), Lyon Arboretum spans 200 acres and is home to over 5,000 species of tropical plants, including one of the largest collections of palms on the planet. Since more than 90% of Hawaii’s native plant species can be found nowhere else in the world, this is an ecology student’s dream-come-true. The Arboretum actively encourages students and teachers to make use of their facilities for research and educational purposes, especially those enrolled in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Other opportunities for university students include vocational positions and internship programs. Lyon Arboretum is also a hotspot for conservation and research. Its Hawaiian Rare Plant Program includes both a micropropagation laboratory and a seed conservation laboratory.
For more information: University of Hawaii
Connecticut College Arboretum
New London, Connecticut
At Connecticut College, the campus and arboretum are one in the same, a truly rare find for a liberal arts college! Among its 770 acres are three main plant collections: the Campus Landscape, which showcases 120 acres of beautifully landscaped trees and shrubs; the Native Plant Collection, which is comprised of 30 acres of plants and wildflowers native to eastern North America; and the Caroline Black Garden, a collection of display gardens which highlight a mature grouping of woody plants. Over 30 different college courses make use of the arboretum as a living laboratory, which has special applications for environmental studies and the biological sciences. Notably, the Connecticut College Arboretum has been awarded a Level III Accreditation through the ArbNet program for its standards of professional practice.
For more information: Connecticut College
University of Tennessee Gardens
University of Tennessee
Recognized in 2013 as the official botanical gardens of the state of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee has garden locations in Knoxville, Crossville, and Jackson, which are collectively home to approximately 4,000 species of annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, herbs, vegetables, and tropicals. These gardens, together with the on-site agricultural library, serve as an invaluable educational resource for those university students enrolled in the school’s Department of Plant Sciences. The UT Gardens have been recognized as one of thirty-four official All American Selections (AAS) test sites in the United States. As stewards of environmental literacy, UT Gardens maintains a strong community outreach program, consisting of workshops and programs for kids and adults alike. Around 100,000 visitors are welcomed to the botanical garden each year.
For more information: University of Tennessee
The State Arboretum of Virginia (Orland E. White Arboretum)
University of Virginia
Also known as the Orland E. White Arboretum, The State Arboretum of Virginia encompasses 172 acres and contains over 5,000 woody trees and shrubs from across the planet. Notable collections include 162 different kinds of boxwood, a ginkgo grove consisting of 300 trees, and 36 Cedar of Lebanon trees. With such an impressive collection, it’s no wonder the Arboretum was chosen as a reference garden for the Southeast Region of the American Conifer Society. It also serves as a rich educational resource for university students enrolled in classes in the Environmental Sciences and Biology Department, among other related fields. The Arboretum is also located on the Blandy Experimental Farm, which hosts the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) residential program supported by the National Science Foundation.
For more information: University of Virginia
University of Arizona Campus Arboretum
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona Campus Arboretum is home to over a thousand species of trees, shrubs, cacti and other plants. While some of these are native to North America, others come from all over the world. As part of the University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the arboretum has a strong educational component. Not only do students use it as a classroom aid and instructional tool, but they are also encouraged to conduct their own research and engage in real-world training and service projects. As part of its extensive community outreach program, the arboretum hosts a Tree Stewards Program and offers various workshops and presentations to promote environmental leadership. In 2010, the University of Arizona campus was officially named a “Tree Campus USA” by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
For more information: University of Arizona
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Durham, North Carolina
What students and visitors refer to as Sarah P. Duke Gardens is actually composed of four different gardens, each offering a unique learning and viewing experience. The Bloomquist Garden of Native Plants features over 900 regional species across 6 1/2 acres of woodlands. The Asiatic Arboretum, a visitors’ favorite, is an 18-acre display of rare and beautiful plant species from Southeast Asia. It provides the perfect setting for a traditional Japanese tea, a popular attraction for guests to the gardens. The Doris Duke Center Gardens feature the Page-Rollins White Garden, a celebration of all-white flowers and foliage, a water lily pond, and the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, a sustainable, organic food garden. Finally, the Historic Gardens give tribute to Duke Gardens’ humble beginnings and feature stunning Italianate terraces, a fish pool, rock garden, and butterfly garden.
For more information: Duke University
The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
The Arnold Arboretum is as impressive as the University’s educational offerings, and the two complement one another. Sprawling across 281 acres of Boston’s Jamaica Plain, the arboretum features nearly 15,000 plants, representing nearly 4,000 different species. Thus, the arboretum is a rich learning tool for students as well as a springing ground for research performed by graduate students and professors. Harvard students can take one of a dozen or so courses directly affiliated with the arboretum, such as “Getting to Know Charles Darwin,” “Sustainable Plants for a Changing World,” and “Topics in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology,” for instance. Ambitious students can even apply for an internship or fellowship. The university also offers educational programs for local school children as well as learning activities for kids and families.
For more information: Harvard University
Mississippi State University
The Crosby Arboretum is both an ecological and architectural wonder. It has received many local and national awards over the years, including special recognition by the American Society of Landscape Architects. The arboretum has often been called the South’s premier native plant conservatory as it preserves and displays all three habitats found in the Southern ecosystem: woodland, savanna, and aquatic. The aquatic exhibit seeks to illustrate native aquatic plants in their natural habitats and features a 2 1/2 acre freshwater pond. The arboretum itself spans 104 acres, but the staff also maintains 700 additional acres for scientific research and study. Among its approximately 300 different species of plants, shrubs, wildflowers, and trees are several rare and endangered species that receive particular care and attention.
For more information: Mississippi State University
JC Raulston Arboretum
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
The JC Raulston Arboretum is a 10-acre university arboretum and botanical garden that hosts over 46,000 plants of more than 6,000 different species. Among the most important strategic goals of the arboretum is to complement the curricula of North Carolina State University, meaning it’s not just a beautiful backdrop to the campus — it’s a living laboratory and outdoor classroom. Students aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from the arboretum’s contributions, however. The arboretum sponsors a variety of educational outreach programs for the community at large, including family events, summer garden camps, and a merit badge program for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It is also one of the Southeast’s top teaching gardens, hosting many lectures, symposia, and other educational gatherings throughout the year.
For more information: North Carolina State University
University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum
The University of Wisconsin-Madison
As one of the larger arboretums on the list, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum is comprised of 1200 acres of woodlands, ponds, springs, prairies, savannas, and gardens, as well as almost 20 miles of hiking trails. Part of the University’s Botany and Horticulture departments, the Arboretum works closely with faculty to provide rich, hands-on learning opportunities to supplement classroom instruction. Students have access to over 6200 unique specimens of trees, plants, and shrubs for research and observation. As an added attraction, the arboretum is home to over 35 mammal species, as well as scores of reptile and amphibians. Classes are also offered to members of the community as part of the Arboretum’s educational outreach initiatives. The arboretum is an advocate of land stewardship and strives to preserve and increase plant diversity in the state.
For more information: University of Wisconsin
Saint John’s Abbey Arboretum
Saint John’s University
St. John’s Abbey was settled in the mid-1800s by Benedictine monks after land treaties with the native Indian tribes opened the region to European settlers. Soon after, St. John’s College (now University) was established on their new land that they referred to as “schoenthal” or “beautiful valley.” The postglacial, 2,800-acre parcel was chosen by the monks for its diverse habitats of hardwood forest, prairies, lakes, and streams. As immigrants from Bavaria, it was monks’ vision to be good stewards of the land and transform their new settlement to the likes of their homeland. After nearly one hundred and fifty years of land management and preservation based on Benedictine principles of stability, hospitality, and stewardship, the monks designated St. John’s University’s campus and surrounding acreage a natural arboretum. Today, the arboretum serves as a place of study and research for more than 8,000 students every year.
For more information: Saint John’s University
Ithaca, New York
Cornell Plantations makes Cornell University one of the most pleasing campuses in North America to look at, but there’s a lot more to the gardens and arboretum than what meets the eye. These plants are more than ornamental and serve the greater purpose of educating not only the students at Cornell, but the general public as well. The Plantations’ strong educational focus can be seen in its community education programs, lecture series, teen education programs, and youth programs. For university students, there are volunteer and internship programs as well as the acclaimed Cornell Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership. Furthermore, the Natural Areas Academy (NAA), comprised of workshops and directed stewardship activities, educates participants to become good stewards of the planet’s natural resources.
For more information: Cornell University
The Botanic Garden of Smith College
The Botanic Garden of Smith College has been a valuable educational resource for students since its inception in 1875. The Garden is in active collaboration between students and professors from all disciplines, including the humanities and arts. Those enrolled in classes such as Plant Physiology, Plant Diversity and Evolution, and Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation find that the Gardens give them valuable hands-on opportunities to explore their fields of study. The Gardens are also home to a 127-acre arboretum, which houses approximately 1,200 types of woody trees and shrubs as well as several other gardens, including a rock garden and a Japanese garden. Lyman Conservatory of the Smith College Botanical Garden is of particular instructional value as it houses over 2,500 species of plants from all over our planet.
For more information: Smith College
The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College
Established in 1929, the Scott Arboretum is a living museum boasting more than 4,000 ornamental plants representing the diversity of the Delaware Valley region, all of which are labeled with both their common and scientific names. Conifers, crabapples, flowering cherries, and magnolias, among other woody taxa, are well represented. Highlights of the Arboretum include Crum Woods, a 200-acre woodland with walking trails; the Dean Bond Rose Garden, featuring over 200 different types of stunning roses; and the James R. Frorer Holly Collection, an impressive display of more than 350 different types of holly. Students who are interested in horticulture will find many valuable opportunities at Swarthmore College. Internships in ornamental horticulture are available, as are employment opportunities through the Swarthmore College Student Employee Program.
For more information: Swarthmore College
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia
The University of Georgia
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is comprised of 313 acres of eye-popping display gardens featuring both native and exotic plants. The garden is centered around the Alice Hand Visitor Center and Conservatory, which features a 10,000 square-foot conservatory blooming with tropical plants and flowers. Among its 11 botanical and horticultural collections are the Shade and Native Flora Gardens, International Garden, Horticulture Greenhouses, Herb and Physic Garden, and the Rhododendron Collection. In addition to providing a wide variety of educational resources and opportunities for students at the University of Georgia, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia provides programs for children and adults in the surrounding community, including a Kids and Family program, K-12 program as well as a Certificate in Native Plants for adult learners.
For more information: University of Georgia
University of Idaho Arboretum
The University of Idaho
The University of Idaho Arboretum is part of UI’s Agriculture Department and is used for research in Plant Biotechnology and Environmental Horticulture degree paths. The 63-acre arboretum is home to over 1,500 unique plant species and was recognized in 2013 as a National Display Garden by the American Hosta Society. Divided into four distinct sections, the arboretum represents Asian, European, Eastern North America, and Western North America plant origins. Some unique specimens include Dawn Redwood, Ginkgo, and Camperdown Elms. The arboretum staff actively collaborates with university faculty and encourages use of its facilities for academic endeavors, including studies in plant hardiness, landscape design, and phenology of flowering, among many others. Walking trails and benches are abundant in the arboretum and can be used for quiet contemplation, plant observation, study, or birdwatching.
For more information: University of Idaho
University of Maryland Arboretum and Botanical Garden
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
The University of Maryland’s 1,250-acre campus in College Park is both an arboretum and a botanical garden, making it an ideal setting for students enrolled in the university’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. One of the most popular outdoor classrooms on the campus is the Native Gardens, which display a diverse collection of meadow, sun garden, and shade garden plants. The University recently received the Campus Greening Through Stewardship Award from the National Wildlife Federation in part because of the creation of The Chemistry Courtyard, a living display of the sciences of chemistry and biology. The UMD Arboretum and Botanical Gardens also seeks to increase environmental literacy throughout the community and therefore offers “Walks and Talks” on a variety of botanical topics each week and provides groups with customized guided programs and tours.
For more information: University of Maryland
University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens
University of North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens prides itself on the quality and diversity of their plant collections as well as their staff’s dedication and knowledge. It is these things that make the gardens not just a thing of beauty, but an instructional tool as well. In addition to being an outdoor classroom for university students enrolled in a variety of different courses and programs, the Gardens, in conjunction with the North Carolina Native Plant Society and the Habitat and Wildlife Keepers, also offers a Certificate in Native Plant Studies that is available to any adult learner. A highlight of the Gardens is the McMillan Greenhouse, a 4,000 square-foot structure representing five different plant habitats. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens was recently awarded the 2015 Best of the Best Award by Charlotte Magazine.
For more information: University of North Carolina at Charlotte
University of South Florida Botanical Gardens
University of South Florida
The USF Botanical Gardens are comprised of 16 acres of beautiful display gardens and green belt showcasing over 3,000 species of plants as well as many natural habitats such as Florida’s upland scrub and sandhill habitats. Among the many rare and unique plants, you will find fruit trees, begonias, orchids, palms, cactus and other succulent plants, and carnivorous plants. Other highlights of the gardens include a wetland forest, a subtropical shade garden, and an herb and scent garden. Although the gardens host around 35,000 yearly visitors, their true value is to the University of South Florida’s students who participate in hands-on learning activities and research in such areas as Environmental Science and Pharmacology. Educational resources are also provided free of charge to area teachers and homeschoolers.
For more information: University of South Florida
Hahn Horticulture Garden
The Peggy Lee Hahn Horticulture Garden covers nearly six acres on the campus of Virginia Tech and is primarily used as a teaching tool for students enrolled in the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, particularly those studying in the Department of Horticulture. The natural learning resources that the garden offers complement such degree programs as horticulture, landscape architecture, urban forestry, and entomology. Those students looking for even more hands-on experiences can take advantage of the volunteer and internship programs available. Of special note are the garden’s dwarf conifer display, featuring over 20 different species of aquatic plants, and a perennial border featuring more than 90 species and cultivars. Community outreach efforts include hands-on workshops, symposia, and guided tours, among other special events held at the Hahn.
For more information: Virginia Tech
Wellesley College Botanic Gardens
The Wellesley College Botanic Gardens are made up of ten separate gardens and greenhouses, including unique offerings such as a climate change monitoring garden, a kitchen garden, and even an edible ecosystem teaching garden. All in all, the gardens showcase over 1,500 different plant species from more than 150 various plant families. The gardens have primarily been used as teaching and enrichment tools for instructors and students at the college and are a valuable asset to classes ranging from botany to anthropology. Regular student events are held in the gardens, and research, internship, and employment opportunities are available. Student volunteers have the chance to become tour guides for the gardens’ frequent visitors, assist with the children’s program, and participate in special events and other projects.
For more information: Wellesley College
Cal State Northridge Botanic Garden
California State University Northridge
What students and faculty refer to as The Cal State Northridge Botanic Garden is a 1.5 acre garden and greenhouse complex on the campus of California State University. At its establishment in 1959, it consisted of only California natives, but is now home to over 1,200 plant species, many of them from distinct regions and climates. Of special note are collections of cacti and succulents, New Zealand plants, palms, butterfly plants, and tropical plants. Although students from all disciplines will find relaxation and even inspiration in the garden, those studying subjects such as plant biology, plant ecology, plant morphology, plant physiology and entomology will find special value in this living laboratory. Its community outreach consists of a variety of classes and workshops as well as the CSUN-al Gardening Series, held quarterly.
For more information: California State University Northridge
Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University
The Donald E. Davis Arboretum is a quaint, 13 1/2 acre facility that is home to 150 different tree species native to Alabama, as well as plants, wildflowers, and shrubs indigenous to the Southeast. Its support comes from the College of Sciences and Mathematics, but all students are encouraged to use the living plant museum as a place for learning, research, or mere contemplation. Its community outreach efforts include a number of K-12 programs aligned to Alabama state standards as well as Common Core such as Scientific Observation of Leaves and The Diversity of Bark, for instance. Knowledgeable of the fact that Alabama has the 4th highest percentage of species at risk of extinction, the arboretum also strives to promote biodiversity and is a founding member of the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance (APCA).
For more information: Auburn University
Garden of the Coastal Plain
Georgia Southern University
This quaint garden is located on an early twentieth-century farmstead and features over 11 acres blooming with both native and heritage plants. Among the various pitcher plants, longleaf pines, and azaleas, you’ll find over 20 of Georgia’s protected plants and 17 endangered species, thanks to the Garden’s conservation efforts. Students at Georgia South University can take advantage of valuable educational opportunities, such as internships and service learning projects. The faculty is encouraged to make use of the Kennedy Outdoor classroom for classes or presentations. As a living laboratory, the Garden is also a proud host and facilitator to many student and faculty research projects. The community is also welcome to visit the Garden and take advantage of the children’s garden and Rural Life Museum.
For more information: Georgia Southern University
Gustavus Adolphus College
Saint Peter, Minnesota
Named for the famous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, Linnaeus Arboretum is designed to illustrate the three major ecosystems of the state of Minnesota: northern coniferous forest, tallgrass prairie and deciduous woodland. The 125-acre arboretum is located on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College, where its primary mission is to promote environmental education and research opportunities to the College’s students and faculty as well as to the surrounding community. The arboretum is comprised of 682 trees as well as 114 different species of trees and shrubs. In addition to its 12 official gardens, visitors to the arboretum can enjoy the Meditation Area, the Melva Lind Interpretive Center and the Alexis Memorial Bluebird Trail. The arboretum is also a great place for bird watching; over 150 different species of birds have been spotted on campus.
For more information: Gustavus Adolphus College
Edith J. Carrier Arboretum
James Madison University
Described as an urban botanical preserve, Edith J. Carrier Arboretum consists of 125 acres of forest and botanical gardens on the campus of James Madison University. Highlights of this green haven include a variety of plants native to the mid-Appalachians, such as woodland wildflowers, a collection of non-native trees, shrubs, and bulbs as well as herb and rose gardens, a pond habitat, and a wetland garden. Other notable features include a small horticulture library, an outdoor amphitheatre, a pavilion, and the Frances Plecker Education Center. The Arboretum prides itself on being the only arboretum located on a public university campus in the state of Virginia and is used as an outdoor biology lab for the university’s students, as well as a venue for community learning and environmental stewardship.
For more information: James Madison University
LSU Hilltop Arboretum
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Donated to Louisiana State University in 1981 by Mr. Emory Smith, the LSU Hilltop Arboretum is 14 beautiful acres which showcase more than 150 different species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers native to the Southeast region. Students enrolled in the College of Agriculture and especially those studying within the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at the university reap the many benefits of the arboretum, which is located just six miles from the campus. The arboretum maintains a strong community outreach program, offering a summer camp for young children, a Junior Master Gardener Program, and many classes and programs for the adult learner. A symposium is held annually at the arboretum featuring lectures by nationally and internationally known experts in horticulture, architecture, and landscape design.
For more information: Louisiana State University
UC Davis Arboretum
The University of California, Davis
The seventeen gardens that make up UC Davis Arboretum are a beautiful testament to nature’s instruction. Students not only use the 100 acres of sprawling landscape for “peaceful contemplation,” but they can also use the gardens as hands-on learning facilitators in dozens of classes offered by the university. This free resource enables students to get their hands dirty while observing a living textbook or conducting meaningful ecological research. A variety of internships are offered in conjunction with the gardens as well in topics such as sustainable gardening, plant propagation and nursery operations, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The arboretum recently received a 4-out-of-4 star accreditation by the Professional Grounds Management Society for outstanding performance in the areas of environmental stewardship, economic performance, and social responsibility.
University of Delaware Botanic Gardens
University of Delaware
The UD Botanic Garden is a collection of twelve different gardens that spans fifteen acres and contains more than 3,000 species and cultivars of perennials, shrubs, and trees. The Garden is best known for its collections of magnolias, maples, oaks, camellias, and rhododendrons and was chosen as a test arboretum for the American Holly Society. Although it is open to the public without charge, its primary dedication is to its students as well as Green Industry professionals. Students enrolled in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will find value in the Garden as they pursue such course topics as horticulture, plant science, entomology, and landscape design. The Garden also offers both summer and school-year internships, as well as a full curatorial assistantship program.
For more information: University of Delaware
University of Kentucky Arboretum
University of Kentucky
Established in 1991 through a joint effort between the University of Kentucky and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the University of Kentucky Arboretum has since been designated the “Official State Botanical Garden for the Commonwealth of Kentucky”. The Gardens are actually comprised of several smaller gardens including a Rose Garden, a Fragrance Garden, and a Home Demonstration Garden. Though it welcomes over 200,000 visitors from all over the country each year, the real value of the UK Arboretum can be found in the limitless educational resources it offers students, particularly those from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Whether students are working towards degrees in Agricultural Biotechnology, Horticulture, Plant and Soil Science, Landscape Architecture, or any of the other dozen or so academic programs offered by the University of Kentucky, an outdoor classroom and laboratory is literally at their fingertips.
For more information: University of Kentucky
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is comprised of over 300 acres and can be described as one of the most beautiful outdoor laboratories and classrooms in North America. In addition to a variety of volunteering opportunities, the gardens and arboretum offer valuable awards and grants for students, as well as internships and work study programs. Teachers and students routinely use the gardens for hands-on research, service learning projects, classes, and student assignments. Whether you decide to enroll in the College of Landscape Architecture, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, or the School of Natural Resources and Environment, you’ll be sure to find the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum a valuable addition to your educational experience. That’s not to mention the many beautiful study spots you and your study group can take advantage of!
For more information: University of Michigan
The University of Pennsylvania
The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania boasts more than 12,000 plants of approximately 2,500 species from 27 different countries. Thus, it’s easy for one to see why it has the distinction of being the official Arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Although the surrounding community is the beneficiary of many different annual events and outreach programs hosted by the gardens, University of Pennsylvania students receive the true value, especially those enrolled in the University’s School of Arboriculture. Other subjects taught in conjunction with the arboretum include botany, birding, culinary adventures, horticulture, and landscape design. The internship program at the arboretum enables students to acquire skills and experience in many different areas of plant science, including natural lands, plant protection, propagation, and urban forestry, among others.
For more information: University of Pennsylvania
Red Butte Garden
The University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Located in the foothills of Utah, Red Butte Garden is the state’s official arboretum. It is also the largest botanical garden in the Intermountain West, boasting 18 acres of display gardens including nearly half a million blooming bulbs, as well as 5 miles of hiking trails. The garden has been open to the public since 1985, and welcomes the opportunity to educate the community about the importance of conservation and biodiversity. A variety of horticulture classes are available throughout the year, and Red Butte Garden is an active participant in the University of Utah Continuing Education Lifelong Learning Program. Students are encouraged to volunteer at the Garden by hosting workshops, giving tours, and lead summer camps for the area’s youth. University students may also have the opportunity to participate in one of the many active conservation research projects on site.
For more information: University of Utah
W. J. Beal Botanical Garden
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Michigan State University is proud to be the home of what many say is the oldest publicly maintained botanical garden in the United States. The W. J. Beal Botanical Garden consists of only 5 acres, but has much to offer in terms of biodiversity, including 1,800 different taxa of flowers and other plants, as well as a collection of Michigan’s endangered plants. Other special collections include landscape plants, wetlands, useful plants, plant families, and non-flowering vascular plants. The principal function of the botanical garden is to serve as an outdoor laboratory and living classroom for students, especially those enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Natural Science. Even so, the garden is open to the public free of charge.
Cofrin Memorial Arboretum
University of Wisconsin Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Established in 1971 and located at the head of Green Bay, The Cofrin Memorial Arboretum forms a natural boundary that surrounds and includes the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. The arboretum is operated and maintained by the University’s Cofrin Biodiversity Center and consists of seven distinguishable ecosystems. These include the Keith White Prairie, Mahon Woods and Creek, Niagara Escarpment, Oak Savannah Restoration Plots, Sager Tract, and Succession Plots. Some are natural systems, and others are restoration projects of the Biodiversity Center in an effort to reinvigorate ecosystems that had been destroyed by the agricultural industry in Wisconsin’s past. While the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay offers a wide variety of study, its founding and current focus is environmental sustainability, and the Cofrin Memorial Arboretum serves not only as a reflection of that, but as a living laboratory to support biodiversity-based research and education.
Wayne State College Arboretum
Wayne State College
The Wayne State College Arboretum has been an official “Teaching and Community Arboretum” since 1977. As a contributing member of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, it serves as a natural teaching aide for both its students as well as the community at large. The arboretum has grown from just 87 species of trees and shrubs in 1976 to 280 varieties as of last count. Alongside the woody plants are a diverse collection of ornamental plantings, many of them Nebraska natives. Students enrolled in the School of Natural and Social Sciences will no doubt find value in the living classroom afforded to them by the arboretum. The College also uses the arboretum as a testament to its dedication to creating a sustainable landscape with a focus on native plants.
For more information: Wayne State College
Lovingly referred to by students and faculty alike as “The Arb,” Cowling Arboretum at Carleton College consists of 880 acres of outdoor classroom for students, especially those studying biology and geology at the school. Those in classes with a field component value the opportunity to complete class assignments and conduct research in the arboretum, which is just a short walk from campus and available anytime day or night for academic or recreational use. Employment opportunities in The Arb are also available for students during the school year and can be a source of both income and inspiration. For instance, the position of Cole Student Naturalist enables students to become Arboretum Ambassadors, educating other students about the arboretum, leading field trips, and writing for the Arb website.
For more information: Carleton College
Doane College Osterhout Arboretum
Part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Doane College Osterhout Arboretum encompasses all 300 acres of the college’s campus, located in Crete, Nebraska. It’s home to more than 160 species of trees and shrubs, alongside a diverse collection of flowering plants, such as Star Magnolia, Flowering Dogwood, and Exbury Azalea. Carefully manicured flower beds offset naturalized spaces of daffodils, peonies, and daylilies. Other special features of the arboretum include an “English Cottage” style landscape design, a historic pergola, an outdoor amphitheatre, several nature and fitness trails, and an outdoor challenge course. Historical tree groves, fountains, and lakes make the campus an idyllic site for students and campus visitors to quietly study or peacefully reflect. Doane College Osterhout Arboretum has enjoyed the distinction of being a Landscape Steward site since 1979.
For more information: Doane University
Hidden Lake Gardens
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Known to students simply as Hidden Lake, Hidden Lake Gardens consists of 755 acres of both botanical garden and arboretum. Among the many varieties of flowers, trees and shrub, of special note are the collections of hostas, rare conifers, and bonsais. The on-site conservatory includes a temperate house, arid dome, and the newly renovated tropical dome. Although it is available for use by all students regardless of major, those enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Natural Science find Hidden Lake to be of particular value for completing class assignments and conducting field research. Hidden Lake is also open to the public and hosts many educational programs for community members of all ages, from preschool programs to the Junior Master Gardener program, and of course, classes for adults as well.
Missouri State Arboretum
Northwest Missouri State University
The beautiful campus of Northwest Missouri State University also doubles as the state’s official arboretum. The campus boasts more than 1,700 trees of over 130 different species and is located in Maryville, Missouri, a Tree City USA. In 2000, the Arboretum received the Communitree Award for “exemplary stewardship of community trees.” Students seeking majors from the Department of Natural Sciences as well as the School of Agricultural Sciences use the arboretum as a study and workplace, benefiting from its many educational resources and research opportunities. Students and visitors can partake of the full arboretum experience via three trails on campus: The Gaunt Trail which passes more than 39 species, the Tower Trail which passes more than 32 species, and the Chatauqua Trail which contains exactly 31 species.
Purdue University Horticulture Gardens
West Lafayette, Indiana
A small but thriving botanical garden, the Purdue University Horticulture Gardens encompass just half an acre but feature over 200 cultivars of annual flowers, as well as approximately 1,000 species of perennial flowers and foliage plants. Special collections include ornamental grasses and herbaceous and tree peonies. Such biodiversity makes the Gardens an idyllic setting for study and one of academic value for students enrolled in many different academic programs offered by Purdue, such as Horticulture, Landscape Architecture, Botany and Plant Pathology, Entomology, and the School of Veterinary Medicine. Students may also get involved by volunteering or interning, opportunities that can provide them with the training and experience they need to thrive in their respective career paths. The Gardens are also open to the public, and individuals or groups may request guided tours.
Salisbury University Arboretum
The 145-acre arboretum situated upon Salisbury University was declared a national arboretum in 1988 and has since served as an outdoor laboratory for students, as well as a public display of over 2,000 species of woody and herbaceous plants. In addition to its impressive collection of trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials, the arboretum boasts a fine collection of sculptures as well, including many representatives of the turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts style and a reproduction of the famous sculpture The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin. Students taking courses in the Biological Sciences and Environmental Studies find much value in the hands-on learning experiences the arboretum provides. Those who wish to gain even more experience may apply for one of the 25 student staff positions in the Horticulture Department or intern in the arboretum.
Lyle E. Littlefield Ornamentals Trial Garden
University of Maine
Founded in the early 1960s by Professor of Horticulture Lyle E. Littlefield, the eponymous ornamentals trial garden has since become a mainstay for the Environmental Horticulture Program and other degree programs within the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture at the University of Maine. The garden, which encompasses 7 acres of land on the university’s campus, is home to over 2,500 woody and herbaceous plants, including lilacs, rhododendrons, magnolias, and a variety of crabapples. Half of the gardens are open to the public free of charge, while the remaining acreage, referred to as the Research Center, is only available to university students and faculty for the purposes of plant production and maintenance research. Special research projects include container and field crop production, plant culture, propagation, and turfgrass evaluation.
Mizzou Botanic Garden
University of Missouri
The Mizzou Botanic Garden at the University of Missouri was established in 1999, making it one of the newer gardens on our list. It is comprised of eleven thematic gardens and seven special collections. Highlights include the Siberian Iris Garden, the Asiatic and Oriental Lily Garden, the Native Missouri Tree Collection, and perhaps most notably, the Jefferson Garden featuring Thomas Jefferson’s original grave marker. The latter pays tribute to the Founder with a bronze sculpture of his likeness, his original tombstone, and an obelisk surrounded by cardinal flower, columbine, Virginia bluebells, sweetshrub, and Rose of Sharon. Students from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources as well as those enrolled in the School of Natural Resources view the gardens as their classroom and use it regularly for observation and research purposes.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada
The UNLV Arboretum, nicknamed The Emerald in the Desert, is a 335-acre arboretum that spans the entire campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This arboretum’s mission is to showcase woody plants suitable for desert conditions and to supplement curricula, primarily for students enrolled in the College of Sciences. The 2-acre Xeric garden has been referred to as the crown of the Arboretum and features plant species from around the world, including Australia, South America, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and the four desert regions of North America. Features of the garden include 9,000 square feet of paved walkways, several benches, covered ramadas (including the Klinkhammer Bird Viewing Ramada), wooden bridges, and native Aztec sandstone boulders taken from Mount Potosi in the Spring Mountain Range.
University of Nevada, Reno Arboretum
University of Nevada, Reno
As the sister arboretum to the UNLV Arboretum, the University of Nevada, Reno Arboretum was also designated a state arboretum by the 1985 Nevada Legislature. In addition to the 36 elms that line the campus quad just north of Morris Hall, there are over 60 genera and about 200 other species of trees, as well as other plants, shrubs, flowers, and ornamentals. Highlights of the campus-wide arboretum include a charming cherry blossom garden, the Fleischmann Agricultural Quad, the Merriam A. Brown Rose Garden, and the Manzanita Lake. Students enrolled in the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources find the on-site arboretum particularly valuable. Some designated areas of the arboretum are also open to the public for educational pursuits or simple enjoyment.