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Tree Collection


Arboretum and Gardens

Arboretum and Gardens
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016
Tree Collection

The Arboretum celebrates the diversity of trees with a collection that has over 75 different species. Below is a sampling of some of the unique tress on our campus.    

Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree)

Located on the south side of McCabe Hall. The spring flowers, dark green leaves, multitrunk form, brilliant fall color, and striking bark truly make this specimen a tree with year round interest. In addition to these attributes, this tree has a storied history.  In 1765 John and William Bartram of Philadelphia set off on a trip to explore the southeast. Being avid horticulturalists, the father and son team had made trips like this before where they would collect seeds and bring them back to their garden in Philadelphia. Little did they know on this trip they would discover a tree that would put their name in the history books. Their travels took them to Georgia along the banks of the Alatamaha River. Here they came upon a grove of trees with delicate branches and showy white blossoms. They documented the previously unknown species and noted its location. On a return trip they collected seed to take back home. The Bartrams planted the seed in their Philadelphia garden and named the tree after their good friend Benjamin Franklin. In the wild the species was last noticed in 1803 in its only known location along the Alatmaha River. Shortly thereafter the tree became extinct in the wild. As of 2000, there were 2,041 known Franklinias from New Zealand to Washington, D.C., all are direct descendants of the Bartram's seeds.

Quercus alba (White Oak)  

The rugged white oak located behind the President's Office Building has once stood the test of time. Arguably, was the oldest tree on the American University campus, it dates back prior to the Civil War. Unfortunately the derecho of June 2012, took down our oldest tree on campus. White Oaks grow to be 60 to 80 feet tall making it one of the most stately native tree to the eastern United States. In addition to its prominent appearance, the species is known to be a prolific producer of acorns. Studies show that more than 180 species of birds and mammals depend on the production of these acorns for a source of food.

Korean Cherry  

In 1943, Syngman Rhee was 68 and, had been president of the Korean government in exile for nearly 20 years. Paul Douglass was the 39-year-old president of AU. Rhee had found little support for Korean independence in Washington, but the young university president took up the cause. On April 8, 1943, on a site that would ultimately flank the School of International Service, the two men planted what they chose to call "Korean Cherry Trees."The name was a political statement. Flowering cherry trees, which include many varieties, have been generally known as Japanese cherries. But they were also common in Korea, then occupied by Japan, and so Rhee and Douglass renamed them.During the planting, Douglass read from the Korean Declaration of Independence, and Korean folk songs filled the quad. Two students from Korea were given AU scholarships. The friendship between Rhee and Douglass lasted. When Rhee became president of a liberated Korea, Douglass became his advisor. As for the trees, they blossom each year by a plaque testifying to AU-Korean friendship. Today over 60 years have past and the original trees still convey their message of beauty and friendship. Due to their advancing age, the trees are slowly declining and the university is working to propagate new trees from their cuttings. The new trees will be off springs from their parents that will be planted upon the completion of the new School of International Service.     

Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood)  

For years botanists were intrigued by the uniquely marked marble sized seed pod that had only been found in a fossilized state. They did not know where it came from but assumed that it was from a plant that had subcum to extinction long ago. In 1948 in the remote highlands in China a leading botanist came upon the stand of a previously unknown tree. The towering Dawn Redwoods unlocked the secret of where the seed came from. The botanist proclaimed that "finding a living Dawn Redwood is at least as remarkable as discovering a living dinosaur." American hortucultuists brought the seeds back to the United States and they are now available at your local nurseries.  

There are several locations where we have planted this species on the American University campus. The most prominent location and best example is in the amphitheatre to the right of the stairs leading towards Leonard Hall. In 2000, AU was able to rescue these three trees from a site that was to be bulldozed to make way for a housing development. The fast growing upright tree often fools people to believing that they are evergreen due to the presence of needles on the branches. In reality the tree is deciduous and turns a brilliant bronze color before shedding its needles each season. This natural occurance often causes a panic as observers on campus are convinced that the tree has suddenly been lost.  

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree)

Record of the species dates back to at least the 11th century (Sung dynasty) where it was depicted in the literature as a plant native to eastern China. Fossil records indicate that at one time it was also widespread through Europe and North American. About 7 million years ago the Ginkgo disappeared from the fossil record of North America. It was gone from Europe by about 2.5 million years ago. The term "living fossil" used by Darwin in his 'Origin of Species' of 1859 definitely fits the Ginkgo. It may be the oldest living seed plant and is therefore by some seen as one of the wonders of the world. Thus the sole living member of a once great and dominant race of the vegetation of the world, the Ginkgo is, among all the tens of thousands of plant species existing today, a most precious and tenuous link between the present and the remote past. Individual trees may live longer than 3,000 years. Scientists thought that it had become extinct, but in 1691 the German Engelbert Kaempfer* discovered the Ginkgo in Japan. The Ginkgos had survived in China and there they were mainly found in monestaries in the mountains and in palace and temple gardens, where Buddhist monks cultivated the tree from about 1100 AD for its many good qualities. From there it spread (by seed) to Japan (around 1192 AD with some relation to Buddhism) and Korea. Ginkgo-seeds were brought to Europe from Japan by Kaempfer in the early 1700's and in America later that century. Most of the earlier trees raised in Europe appear to have been males. The first recorded female tree was found near Geneva in 1814 of which scions were grafted on a male tree in the Botanic garden of Montpellier where the first perfect seed has grown. Now the tree grows in many countries all over the world as an ornamental tree. Young Ginkgo specimens are located on the American University campus in several locations. You can find them on the hillside overlooking Jacobs Field and in the amphitheatre. They are easily recognized by their unique fan shaped leaf.