Penn State Schuylkill earns Level I Arboretum accreditation; plants 400th tree

Outdoor photo of Penn State Schuylkill
Credit: Penn State

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — This spring, Penn State Schuylkill became the second Penn State campus to receive arboretum accreditation from the Interactive Community of Arboreta (ArbNet), the only international accreditation program for arboreta. Schuylkill earned the first step of accreditation, which is a Level I, while the arboretum at University Park holds the more advanced Level II accreditation.

Mary Ann Smith, lecturer of biology at Penn State Schuylkill, began working on plans for the arboretum and its accreditation three years ago.

“I saw the opportunity to have our campus be a unique place where tree and plant biodiversity could be showcased,” Smith said.

Years of work and external support

To become a Level I accredited arboretum, Penn State Schuylkill needed to develop an arboretum plan, establish an organizational or governance group, secure volunteer support from the public, host at least one publicly accessible event per year, and — most importantly — be home to at least 25 species of woody plants.

After receiving a grant from the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society in 2021, Smith and the campus’ Schuylkill Sustainability organization planted native plant species in the campus community garden, which was certified as a pollinator-friendly garden several years ago. This has helped both native plant populations and pollinators thrive and allowed the campus to cement its application for accreditation, according to Smith. Today, the mission of the arboretum is to provide a place for education, research, recreation and beauty for the campus and its surrounding communities.

“Working with our community members, students, faculty and staff, and the Schuylkill County Conservancy has made all the difference in getting the arboretum where it’s meant to be,” Smith said. “Receiving the accreditation at the end of April, which is Earth Month, was a treasure. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to keep growing our arboretum and track the trees for research purposes, while providing a place of beauty and education for the community.”

The arboretum as a backdrop for Arbor Day celebrations

In April, Penn State Schuylkill celebrated Arbor Day with a tree planting ceremony dedicated to the memory of Ben Vaupel, former Pennsylvania Forest Steward and president of the Schuylkill County Conservancy. Vaupel, a passionate conservationist and community leader, gave a gift to the campus in support of STEM programming for Nativity BVM High School students in Pottsville.

At the ceremony, Vaupel’s family, the Schuylkill County Conservancy and volunteers from Penn State Schuylkill planted a Kentucky coffeetree on campus, between University Drive and the Administration Building. The coffeetree was donated by the conservancy and is officially the 400th recorded tree on Penn State Schuylkill’s campus.

Looking ahead for the arboretum

Currently, Penn State Schuylkill’s arboretum is home to 42 species of trees and woody plants that are overseen by the Schuylkill Sustainability organization’s arboretum committee. Smith, the faculty chair of the committee, said she is excited for the future of the arboretum at Penn State Schuylkill. With the help of students, staff and faculty on campus, Smith said she is hopeful the arboretum will continue to grow over time, benefitting the campus’s ability to conduct biological and environmental research and inspire the next generation to take charge of the future.

For more information on Penn State Schuylkill’s arboretum, visit the arboretum page.