Wittenberg University now an arboretum with accredited tree collection

Wittenberg’s collection of trees has achieved an accreditation status that designates the university as an official arboretum.

The Level 1 ArbNet Accreditation is thanks to the efforts of Matthew Collier, award-winning professor of biology, and Dan McDermitt, director of facilities management, university officials said.

“Seeing what our campus has to offer, Matt and I both thought it would be wonderful for Wittenberg to become an accredited arboretum, so it’s exciting to know that our efforts to earn this accreditation were well received,” McDermitt said, who recently received the Certified Educational Facilities Professional credential.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Receiving Level 1 ArbNet accreditation requires extensive self-assessment and arboretum-related documentation on everything from plans, governance and the number of species, to staff and volunteer support, education and public programming, and tree science research and conservation, officials said.

With regard to species, ArbNet also requests any collection “contain a minimum number of 25 species, varieties or cultivars of trees or woody plants that have been planted and are growing in accordance with the arboretum plan,” according to the organization’s website.

The university has invested in its tree-rich environment since 1845, trimming and caring for its arboreta across generations. Wittenberg has more than 125 total species, including some uncommon trees for this part of the country.

Collier said visitors will see the Incense Cedar, a tree native to Northern California and Oregon; the Dawn Redwood, currently listed as a “threatened wild species” that’s distributed in the eastern, southern and western parts of the U.S.; Bald Cypress, often found in damp, swampy soils in southeastern U.S.; and Ginkgo, one of the oldest living tree species in the world with a history of medicinal benefits.

Collier completed the majority of the paperwork needed for the accreditation application, and facilities management provided additional support. His advocate, Alan Stewart, a 1969 Wittenberg graduate and member of the university’s Board of Directors, first brought up the idea of attaining arboretum status and helped start the process.

“Choosing Wittenberg as my own college home years ago was influenced in great part by the beauty of this campus,” he said. “In my 27 years of teaching future biologists and botanists at Wittenberg, I can say that the campus continues to be just as beautiful, which makes the official arboretum status all the more rewarding – not just for our current campus, but for our extended community and future students who want to experience a living-learning environment like the one we are blessed to have.”

With this new status, Collier and McDermitt will work to determine the best types of trees to serve as replacement plantings where needed.

“We are hoping to plant native trees on campus as these have high survival potential and are truly indicative of what grows in this part of the country,” Collier said.

The two have also engaged a student researcher, Sarah Fitterer, class of 2025 and an environmental science major, to help with the effort, in which she is helping to tag up to 400 trees. They have already tagged 100 trees and will create a file that lists the tag number, common name and scientific name of each tree. They then plan to create copies of these lists, which can be picked up in the newly established “Arboretum Resource Room” in the Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center.

The group also plans to research more outreach and engagement opportunities to promote the campus beauty and new status, including during the university’s fall homecoming celebration Oct. 3-6 when Collier and fellow science colleague John Ritter, professor of geology and 2013 Ohio Professor of the Year, want to share an interactive tree map. They are in the process of developing the foundation for what could be a virtual tour of the varied species of trees.

“We would like to create an online database, along with QR codes, that reference some of the trees on campus and link them to informational websites,” Collier said.

ArbNet is an international program of accreditation that’s specific to arboreta. Any arboretum or public garden with a substantial focus on woody plants can apply. The program is free. For information, visit https://arbnet.org/arboretum-accreditation-program.

About the Author