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UNR is an arboretum?

By Richard Moreno
The Main Quad on the University of Nevada, Reno campus was developed after 1907 and remains a much-loved part of the university.
Richard Moreno

Among the things that first-time visitors to the University of Nevada, Reno immediately notice are the presence of plenty of trees and other foliage. The 320-acre campus is a virtual nursery of mature trees, shrubs and other landscaping.

The campus greenery, however, is no accident. Almost since the university’s founding, there have been efforts to not only educate Nevada’s best and brightest young minds at the university but also to do so in a garden-like setting.

A recently-published booklet, “A Visitor’s Guide to the University of Nevada, Reno Arboretum,” by James W. Hulse, Cheryll Glotfelty and Rod Haulenbeek, helps tell the story of the development of the UNR campus, which was founded in 1885, and its verdant setting.

The attractive, full-color publication, produced by the University of Nevada Press, contains historical information about the school, which boasts some 3,500 trees representing more than 150 species.

The book serves as a useful guide for taking a bit of time to stroll around the UNR campus, enjoying its lush landscaping and beautiful brick academic buildings, and learning the difference between a red horsechestnut and a red mulberry.

The book begins with a look at the oldest section of the campus, Sagebrush Hill, which is the area surrounding Morrill Hall at the university’s southern edge. In the early years, the campus was mostly barren of vegetation, little more than a small cluster of buildings on a hill overlooking downtown Reno.

That all began to change after 1907, when Clarence Mackay, son of Comstock mining magnate John Mackay, agreed to finance a comprehensive plan for transforming the university into a true Ivy League-style institution.

During the next decade, Mackay’s generosity allowed the university to create the Main Quad, which is directly north of Morrill Hall. The Quad, modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia template, has become a beloved aspect of the campus, a long stretch of manicured lawn bordered by majestic elms and other trees.

The Quad also boasts a giant Scotch elm, in front of Morrill Hall, which is the largest tree of that type in the state of Nevada.

The next chapter spotlights another of Mackay’s innovations, Manzanita Lake. Located northwest of Morrill Hall, the lake is a serene pond surrounded by mature White elms, ornamental crabapple trees and an assortment of flowering trees and shrubs.

Another of the forested areas noted in the book is the Honor Court, a relatively new addition to the campus. Developed in the 1990s, the Honor Court has a picturesque Victorian gazebo for special events as well as a stone fountain, elegant panels of polished granite and wisteria-covered pillars that form a shaded walkway. Adjacent is the Alumni Rose Garden, a small patch of beautiful red roses that commemorate those who have graduated from the university.

An often-overlooked grove noted in a later chapter in the book is Benson Garden, an area of winding pathways through clusters of mountain mahogany, Oriental arborvine, black cottonwoods, and cypress trees that can be found directly west of the Fleischmann Planetarium.

The book notes that starting in the late 1960s, the university began an effort to have its grounds designated as an official state arboretum. After more than 15 years of trying, the Nevada Legislature finally did exactly that in 1985.

Since then, the university has developed signage for many of its trees as well as walking tour brochures (recently replaced by audio walking tours) and an annual celebration of Arbor Day.

“A Visitor’s Guide to the University of Nevada, Reno Arboretum,” by James W. Hulse, Cheryll Glotfelty and Rod Haulenbeek, is available in local bookstores or from the University of Nevada Press, http://www.unpress.nevada.edu.

Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.