Photos of the early University of Montana campus show few trees, just the original plantings around the Oval and Norway maples along the streets.

Now, some 2,300 trees grow there, including rare species and significant specimens.

Tucked in a grassy nook behind one building is a dawn redwood, a deciduous conifer once believed to be extinct but found in China in the 1950s.

The red oak near the greenhouse is one of the largest of its kind in Montana, judging by its crown, trunk and height.

Nearby, the top of a mountain hemlock droops, a characteristic of the tree typically found at high elevations, said John Goodburn, an associate professor in the College of Forestry and Conservation at UM and chair of the Arboretum Committee.

The Missoula campus is the site of the State of Montana Arboretum, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of its designation.

Tuesday, on a tour of the grounds, Goodburn shared plans to commemorate the trees, plant more of them and even develop an application to allow visitors to learn more about individual trees mapped around campus.

"The arboretum is both a collection of botanical specimens, and we're looking for diversity in that regard, and it's also a component of the whole aesthetic here on campus related to the architecture and the buildings and the cultural significance of those things," Goodburn said.

These days, professors on campus use the trees to teach students about art, science and the environment, he said. Tuesday, at least one student used the sunny base of a tree as a place to lean back with a book.

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The Montana Legislature designated the Missoula campus as the official State of Montana Arboretum in 1991 to “facilitate the scientific study and public exhibition of many species of trees and shrubs.” Most of the trees aren't a century old, although the giant red oak could be as old as 90 years, Goodburn said.

In the arboretum's 25th year, the trees' caretakers have big plans for the prized forest, and Goodburn credits UM gardener and committee member Kelly Chadwick as the top caretaker.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation granted the arboretum $6,000, and a private donor made a gift of $25,000, with funds to help the arboretum grow in number of trees and in visibility, Goodburn said.

On Arbor Day, Friday, April 29, tree people will plant three burr oaks and possibly some native chokecherry or plum to shade McGill Hall, said Benjamin Carson, grounds maintenance manager at UM. He said the plantings will add to UM's collection of some 2,250 to 2,300 trees.

Then, he said, UM will use software developed by the U.S. Forest Service to estimate the efficiency savings that result from the plantings, maybe five to 10 trees and shrubs in all, at the southwest corner of the building.

"We're basically looking at long-term impacts," Carson said.

The $25,000 donation will go toward an interpretive center for the State of Montana Arboretum where sidewalks intersect near Main Hall, the University Center and the Natural Sciences Building, Goodburn said.

They'd like the center to welcome people to the arboretum with signs and artistic stonework, and then let visitors know they can explore eight different North American tree regions on campus.

The arboretum includes select plantings as well as Memorial Row, the tall ponderosa pine trees honoring UM veterans and others who died in World War I.

Over the years, Goodburn said, the signs for tribute trees have evolved. In the past, the memorials used to feature the names of the people more prominently, but now the focus of the small signs is more on the trees, their common names and Latin designations.

Near the Mansfield Library, a western larch, larix occidentalis, honors the late archivist Teresa Hamann with this advice: "Read a good book!"

"We have some unique varieties, and our attempt is to provide as many specimens of North American trees and shrubs as we can that can survive here," Goodburn said.

A Kentucky coffeetree is one of the more recent additions.

The new plantings around the Oval feature sugar maples and other species placed to emulate the design of the elm that fell to Dutch elm disease years ago, he said.

In the fall, for homecoming, the Arboretum Committee and the Alumni Association plan to showcase the trees, Goodburn said. Campus tours featuring the arboretum will be on tap, as well as a seminar discussing the value of urban forests.

UM has mapped its trees, and it's developing an application that will allow users to pull up information about trees based on location, he said.

Last month, UM announced the Arbor Day Foundation honored the University of Montana as a Tree Campus USA, and this year, there's momentum for trees. 

"This year is going to be a big deal," Carson said.

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