Cal Poly Honored Again by Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus USA

The campus, with one of the largest urban forests in the U.S., first received the honor in 2014

SAN LUIS OBISPO — For the sixth consecutive year, Cal Poly has been named a Tree Campus USA for its commitment to urban forest management, the Arbor Day Foundation announced.

The 2019 award — the foundation honors campuses for their previous year’s commitment — recognizes Cal Poly’s best practices in managing one of the largest and most diverse university urban forests in the nation.

“Cal Poly’s urban forest serves many important functions,” said Christopher Wassenberg, the university’s landscape manager. “It is a living laboratory for students and an environmental filter for our air and water, and it provides psychological benefits to improve our everyday quality of life.

“Managing our urban forest requires a commitment not only to the urban forest as a whole but also to the value of each individual tree when making management decisions. Cooperation and coordination between many campus entities allows us to make choices that honor the value of trees as our campus continues to grow and evolve.”

Since 2014, Cal Poly has met Tree Campus USA’s five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance, and student service-learning project.

“If ever there was a time for trees, now is that time,” said Lauren Weyers, coordinator of The Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus USA program. “Communities worldwide are facing issues with air quality, water resources, personal health and well-being, and energy use. Cal Poly is stepping up to do its part. As a result of your commitment to effective urban forest management, you are helping to provide a solution to these global challenges.”

Cal Poly is among 16 California colleges or universities and more than 360 other schools in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., to carry the Tree Campus USA designation. But it stands apart from the rest boasting the largest variety of tree species on a university campus in the nation.

Campus officials have inventoried 6,600 trees and nearly 550 varieties in the campus core alone. The coastal live oak (Quercus agrifolia) is the most common tree on campus, but it also has many exotic and rare species represented. In addition, the campus is home to two national champions listed on the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute’s Registry of California Big Trees.

A River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) tree, across from the Baker science building, measured 111 feet high, with a trunk circumference of 267 inches and a crown spread of 130 feet, when it was nominated in 2014. 

The karri gum (Eucalyptus diversicolor), in Poly Canyon, nominated in 2007, measured 154 feet high, with a trunk circumference of 201 inches and a crown spread of 74 feet.

Cal Poly will celebrate Arbor Day with an annual tree planting later this year, because fall is the ideal time of year to plant a tree, local experts said.

Since Cal Poly’s founding in 1901 trees have played an important role in the educational mission of the school’s agricultural program, as well as a way to beautify a campus that was created in the middle of a roadless barley field.

In the early 1900s, orchards were planted and maintained by students in horticulture classes. The distinctive Canary Island date palms that line the California Boulevard entrance to campus were first planted in 1908, along with thousands of eucalyptus trees that were used as windbreaks, some of which remain today. O’Neill Green, the original entrance to campus off California Boulevard, contains some of the oldest trees planted on campus.

A valley oak, planted in 1906 by the polytechnic school’s first graduating class, is nearby. The eight graduates of that year began the Cal Poly tradition of planting a class tree, using the commemorative class spade they donated to campus.

The earliest class trees were planted in what became known as Poly Grove, encompassing the area surrounding the 1906 class tree. Graduating classes through the early 1980s planted trees across campus, from O’Neill Green north to the Administration Building and east to the Davidson Music Center, diversifying the landscape and connecting alumni to a rapidly expanding and changing campus landscape.

Trees were also planted to honor people significant to Cal Poly’s history, including a California redwood on Dexter Lawn, planted during the 1951 Poly Royal in honor of the death of state Sen. Chris Jespersen, a longtime advocate for Cal Poly who received the university’s first honorary degree in June of 1948. Since then, more than 50 trees have been dedicated across campus, honoring those who passed away, supporters of Cal Poly, honored alumni, and retired faculty and staff.

About the Arbor Day Foundation
The Arbor Day Foundation is a million-member nonprofit conservation and education organization with the mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. More information is available at or concerning the Tree Campus USA Program at

Contact: Christopher Wassenberg

April 16, 2020

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