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

Cal Poly faculty member Matt Ritter with students holding Tree Campus USA sign in front of trees on Cal Poly's campus.
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly has been again named a Tree Campus that recognizes that trees and green space make colleges and universities more livable and healthy for students and beautiful for the community, the Arbor Day Foundation announced.
The 2020 award (the foundation honors campuses for their previous year’s commitment) recognizes Cal Poly’s best practices in managing one of the largest university urban forests in the nation and the most diverse in the 23-campus California State University. Cal Poly has received the honor for the seventh consecutive year.

“The award demonstrates the ability of our many, often competing, campus interests and entities’ ability to cooperate, coordinate and make choices that honor the value of trees on our campus,” said Christopher Wassenberg, the university’s landscape manager. “We tend to think of the built environment — buildings and roads etc. — as permanent and plants as transitory, but depending on the species, trees can live hundreds or even, such as the coast redwood, a thousand years.
“When we plant a tree, we have the potential to leave a legacy that will far exceed the lifetime of most buildings on campus.”
Since 2014, Cal Poly has met Tree Campus Higher Education’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.
“Over the past year, many have been reminded of the importance of nature to our physical and mental health,” said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Your campus trees provide spaces of refuge and reflection to students, staff, faculty and the community.”
Cal Poly is among 14 California colleges and universities and nearly 400 other schools across the nation and Puerto Rico to earn the Tree Campus designation. But it stands apart from the rest, boasting the largest variety of tree species on a university campus in the nation.
“Our total number of trees is approximately 6,800 with about 600 varieties,” Wassenberg said. “We continue to plant new trees through new construction projects and individual plantings as we renovate landscape areas across campus.
“New construction typically adds more trees than are removed on any given site, and even though on-campus we continue to lose certain species of trees to drought, we are replacing them at least one for one with different species that we hope will be more resilient to climate change.”
The coastal live oak (Quercus agrifolia) is the most common tree on campus, but Cal Poly also has many exotic and rare species represented.
The most recent is the Kangaroo Island narrow-leaf mallee, or Eucalyptus cneorifolia, that grows from 16 to 33 feet high.
Biology Professor Matt Ritter, who is also the director of the campus Plant Conservatory, “brought it back as seed from Australia,” Wassenberg said. “The region in which it grows natively was heavily impacted by recent wildfires in Australia, and because of that our tree is now a very rare individual.”
In addition, the campus is home to two record holders listed on the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute’s Registry of California Big Trees.
A River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) tree, across from the Baker Center for Science and Mathematics, 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 celebrates Arbor Day in the fall because it’s the ideal time of year to plant a tree, local experts said. Wassenberg said the annual campus Arbor Day tree planting is at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Officials will plant eucalyptus trees, replacing some lost to construction in along the bike path between Village Drive and Via Carta.
The Tree Campus Higher Education Program was founded in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation to recognize that trees and green space are an integral part of the college experience. The program provides a simple framework for colleges and universities to grow their community forests, achieve national recognition and create a campus their students and staff are proud of.
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

Nov. 2, 2021
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