Guide to KU flora ( .XLS )
On a stroll through Kansas University's campus today, it's hard to imagine that the lush hills were barren when the college was established in 1866.
"In the 1880s, it was pretty much just prairie with some scattered buildings," said Caleb Morse, a botanist and collection manager at KU's R.L. McGregor Herbarium.
The first concerted efforts to add campus beautification were led by Chancellor James Marvin, who said in 1882: "This campus is susceptible of rapid transformation from a rough common to a beautiful park."
Marvin helped plant about 300 walnut seedlings in what is known as Marvin Grove, just below Memorial Drive, and the university's first lilacs along Lilac Lane.
Today, the campus boasts approximately 29,535 trees, or one for each student. There are at least 130 varieties of trees and shrubs. The chancellor's residence is home to a 21-foot-tall, state champion Japanese Maple. In 2006, a seedling from the 200-year-old tulip poplar at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate in Virginia was planted in Marvin Grove near KU's Spencer Museum of Art.
Marvin Grove remains a popular spot for students, faculty and alumni.
"I think it's real neat," said Mike Lang, Kansas University's landscape manager. "It's very serene. It's almost like you can get away from the hustle and bustle."
In 1991, Thomas A. Gaines recognized KU as one of the 12 most beautiful campuses in the nation in his book "The Campus as a Work of Art."
Morse, a botanist who led KU's first spring flora tour this year, described the campus as "well treed and obviously beautifully cared for and the envy of many people who come to the university."
Until last fall, KU Info, which provides information on the university, wasn't sure how many trees were on KU's main and West Campus, so it estimated 17,900. The department offered to credit anyone who could determine the correct figure. An undergraduate global information systems class taught by Kevin Price accepted the challenge. They discovered the main campus had 10,110 trees while the West campus contained 19,425.
"Ironically, they discovered there were as many trees on West Campus as we had been claiming there were on the entire campus," said Curtis Marsh, director of KU Info.
Price, a geography professor since 1989, said his class used various instruments and aerial photos to gather data and then analyzed that data with computer programs.
Besides that project, Price said he has used the regrowth forest on KU's West Campus to teach students how to measure and quantify the environment. He said the area is priceless.
"KU is fortunate to have such a beautiful, regrowth forest that's at least 60 years old," he said. "It provides an opportunity for KU to create an area that they can set aside to allow students to be taught right there on campus about ecosystems and about forests and forest ecology."
Since he has been teaching, Price has watched about 20 acres of the approximately 150-acre forest cut down for new buildings and parking lots. While he is leaving this fall to teach at Kansas State University, Price hopes KU will preserve the remaining forest and maybe build some nature trails through it.
"I think that we have a treasure there," he said.