Abilene Christian University has received Level I arboretum accreditation status by ArbNet, a worldwide network of tree-focused gardens and practitioners established by The Morton Arboretum. ACU’s arboretum consists of 150 acres of irrigated landscape on a campus featuring some 2,500 trees.
Abilene Christian's current hilltop campus opened in 1929, built on the hard-scrabble prairie land of the historic Hashknife Ranch, whose headquarters was nearby. Many of the large pecan, live oak and sycamore trees now shading parts of the campus were planted by beloved night watchman and landscaper J.S. “Sheriff” Burgess, who worked tirelessly from 1934-60 to plant many trees, using unconventional methods such as dynamite to create holes in the hard-pan clay and caliché soils. Today, formal landscape plantings from the 1970s and 1980s are being reverted to more native species of woody plants and pollinator gardens.
“West Texas can be a challenging place to landscape, but we’ve been blessed with the resources and expertise to make our campus environment a tremendous asset for our university and the Abilene community,” says Corey Ruff, ACU director of facilities and campus management. “We work hard to use our beautiful campus as a living laboratory, so being recognized as an accredited arboretum allows us to educate our students, faculty, staff and community about the diversity of plant material on campus.”
In recent years, the goal of Ruff’s landscape team has been to diversify tree species and newly landscaped areas, including the introduction of Texas persimmon, Texas mountain laurel, Texas cedar elm, and purple leaf plum.
In the ArbNet classification, Level I arboreta are generally smaller publicly accessible sites with at least 25 species of woody plants, one or a few employees or volunteers, a governing body, and an arboretum plan. Examples of arboreta at this level may include golf courses, college and university arboreta, memorial parks, zoos, private estates, or communities towns with an organized tree collection.
ArbNet created its Arboretum Accreditation Program to establish and share a widely recognized set of industry standards for the purpose of unifying the arboretum community. No other international program of accreditation exists that is specific to arboreta.