The Fullerton Arboretum, A Treasure within Our Midst

By: Scott Hewitt, Professor of Chemistry; Member, Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum Board

Can you see the treasure between the trees on the northeastern corner of our campus?  Living laboratory, community jewel, educational resource, beautiful and serene, world-class botanical garden – this is what comes to my mind when I think of the Fullerton Arboretum.  With the Campus Master Plan under consideration, it is time to take a closer look at the Arboretum, its achievements, and its importance to our university and community.

The 26-acre Arboretum contains a diversity of plant species grouped into four main collections:  Mediterranean, Desert, Woodland, and Cultivated.  The Arboretum collects and conserves plants from around the world to protect them against extinction.  The plant collection contains many rare or threatened species, wild-collected specimens and cultivars of historical significance.  The nursery propagates, distributes and safeguards rare and/or threatened species from the Arboretum collection.  The Arboretum also houses the following sites of natural, cultural, historical, and research significance:  the Orange County Agricultural & Nikkei Heritage Museum, Heritage House (a Victorian home that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), national citrus collection (only public garden to hold citrus as an official collection), fruit orchard, farm, nursery and greenhouse, community gardens, children’s garden, nature center, Bacon Pavilion and classrooms, drilling site and water quality monitoring wells, composting area, as well as a Bodhi tree, a sacred fig that was blessed by the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet during his visit in 2000.

Our Arboretum is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Its creation was a visionary idea that was conceived in the 1970s by several CSUF faculty.  Generations of campus and community members have worked to advance the original vision and make the Arboretum the jewel that it is today.  It was accredited as a Level IV arboretum by ArbNet in 2017.  This is the highest level of accreditation.  Only 27 arboreta in the world have this level of accreditation, and of those only 7 are university arboreta.  The other two level IV arboreta in California are the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden and the UC Davis Arboretum.  Level IV accreditation is based in part on the number of tree and woody plant species, the staff and volunteer support, interaction with the public, collaboration with other arboreta, collections data sharing with networked collections across different arboreta, and the level of on-site research and conservation.  The Fullerton Arboretum is indeed an outstanding resource for our university and the surrounding communities.

Our faculty, staff, and students work and learn at the Arboretum.  There are numerous opportunities for experiential learning and high-impact practices (HIPs).  Faculty members do research at the Arboretum or bring their classes to show some of the concepts being covered in class, to test those concepts, or to help the Arboretum via class projects.  Thirty-nine CSUF classes have collaborated with the Arboretum recently.  Every college has activities within the Arboretum.  Art students paint in the garden and host an exhibition at the Arboretum Museum.  Business students work to develop better marketing strategies.  Communications students develop and promote Arboretum membership campaigns.  Education students develop K-12 science curriculum.  Engineering students analyze stormwater runoff and diversion.  Health and Human Development students do service-learning projects that are a collaboration between the Children’s Center and the Arboretum.  Humanities and Social Science students perform urban agriculture community research in collaboration with the non-profit Monkey Business café, supported by $1.4 M in grants from the USDA.  Natural Science and Mathematics students perform research on how water is pushed or pulled from the roots of plants and trees to their crowns and into the air.  The Arboretum also hires students for student assistant positions and internships.

Community and campus members come to the Arboretum to relax and learn.  The Arboretum is a haven of respite and peace that helps to restore and refresh nature-deprived urban/suburban folks.  It also offers a wide range of vibrant educational programs.  You can take classes in cooking, photography, gardening, composting, and much more.  You can explore native plants with an herbalist, learn about wolves or coyotes, or recharge yourself by taking yoga in the garden.  All local third graders visit the Heritage House as part of their California history requirement.  The desert collection supports 3rd and 4th grade curricula where students study plant and animal life cycles.  The ancient plant and chaparral collections are used by local 7th graders.

It is truly amazing what the Arboretum is able to accomplish with only eleven staff members.  This is in part due to having wonderful staff, but also due to the large network of generous and capable community members and CSUF faculty, staff, and student volunteers and donors.  The non-profit support group, Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum helps support the Arboretum with volunteer recruitment, membership and hosting all fundraising events.  The Friends’ fundraising efforts help to fund horticulture, development and administrative staff as well as equipment purchases and maintenance, tree trimming, plant and seed purchases.

The Campus Master Plan process is a very important long-term planning process for CSUF.  It is focused on the entire campus, not just the Arboretum.  We all want the university to be the best it can be, but we all have different ideas about how to get there.  I encourage everyone to look very carefully at the draft Master Plan on April 10 at the Spring Open House in the Clayes Performing Arts Center.  We do need to find ways to become more efficient and more innovative, but not at the expense of the treasures we currently have on campus.  Speaking of being innovative, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an integrated campus-wide arboretum, including native, drought tolerant plants with environmental and interpretation messaging throughout the campus, while maintaining the current Arboretum space?  A new botanical research greenhouse at the Arboretum border to attract curious students into the facility and Arboretum, as well as to replace the aging CSUF Biology Greenhouse Complex located at the south end of campus near the Nutwood parking structure?  A new Arboretum administrative facility, barn, and nature center to replace the current aging facilities – perhaps this space could also include space for the faculty, staff, and students who conduct research at the Arboretum, as well as space for the Center for Sustainability?  A more welcoming north campus entrance that has a stronger CSUF and Arboretum identity and more prominent direction and information signage?  These suggestions will strengthen the Arboretum and strategically support the university’s academic mission.  I’m sure these and other creative ideas will guide us to help our university become a better institution for everyone.

PDF Link Below to Arboretum Articles

Volume 31-Number 3-Spring 2019

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