As you enter the University of Oregon campus on E 13th Ave., a flow of pedestrians meld with stone, brick, cement, asphalt, and glass for a definitely un-tree-like introduction to this den of 24,000 students. The Prince Lucien Campbell (PLC) building, in all its 1960s low-budget office building glory, greets you first on campus.
But hold on. The magic is within. Keep walking east on 13th Ave., entering campus across from the bookstore. In one block, as Johnson Hall appears to your right on the south side of the street, make a turn to the left.
Ahead, “Pioneer Father,” surrounded by an oval of shrubbery and flowers, beckons. Now, look past the statue. It’s hard to resist the dense, magnificent tree arbor in the distance, a patchwork of mature conifers—cedar, spruce, coast redwood, and fir—weaving an intricate canopy over lush, colorful, well-tended gardens. Benches are strategically located throughout these three acres of tranquility known as the Old Quad.
“Most beautiful spot on campus without a doubt,” says Jane Brubaker, landscape designer for campus operations, who has been tending UO greenery for 24 years.
It seems the crème de la crème of UO’s 5,000 trees on the 295-acre campus—representing more than 500 species—is concentrated right here.
Tall conifers nearly hide the two original buildings on campus, Deady Hall (1876) and Villard Hall (1886).
The buildings look the same today. But the surroundings don’t.
Brubaker and campus arborist John Anthony point out that in pre-university days the landscape was stark and mostly treeless, partly due to frequent natural and manmade fires.
“Much of Eugene was an oak savannah,” Brubaker says. “The Old Quad was a dry, grassy knoll.”
A tip of the hat to UO’s first janitor is warranted for dramatically changing that. His offer to the college was a dollar for each tree he planted, but UO played tough. The college agreed, but wouldn’t pay until a year later, and only if the trees were thriving.
A survivor of his effort is a massive big leaf maple next to Deady Hall. “It’s my baby,” smiles Anthony. “Look how it so beautifully dominates the landscape and provides a microclimate of shade.” Anthony retires this month after 28 years of lovingly caring for the campus trees. Now he’s on to softball, birdwatching, and scented gardens. On the latter, Anthony has a head start with his own remarkable collection of 400 scented lilies.
Just a few feet away is a weathered but comfortable bench with a plaque from the children of NFL legend Norm Van Brocklin, celebrating this spot where the sports giant met his wife-to-be when they were UO students in the 1940s.
Phil Carroll, landscape maintenance supervisor, points out the most historical tree on campus at the north end of the quad, the one remaining Condon Oak. This Oregon white oak is the only tree on campus that precedes UO’s inception.
Anthony, who took down the Condon Oak’s companion oak 14 years ago, remembers his surprise when he discovered the dying tree’s class plaque, most of it enveloped in the tree. “It fell out in two pieces and actually made a wood block print in reverse and created an image in wood of the plaque,” he says.
With a grin, Brubaker adds another activity for a visitor to the Old Quad, especially on warm, sunny days. “There are two large ponderosa pines near that remaining Condon Oak,” she says. “Stick your nose in cracks of the trunks and you’ll get a wonderful vanilla aroma.”
Before leaving the many levels of greenery in the Old Quad try to spot the male ginkgo tree with its distinctive fan-shaped leaves. This species of tree, a native of China for 250 million years, nearly became extinct. It was successfully planted in the U.S. in the late 1790s, and it’s a hopeful sign that ancient, almost extinct, species can prosper in new locations.
But be forewarned about female ginkgoes (and there are a few around campus): “They make fruit the size of a quarter that turn golden yellow and drop to the ground in winter,” says Anthony. “The smell is best described as a combination of dog feces and vomit.” Students who walk through the fruit and pick up the odor on their shoes, tracking it through classrooms, are not popular with maintenance staff.
There are other remarkable trees to see around campus, especially in older areas near the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Knight Library, and Collier House (note the stately 110-foot-tall grand fir, along with false cypress, sitka spruce, and a big leaf maple Mrs. Collier planted).
Meanwhile, Phil Carroll and his landscaping staff deal with effectively handling and preserving trees on this active, teeming campus. “It’s a challenge, but we have a plan that outlines the importance of trees here,” he says. “It works hand in hand with development plans.”
Some of the innovative things they’re doing include wildlife enhancement, where the team plants native fruit and berry trees in key areas “to create corridors for the birds,” Anthony explains.
In the process, they’ve created a vibrant, sensory experience for visitors.
Copies of the University of Oregon Atlas of Trees are available on the UO website. You can also use the UO Mobile App to take the campus tree tour.