scenic campus

August 26, 2019

SIU is now the highest accredited university arboretum in Illinois

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale has long been known for its beautiful campus but its commitment to nurturing forested areas and incorporating educational components recently earned national recognition.

SIU is the first university in the state to earn Level II Arboretum Accreditation from the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and SIU is now featured in the Morton Register of Arboreta. This is the only global initiative that officially recognizes arboreta for development, capacity and professionalism.

“We are extremely proud that we are the only Illinois university with a level II accredited arboretum,” Brad Dillard, director of Plant and Service Operations said. “SIU Carbondale is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful campuses in the entire country, with an incredible diversity of arboreta and this designation officially acknowledges that.”

Project involved many people and much effort

A few months ago, a 14-member Arboretum Advisory Committee was established, including people from numerous campus units, as well as corporate and community partners. Led by Dave Tippy, superintendent of grounds for SIU’s Plant and Service Operations (PSO), the group went to work formally establishing the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Arboretum and acquiring the accreditation.

“It was a real team effort by the Arboretum Advisory Committee to pull together all of the information needed and guide the university’s application through the accreditation process,” Dillard said.

To earn the accreditation, an arboretum must have a strategic plan, a governing board, public programming and a complete inventory of every tree and woody plant on the ground. That’s no small effort for a 1,200-acre main campus landscape that features nearly 5,200 trees, including 155 species and 72 genera.

The effort didn’t stop with cataloguing the flora though. Specific standards for maintaining them are being adhered to and educational components are being added. 

Tree ID and walks

A few years ago, Jon Schoonover, professor in the forestry degree program, placed identification QR codes on a number of trees on campus in conjunction with a tree identification class he teaches. A major expansion of that project is underway.

Some of Schnoonover’s white tags are coming down and new maroon tags are going on 150 trees. Committee members decided that was a fitting number to begin with since SIU is now celebrating its 150th anniversary. More plant life will be tagged as the program continues.

The new tags, designed by PSO, are being etched by SIU art and design faculty and students. The tags feature the common and scientific names of each tree, the SIU Arboretum identifier, and a QR code.

Simply scan the code with a smartphone or other device and you’ll be directed to a website where you can learn more about that type of tree. Each webpage shows the names and identifying markers, such as leaves, buds, bark and fruit.

Unique project

The tree identification program is available for use by the general public as well as students. The program is the only one of its kind in the state, and one of very few on college or university campuses across the nation, SIU officials said.

“Our forestry students will benefit tremendously from the tree identification aspect, particularly by being able to test their tree identification skills and confirm their answers by scanning the tree AR tag,” Tippy said. “We are in hopes our students, visitors and the local community will be able to enjoy this newly created living learning laboratory for many years to come.”

Enjoy tree tours

SIU took it a step further and created six different self-guided walking tree tours. Anyone can visit the SIU Arboretum website and find details about each tour, along with printable maps. The tours range from 1.3 to 2.3 miles and cover different areas of campus.

For instance, the Old Main tour highlights older trees near the place on campus where the historic Old Main building stood from 1887 until razed by a 1969 fire.

The Marberry tour is named for William Marberry, a horticulture and floriculture alumnus who became an assistant professor. While serving in the Air Force in World War II he acquired many plants while stationed in India, China and Burma, establishing an arboretum just south of Carbondale in 1939 which still bears his name. Those taking the tour will see many trees Marberry planted on campus.

“As a state institution of higher education, one of our roles and responsibilities is to provide learning opportunities for our communities and region, as well as our student and staff,” Tippy said. “This arboretum establishment fulfills that opportunity. The Southern Illinois University Arboretum is a testament to the dedication of the committee and the grounds division staff who make it a place where students and visitors can enjoy, learn and study.”

Already a Tree Campus

SIU has also been designated as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation since 2015. The university is one of just 11 Illinois campuses that meet the five core standards of tree care and community engagement required to earn the title.

The inaugural Arboretum Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of PSO, agricultural sciences, forestry, and sustainability along with corporate partners and city and community representatives, encourages people to visit campus and enjoy one or more tree tours.

“This has been an exciting project from start to finish for the entire Arboretum Advisory Committee,” Elizabeth Cheek, committee member and administrative aide for Plant and Service Operations, said. “Being the first and only university in Illinois to receive Level II accreditation is something we are very proud of.”

Committee members include:

  • Tippy, Cheek and Chris Gaertner (associate director) from PSO.
  • Tom Beshoar, Brian Borkowicz and Meredith Perkins, corporate partners from Davey Tree.
  • John Groninger, associate dean of the agricultural sciences college.
  • Sarah Heyer, Keep Carbondale Beautiful executive director.
  • Geory Kurtzhals, SIU sustainability director and Karen Schauwecker, sustainability program coordinator.
  • Mark McDaniel, Carbondale city arborist, and Chris Wallace, Carbondale development services director.
  • Schoonover.
  • Jason Tabor, corporate partner from Tabor Wholesale Nursery/Anna Evergreen.

International affiliation

ArbNet is an interactive, collaborative, international community of arboreta. ArbNet works to raise professional standards through the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and facilitates the sharing of knowledge, experience and other resources to help arboreta meet their institutional goals. The accreditation program is sponsored and coordinated by The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, in cooperation with the American Public Gardens Association and Botanic Gardens Conservation International. It is the only global initiative to officially recognize arboreta based on a set of professional standards.

The program offers four levels of accreditation, recognizing the various degrees of development, capacity and professionalism. Standards include planning, governance, public access, programming and tree science, planting and conservation. Additional information is available online at

Additional information about the SIU Arboretum, including the mission, goals, objectives, campus tree selection tours and tree inventory map, can be found at Call 618/453-8185 or email with questions. Find it on Twitter @siuarboretum.