With spring just around the corner, it’s about time we shed our winter coats and venture outside to remember that we’re living on one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.
With over 800 acres, Penn State’s campus is home to countless species of plants and trees — and countless ways to enjoy them. Taking an afternoon to explore Penn State’s flora is a wonderful way to relax, get some fresh air and maybe learn a few things on the way.
The Arboretum, located on the north end of campus, is one of the pride and joys of Penn State, as well as an excellent way to experience the outdoors.
According to Director of Operations Shari Edelson, the Arboretum serves as an “outdoor living museum.”
“We pride ourselves on being a place that is open and welcoming where you can stroll around and have a positive experience, whether the plants are the focus of the visit or just a backdrop,” Edelson said.
Spanning 370 acres, the Arboretum contains multiple botanical gardens, a children’s garden, green lawns and hiking trails. With each area offering something different, I find the Arboretum’s grounds are perfect for a picnic, a date or a walk to get some fresh air.
Edelson said a brand-new 3.5 acre pollinator and bird garden will be open to the public by the end of spring.
The Arboretum is home to over 1,100 species of plants, most of which are labeled for easy identification. Visitors can use the Plant Finder web app to identify nearly every plant at the Arboretum.
While most people know the Arboretum for its beauty, it also serves an educational purpose for the university. Research conducted here includes the introduction of parasitic plants as well as studies on mammals native to Pennsylvania such as squirrels, foxes and bears, according to Edelson.
Though the Arboretum is open year-round, it is most beautiful during the warmer months. Edelson said the daffodils are just now starting to sprout, so she recommends stopping by in April to take in all the spring flowers.
If you’re in the center of campus with half an hour to spare, I highly recommend checking out the Buckhout Lab.
According to manager Shawn Burghard, the greenhouse is consistently kept at a balmy 80 degrees, so you can visit it during the winter. It boasts a large tropical plant room as well as multiple smaller rooms housing flowers, carnivorous plants and fruit trees.
I consider the greenhouse to be something of a “hidden gem” on campus. Even though it has always been free, Burghard said almost nobody knows about it. I only discovered it recently myself.
Burghard said the greenhouse primarily serves as a research facility for the university.
Research conducted in the Buckhout greenhouse includes growing corn with thinner cell walls with the goal of creating a “more efficient biofuel” as well as studies on the pollination of petunias, according to Burghard.
However, the Buckhout greenhouse does not only serve an educational purpose: its collection is open for anyone interested.
Open from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. during the week, the Buckhout Lab’s greenhouse is free for all students to visit. There are even a couple tables available for students to work among the plants. Personally, I think the greenhouse provides a great setting for an impromptu photoshoot.
Lastly, one of the best parts of the Buckhout Lab is the rack of small free plants to take as a souvenir. I took home a Cape sundew, a carnivorous plant native to southern Africa.
Other on-campus finds
You may be surprised to learn the University Park campus alone has 17,000 individual trees living among the residence halls, classroom buildings and walkways. You can use the Trees of Penn State web app to easily identify the species of tree by your dorm or your favorite campus hangout.
Penn State is also home to plenty of outdoor areas ideal for picnics, studying or relaxing. My favorite outdoor spot is the Hintz Alumni Garden, located in the southwest part of campus.
This one-acre garden features a bubbling duck pond, a sunny field and a gazebo.
It doesn’t get too much traffic, meaning it’s a great place to quietly study among the flower gardens. The spring flowers are just starting to come in this week, so by April, the garden will be in full bloom.
It is the middle of the spring semester, and I know I can get stressed out during this time.
Another favorite of mine is the garden outside the Millennium Science Complex. This spot has plenty of benches to sit at and enjoy the greenery or have a quick bite before class.
Moreover, the architecture of the Millennium Science building means its garden is always shady, making it an ideal place to take a break from walking on a hot summer day.
There are many more gardens on campus I haven’t mentioned, so take some time to explore campus and find a new favorite spot that’s all your own.
In the dead of winter, it’s easy to forget how lovely Penn State’s campus is. But as the weather gets warmer, there is no better time to start appreciating the variety of plants and flowers the university has to offer.