From Sunny Plain to Leafy Oasis

For thousands of years, the Salish people set up tipis and harvested bitterroots in open meadows where you stand today. When University of Montana Professor Frederick Scheuch designed the Oval in 1895, he called for “an attractive arrangement of deciduous and evergreen trees on the Oval’s boundary.”

In 1908, UM Professor Morton Elrod oversaw transplanting 150 native trees from the upper Flathead valley to campus. The Forestry School started an arboretum in 1933. The Montana Legislature designated the entire UM campus as the State of Montana Arboretum in 1991. Can you find some of Elrod’s trees? (Hint-look toward Main Hall).

A Forester & Naturalist Join Forces

 Step back to the early 1900s when two professors merged their extraordinary talents to shape the Forestry school and create the setting for the arboretum today.

Joseph Kirkwood offered meticulous skills as a research forester and botanist, publishing 20 volumes before his untimely death.  Morton Elrod, a Renaissance man, headed the science department, yet taught photography, helped start the Montana Kaimin, and served as Glacier National Park’s first naturalist.

Arboretum Timeline

  • 1893 - University of Montana established without land
  • 1895 - South Missoula Land Company and Higgins Family donates 40 acres for University at base of Mt Sentinel
  • 1896 - 500 poplar tree planted in double row, lining perimeter of campus for Arbor Day
  • 1899 - Planting of the Oval
  • 1902 - Northern Pacific Railroad gifts the lower 40 acres of Mt Sentinel to University
  • 1906 - U.S. Government adds 480 acres to the top of Mt Sentinel. “We now have a campus with a mountain.” University President Oscar J. Craig (first UM president)
  • 1908 - Ranger School opens to train Forest Service Rangers
  • 1908 - 150 Montana native trees transplanted to campus from upper Flathead
  • 1911 - Tree Nursery opens on campus
  • 1913-14 - Forestry School founded & opens with 25 students
  • 1915 - UM President Edwin Craighead dedicates Aber Day, honoring William M. “Daddy” Aber, one of UM’s most beloved professors and a member of the university’s original five-person faculty
  • 1919 - Memorial Row ponderosa pines planted to honor students who lost their lives in World War I
  • 1928 - Josephine Darlington is first woman graduate of the Forestry School
  • 1929 - Elrod Bird Sanctuary established on campus at foot of Mt. Sentinel
  • 1930 - Kirkwood Memorial Grove planted near south end of today’s walking bridge)
  • 1933 - The Forestry School Arboretum opens with 1200 trees and 55 species, planted in a 100-foot strip, from Kirkwood Grove to the tennis courts. “For a long time the Forestry faculty has felt need of an arboretum in addition to the present Forest Nursery as an aid in class instruction.” UM Professor I. W. Cook
  • 1940 - WPA (Works Projects Administration) allocates $30,000 for “campus beautification” to plant trees, lawns and flowerbeds
  • 1955 - Grounds committee recommends campus plantings with focus on Montana native species
  • 1991 - Senate Bill 320 designates State of Montana arboretum. State Senator & UM history professor Harry Fritz introduces the bill, a vision of UM botany professor Mark Behan
  • 1993 - Centennial Tree Dedication on Arbor Day, April 30: planting 56 trees & shrubs for Montana counties, 7 for Montana reservations, & 6 for international friends
  • 2009 - UM named “most scenic campus in America” by Rolling Stone magazine
  • 2016 - Arbor Day Foundation honors UM as a Tree Campus USA
  • 2016 - 25th Anniversary of the Arboretum and construction of “the Root,” an interpretive space for the Arboretum just north of Main Hall
  • 2019 - Installation of first six Arboretum interpretive signs in the Root

“This planting of trees will, if they live, make possible the study of most of our native trees without long journeys into the woods to see them growing.” –Morton Elrod, 1908

1904 Elrod photo of campus
1904 Elrod photo of campus from the Presidents house

1908 image of Main Hall and around1908 photo of Main Hall and around.

1941 UM Campus1941 UM Campus