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In 1966, Elmhurst College officially proposed that its 38-acre campus be established as an accredited arboretum. Accredited by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Arboretum in Washington D.C., the arboretum boasts more than 3,000 plants of over 500 species and varieties strategically arranged throughout the campus. Nameplates identify approximately 500 plants with both the Latin and common names.
The Elmhurst College arboretum was established to show in an educational setting a variety of woody plants native to this region. For example, the arboretum contains the largest collection (19 varieties) of beech trees native to Illinois, and it brings to the Midwest the mission and tradition that Harvard University created with the Arnold Arboretum in 1872, which serves as the patriarch of educational arboreta. The changing of colors in the spring and autumn has become a signature feature of the campus, and significant areas of the arboretum are often featured in campus publications and photographs. The College's faculty and students, particularly in the Department of Biology, have joined the campus groundskeeping crew in providing constant care and maintenance to ensure the health and growth of the arboretum.