UW Arboretum (Madison)

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The University of Wisconsin - Madison Arboretum was created as an effort to study and understand the effect that people have on the land around them. It was also created as a space that would allow conservationists to restore the land around them. Stated in their mission statement, it is important to “conserve and restore Arboretum lands, advance restoration ecology, and foster the land ethic.”[1] This mission statement is reminiscent of the same goals that past activists for the environmental movement, such as Aldo Leopold. He was a major influence for the movement and helped shape the UW-Madison Arboretum to be the place that is it today. The same vision is be carried out as when it was created, “the Arboretum is a global source of knowledge and a model for restoring ecologically sustainable relationships between people and the land through integrative, innovative, and collaborative approaches in science, stewardship, education, and public engagement.”[2] It continues to follow the vision for educating and promoting the conservation and preservation of wilderness and natural ecosystems.

History Behind the UW Arboretum (Madison)

The Arboretum was first suggested by landscape architect, John Nolen, in 1911.[3] In 1925, Michael Olbrich began to seriously consider the idea while he was fundraising for other parks in the Madison area. He wanted a space set aside for the protection of wildlife and education and “hoped for an Arboretum that might also be a wildlife sanctuary, experimental forest preserve, protected area for sacred Native American sites, place to experiment with re-establishing historical Wisconsin landscapes, and refuge from the city.”[4] Olbrich’s vision for the Arboretum took form in 1932 when the land was acquired. At its creation, the Arboretum had 246 acres of land that was dedicated to conservation and preservation of wildlife and the wilderness.[5]

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold also played an instrumental role in guiding the Arboretum into what it is today. At the indictment ceremony for the Arboretum he “outlined the focus of re-establishing ‘original Wisconsin’ landscape and plant communities, particularly those that predated European settlement, such as tallgrass prairie and oak savanna”.[6] According to Paul Sutter, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, “human management and restoration based upon scientific research -- Leopold’s ‘intellectual tinkering’- was essential. These scientists see wilderness as a blended place - both manipulated by humans in the interest of the greater naturalness, yet still wild nature”.[7] In going through with Leopold’s goal of restoring the precontact ecology, the Arboretum became the site that ecological restoration was born.


As mentioned above, the University of Madison - Arboretum was the place that restoration ecology was created. The Arboretum has continued to be used as a site to help advance research in the field of restoration ecology and the effects that humans have on the land. The land that was chosen for the Arboretum is also ideal for all kinds of research as, “ecological communities at the Arboretum comprise woodlands, savannas, prairies, and wetlands”.[8] Although the Arboretum first focused on restoration ecology, it did not stop there. According to the Arboretum website, “the Arboretum continues a long tradition of adaptive restoration. At the same time, it is a valuable research site for many fields – from botany, landscape ecology, and soil science to wildlife ecology, environmental engineering, and public health”.[9] It is also open to other schools to conduct research on their grounds as well.

Current Research (2018)

The research projects listed below are only a few that the are being conducted at the University of Wisconsin - Madison Arboretum. For the full list of research projects currently in progress please visit this site: https://arboretum.wisc.edu/science/research/current-research/

The role of burn seasonality, fire temperature, and residence time in controlling woody invasive plants: This research project, headed by Tim Kuhman, Jed Meunier, Nathan Holoubek, Yari Johnson, and Brad Strobel, seeks to find out whether controlled seasonal burning could lower the population of harmful invasive species.[10]

The presence and disappearance of Cypripedium Candidum in the southeast glacial plains of Wisconsin: This research project, headed by Andrea Weissgerber and her advisor, John Harrington, looks into why Cypripedium Candidum is no longer growing in regions it previously did.[11]

Effects of invasive Jumping Earthworms on Sugar Maple Hydraulics at the UW - Madison Arboretum: This research project, headed by Kim O’Keefe and their advisor,Kate McCulloh, looks at whether jumping earthworms harm the ability of trees to move water.[12]


The Arboretum was not only meant as a place for research, but also as a place that the public could engage the wilderness. According to the Arboretum’s website, the “purpose is to provide an enjoyable, safe outdoor experience and to foster curiosity for Wisconsin’s native ecosystems, the science of restoration ecology, and the value of restoring natural areas”.[13] The Arboretum allows them to do this its 3 gardens and over 17 miles of trails within it, all designed to get people close with nature.


  1. “Mission,” Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives. https://arboretum.wisc.edu/about-us/mission/ (assessed December 4, 2018).
  2. Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives.
  3. “History,” Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives. https://arboretum.wisc.edu/about-us/history/ (assessed December 6, 2018).
  4. Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Paul Sutter, “Wilderness and Conservation Science,” in Michael Lewis, ed., American Wilderness: A New History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) 208.
  8. “Remnants and Restoration,” Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives. https://arboretum.wisc.edu/explore/remnants/ (assessed December 19, 2018).
  9. “Research,” Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives. https://arboretum.wisc.edu/science/research/ (assessed December 19, 2018).
  10. “Featured Research,” Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives. https://arboretum.wisc.edu/science/research/current-research/ (assessed December 19, 2018).
  11. Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives.
  12. Ibid.
  13. “Trails,” Arboretum: Restoring and Enriching Lives. https://arboretum.wisc.edu/visit/trails/ (assessed December 19, 2018).

Article History

  • Originated by: Michaela Wyngaard (11/21/2018)
  • Major Contributors:
  • Additional Contributors:
  • Proofreading and Editing for Style: jordre21 (2018-12-13)
  • Source Checking:
  • Originality Checking:Bornze12 (2018-12-14)