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SGN Trees at North Central College partners with SGN Trees to help North Central College reach Level II Arboretum Status

Written by Becky Thomas of Spring Grove Nursery

"On a gorgeous back-to-school fall day, I went back to college! This time it wasn’t as a student or a parent, I was checking in on a multi-year project on campus where several of our SGN trees are growing.  We have been growing trees for North Central College since 2017 as they have been pursuing their Arboretum status and Tree Campus USA goals. Our partnership also includes who expertly plants our #sgntrees around campus. Marlee Harford from and I arranged for a private tree tour around campus from Kaitlin Ballard, the NCC Sustainability Coordinator. We loved to see our trees thriving around the beautiful campus!

The campus originally sought its Arboretum Level I status from ArbNet in 2018. As stated on their website, the ArbNet network is an “interactive, collaborative, international community of arboreta and tree-focused professionals. ArbNet facilitates the sharing of knowledge, experience, and other resources to help arboreta meet their institutional goals and works to raise professional standards through the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program.” To achieve Level I status, the criteria are:

  • Publicly accessible 
  • Needs at least 25 species of trees
  • Dedicated team of employees or volunteers who oversee the tree program
  • Governing body dedicated to carrying out the arboretum plan
  • Arboretum plan formalized

Some typical Level I Arboreta might be zoos, campuses, or golf courses.

After a few years in the program, the North Central College team advanced their campus into Level II status in 2020. The additional criteria needed to move into Level 2 status are:

  • At least 100 species of woody plants
  • Employed staff- one or more paid employees whose specific responsibility is managing and caring for the arboretum
  • Documented collections policy- this talks about the plant development and management such as record-keeping and inventory. This also gives information on the reasoning for having particular collections of the arboretum.
  • Tree-related public education programs – must be beyond the base level requirements of Level I. 

Kaitlin Ballard explained to us that the Level II status will probably be as far as their campus will go. Additional Levels III and IV require more advanced programming and budget than available to the campus. Also, the campus size & layout is limited and will not be able to accommodate 500 more unique species of trees needed to reach the next level.   In total, there are 36 Level IV Arboretums, with two of the best in our own back yard – The Morton Arboretum and the Chicago Botanic Garden!

In addition to the ArbNet program, North Central College is recognized as a green college by Tree Campus Higher Education. As of 2020, NCC is 1 of 392 recognized campuses in the program. Under the umbrella of the Arbor Day Foundation, the Tree Campus Higher Education program was founded in 2008 to foster a tradition of livable, healthy, and beautiful green spaces. The program provides a simple framework for colleges and universities to grow their community forests, achieve national recognition, and create a campus their students and staff are proud of.

Some of the criteria for the program are:

  • Establish a tree advisory committee for the campus
  • Proof a campus tree-care plan
  • Verification of the plan’s annual expenditures
  • Observation of  Arbor Day
  • Develop a service-learning project aimed at teaching the student body

Throughout the years, our nursery has grown several trees for its campus greening initiatives. Some of these trees are Native Hackberry, Washington Hawthorn, Golden Glory Corneliancherry Dogwood, Triumph Elm, Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn, Street Keeper Honeylocust, Bur Oak, Niobe Golden Weeping Willow, Vernal Witchhazel, Pagoda Dogwood, Allegheny Serviceberry, Crimson Spire Oak, Scarlet Letter Oak, Cobblestone Oak, Windover Gold Ginkgo, Dawn Redwood, Black Hills Spruce, Dr. Merrill Magnolia, Prairifire Crabapple, Emerald Sunshine Elm, Espresso Kentucky Coffeetree, Princeton American Elm, Royal Raindrops Crabapple – with more to come this fall. New tree plantings will go in later this week, and we look forward to watching them grow soon!

Before each planting season, the team from North Central College contacts Marlee at with their requests. Marlee works with me at the nursery to tag the trees they need and coordinates with her planting crew to properly plant the new trees around campus. When asked about the collaboration from her perspective, Marlee said, “Working with North Central College has been such a fun, exciting experience. I am thankful for the partnership and relationships we have developed. The staff is always so caring, helpful, and accommodating whenever’s team is on campus. We love the dedication to the campus’ tree canopy from Kaitlin and the rest of the suitability department. They are true environmental advocates for the future students, staff, campus, and community. Trees provide so many benefits that often go unnoticed. Being a part of North Central Colleges’ impact is rewarding. I spend a lot of time in Naperville, and I often cruise around the campus admiring their trees and landscape. I am so happy Kaitlin took the time to tour us around campus and point out some of the 100-year-old trees and share their rich history. There are a lot of unique trees on campus and being among the trees is always so refreshing. I look forward to watching the trees grow and being a part of their history.”

At North Central College, Kaitlin had this to share about the ongoing collaboration, “We are so proud to have a healthy and diverse arboretum on our campus – for the direct benefits, the existence of trees provides to a community, but also for the opportunity for our arboretum to be a living lab to further our students’ research and education. This semester a GIS course used our campus trees to practice and apply their technical geographic mapping skills, and two biology students used our tree inventory for a carbon sequestration capstone project. Cultivating and maintaining our arboretum wouldn’t be possible without great partnerships in the community like we have with and Spring Grove Nursery.”  I reached out to the student team working on the carbon sequestration project. Once they finish gathering their data, we will have more to report regarding their findings!

This project has been so fun to work on over the years. We enjoy collaborating with both partners to help grow the vision of North Central College as a healthy & vibrant educational environment for students. NCC also works with several other local nurseries & garden centers to achieve their goals. While on our tree tour, I saw some beautiful trees around campus planted by our friends at Wasco Nursery & The Growing Place, just to name a few. For more about the campus sustainability initiatives, check out this link: Sustainability at NCC.  It is exciting to watch our SGN Trees help grow their campus into a beautiful, green space for learning & inspiration!"

Washington Hawthorn →

Emerald Sunshine Elms & Espresso Kentucky Coffeetree →

Emerald Sunshine Elm →

Swamp White Oak 9-11 Memorial Planting →

Dawn Redwood →

Dr. Merrill Magnolia → 

Old Oaks Defining the Gathering Space → 

Historic Centennial Sycamore → 

Triumph Elm →

Ginkgo →

Old Kentucky Coffeetree on Campus → 

Thomas, Becky. SGN Trees At North Central College. Nov. 2021, Accessed 12 Nov 2021.

Updated on 28 Nov 2023