In 2008, a group of faculty and staff at Purdue University initiated a project called, The Purdue Arboretum, with a plan to recreate the Purdue campus as a living laboratory to enhance learning and discovery, and to improve the campus’ value as a resource for university engagement. Besides this, The Purdue Arboretum had a goal to serve the people of Indiana by providing a unique collection of plants, gardens, art works, walking trails, and green spaces that can be used and appreciated by the broadest segment of the general public.
Trees were first planted on the Purdue University Campus soon after its founding in 1869. In the early 1900’s, Horticulture Park was established on the west side of campus under the direction of Purdue’s Department of Horticulture. “Hort Park”, a partially landscaped and wooded area, has been an important and nostalgic public space that has hosted countless picnics and other recreational and leisure activities, various receptions, weddings, and served as a frequent teaching and study venue. Although there was early talk of limiting The Purdue Arboretum boundaries to those of the current 24 acre Horticulture Park itself, input from the arboretum’s advisory committees quickly revealed the greater potential of expanding The Purdue Arboretum to include the entire 2,552 acre Purdue main campus. Not only did the main campus possess many of the most unique plant specimens, but the additional space provided options for future expansion, and the close proximity to activities and foot traffic of the main academic campus (such as within Purdue’s central quad known as the Purdue Mall) made positive public interactions with the arboretum’s collections more likely. Horticulture Park, as it is now envisioned to develop, will nevertheless serve as a key functional element of The Purdue Arboretum.
The Purdue campus currently serves as an important living laboratory and classroom for numerous courses taught in the life science fields such as horticulture, botany, forestry, plant pathology, and entomology, as well as in engineering and the liberal arts such as drawing, sculpture, landscape architecture, and hydrology, just to name a few. Besides teachers and students in formal classes, it is common to see researchers on the campus exploring topics as diverse as plant taxonomy and physiology, plant-insect and plant-pathogen interactions, microclimatology, urban ecology, and issues in environmental sustainability, among others. In addition, the campus is an important resource for regional education and community groups, with for example, the local elementary and secondary schools visiting Purdue regularly to make leaf collections for study of the many different tree species on campus.