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Northeastern University’s Boston campus is officially an arboretum

Northeastern’s campus
Northeastern’s campusDavid L Ryan/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Have you been to Northeastern University’s arboretum? You might have. You just didn’t know it.

The university’s Boston campus has recently been recognized as an arboretum, according to its statement last week.

More than 1,400 trees from 143 species line walkways and open spaces. Many are there thanks to Chuck Doughty, program director of landscaping grounds at the university.

“I couldn’t wait to tell my colleagues and the people I’m surrounded by,” said Doughty, who has been involved with working on the grounds since the 1980s. “It’s something I’ve been working on for a year and a half to 2 years, so it was great to finally have it happen.”

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The accreditation officially came in early May from arboreta nonprofit ArbNet. It’s a Level II accreditation. That means that beyond the basics of having a strategic plan, a governing board, public programming, and an inventory of every tree and woody plant on its campus, the university is host to more than 100 tree species, has a policy that dictates how the trees are acquired and maintained, and offers public educational programming.

Doughty gives tours of the trees around campus, telling people the trees’ history and why each one fits best in its location.

The arboretum is the only one on a college campus in Boston, Doughty said. Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum is located in Boston’s Jamaica Plain and Roslindale sections, but the university’s campus is in Cambridge.

The process started years ago, when those who worked on the Northeastern grounds looked to see what kind of trees they could plant, Doughty said. This required some experimentation, as much of the land was marshland that was filled in the 1800s, he said.

The urban fill, frequently fragments of brick and other debris, doesn’t provide ideal conditions for all trees, Doughty said. It was a struggle to determine what types of trees would work best to provide shade, exist next to walkways without affecting them, or work best next to a garden, he said.

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“Over time, we came up with some that work well,” Doughty said.

The official process started about two years ago. Doughty on his own made a physical map and inventory of the trees on campus. Over time, that turned into a digital map. Eventually, the university stepped in to help, which “really got the ball rolling,” he said.

With the help of consultants, Doughty and his team sent the application out for accreditation on April 26, which was also Arbor Day. Less than two weeks later, the campus was approved.

“It just seemed like a really important thing to do to qualify what we do here,” Doughty said.

So what makes a good arboretum?

While some trees are planted for utilitarian reasons such as providing shade, others are planted for ornamental value, especially if they have a nice color in the fall or nice blossoms in the spring, Doughty said. However, he said, at the end of the day arboreta are more than just their aesthetic value.

“The biggest reason to have an arboretum is not about the trees, it’s about the people,” he said. “The campus is very busy with a lot of people, and arboretums are about trees, but they’re really about how people interact with nature.”


Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @breannekovatch.

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