Living Laboratory: State Arboretum at the University of Montana

Editor’s note: Make it Missoula has partnered with the University of Montana’s Online News class, taught by Jule Banville, to create a new Citizen Journalism feature that’s all about local views and issues. We’re excited to provide these students with a platform so they can objectively explore and report about the topics they think reflect the lives and times of Missoula and its citizens.


For a long time, the Forestry faculty felt a need for an Arboretum… A forage grass arboretum is a unique and distinct innovation for a forestry school.

This idea, offered in 1933 by Professor I.W. Cook in the Kaimin newspaper, helped create the state arboretum at the University of Montana in Missoula.

On April 4, 1991, nearly 60 years later, the Montana legislature and the Board of Regents passed a bill, subsequently signed by the governor, that made the designation official. Today, three stories of meticulously cared-for and researched plants reach to the windowed ceiling of the University Center.

The UC atrium garden supervisor, Kelly Chadwick, has been involved with the planning and care of the arboretum since its inception.

Garden Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis) is one of the thousands of plant species living in the campus arboretum.

The focus of the arboretum, she says, “is primarily North American species, and to be a strong representative to Montana native plants and trees.”

She sees it as much more than impressive plants. To her, the arboretum serves as a library of flora providing not only natural beauty, but a chance to educate the public.

She has big plans: Her desk is piled with books, proposals for upcoming projects, and general information at the ready for anyone with questions.

“I am so driven to get these projects done, it is very important to me and has become a larger part of my life than I could have ever imagined,” she says.

The arboretum committee is made up of ten UM professors and plant enthusiasts charged with creating a “living laboratory” to serve as a hands-on educational platform.


Kelly Chadwick reaches for a sabotaged tree branch- one of the disadvantages to having an arboretum in a place that experiences a lot of traffic.

The arboretum receives no public funding from the state. Instead, it relies on revenue and support from donations and gifts, which are pooled into one fund that used for new planting and caring for existing plants.

All donors to the arboretum are recognized with a certificate of appreciation and are listed in a brochure, published periodically. Donors can also recognize a person or a group by purchasing a plaque or even a tree to be displayed on campus

“I fell into this job almost 30 years ago, “ says Chadwick, “and have since seen so many great improvements made to this campus. It is a special place to Montana and I am so grateful to be a part of this exceptional part of history.”


The University Center is home to hundreds of tree and plant species from all over the world.

Alanya Cherkas is a senior studying broadcast journalism at the University of Montana.