The Arboretum at Penn State

Our Story

Since 1914, when Penn State’s trustees first set aside land for an arboretum, the project has inspired generations of students, faculty, and community members. The financial needs of a growing institution made it impossible, however, to dedicate the resources required for an effort on this scale. Over the years, it became clear that only private philanthropy could take the Arboretum from vision to reality.


Transporting the Hosler Oak from Lititz, Pennsylvania, to the University Park campus (March 2005)

As the new millennium approached, Penn State recognized the benefits of having an arboretum, and the project became part of the University’s master plan in 1999 when the trustees designated 370 acres of undeveloped land immediately adjacent to the University Park campus as the arboretum site. Penn State had everything needed to make the project a success—institutional will, faculty expertise, community interest and engagement, an extraordinary natural site—except financial support.


Planting the Hosler Oak, the Arboretum’s “witness tree”

In 2007, Charles H. “Skip” Smith stepped forward with a lead gift of $10 million to name the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens, honoring Mr. Smith’s father and fellow Penn State alumnus. This pioneering commitment enabled the University to complete initial construction of The Arboretum at Penn State in 2009, and additional gifts from Mr. Smith, from longtime Penn State leaders Ed and Helen Hintz, and from hundreds of other donors have allowed us to develop new areas, including the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden. Even more expansion is envisioned.

Visitation to the Smith Botanic Gardens has increased substantially each season as we have developed community events and rented garden venues for University and private gatherings. In pursuit of our mission to educate and inspire visitors, we encourage people to visit the Smith Botanic Gardens often and have begun developing programs for specific audiences as well as the general public. In a few short years, The Arboretum at Penn State has become one of the most popular features of the University Park campus.


The Hosler Oak, uplighted during a snowfall



(Read our abbreviated chronology.)