Notables Trees

Numerous trees on the grounds of The Institute represent rare or unusually large species. Pictured below are some of these noteworthy trees, along with information on their age, size, and other features.

Many of these trees are thought to date back to the 1860s, when the grounds of The Institute were re-designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his associate Jacob Weidenmann; their plan is shown in Weidenmann's book Beautifying Country Homes (1870).

Visitors can take a walking tour of our champion trees at any time during regular business hours (9 to 5). Visitors should stop at the Guard Gate at the Retreat Avenue entrance where they can obtain a self-guided walking tour map or download a map here.

Champion Trees

Ginkoginkgo.jpgStanding in front of Center Building is one of the largest ginkos in the state. The Ginkgo, native to eastern China, is the most primitive broad-leaved tree extant, going back unchanged at least 65 million years. Its fan-shaped leaves are unique. Male trees are preferred because the smell of the female fruit is objectionable to some. This specimen, largest of several on the grounds, is the New England champion, and one of the biggest in the USA. Because it can live to one thousand years old, it has plenty of growing to do. Surely an Olmsted tree!

Bur Oak
burlv.gifbur.jpgThe bur oak has large leaves with round lobes and a wasp waist. The acorn is huge, with a bristly fringe on the cup. The most northern of American oaks, the bur oak is natively found in extreme northwest Connecticut. Our tree is the New England co-champion. Twin lightning strikes on the lower trunk are healing well. Almost surely by Olmsted.

sweetlv.gifsweet.jpgThis massive tree was almost certainly planted by Olmsted. Native from extreme southwest Connecticut to Texas, it has star-shaped leaves and ridged bark. The fruit is a one-inch round burr. Gum produced by scraping off the bark was once used for medicine and chewing gum. Our tree is a Connecticut state champion.

pecanlv.gifpecan.jpgA real rarity in the north, only two have been reported in Connecticut. Our giant, still in fairly good condition despite various vicissitudes, is the New England champion. It is possible that this tree was planted here before Olmsted, because a photo taken in the 1880's shows it to have been a fairly large tree at that time.

Japanese Zelkova
japanlv.gifjapan.jpgOnce touted as the replacement for the besieged American elm, the zelkova is a nice tree in its own right. It was introduced to America in 1862, a year after the Olmsted installation. Note the elm-like leaves and the handsome exfoliating bark. Our tree is the New England champion zelkova.

Other Notable Trees

Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
Although this is one of the smaller trees on the Institute campus, it is rare enough to deserve attention. Native to our midwest, it has twice compound leaves with 6 to 14 leaflets per stem. It is distinguished by furrowed bark, crooked branches, and a big brown seed pod (female trees). The seeds were once used as a coffee substitute.

European Cutleaf Beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Laciniata')
This natural mutation of the standard European beech has the same smooth gray bark as the species, but its leaves are deeply incised. Its companion specimen is only slightly smaller.

Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata)
Native to our midwest, the cucumber magnolia has large leaves which appear before the greenish flowers. The dark red fruit somewhat resembles a cucumber. This large specimen, probably dating to Olmsted, has cropped branches, and is approaching the end of its life.

Katsura Tree (Cercidiphylum japonicum)
Native to Japan and China, this relatively small specimen has heart-shaped leaves, small fruit pods, and shaggy bark. Two katsuras are located within 10 feet of each other.

Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii')
This mushroom-shaped tree is a natural mutation of the wych elm which was discovered around 1850 at Camperdown House, Dundee, Scotland. Our tree is a medium sized specimen. A graft can be found at about 5 feet.

American Holly (Ilex opaca)
This handsome tree is native as far north as Massachusetts, but it is basically a tree of southeastern USA. One of the few broadleaved evergreen trees, it produces bright red berries (female trees). There are literally hundreds of nursery varieties.

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
The tallest of native broadleaved trees, the tulip is a majestic sight with its long, straight, limbless trunk. Its leaves are unusual... instead of ending in a point, they end in a broad indentation. Because tuliptrees are so tall, the lovely green and orange flowers are infrequently seen.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Most people know our native sassafras as a small tree. Only very occasionally is one as large as this found. The bark is deeply furrowed. On this old tree the leaves are mainly elliptical, but on younger trees many leaves look like 2- or 3 -lobed mittens. The aromatic root bark has been used medicinally for centuries.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
This large specimen, probably Olmstedian, has compound leaves with 9 to 21 leaflets. The fruit is a two-inch nut with a green husk. The wood is highly prized and very expensive. Native to midwest USA.

Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris)
A Eurasian tree, the turkey oak is fairly rare in Connecticut. Acorns are large, with bristly cups. Leaves remain green into late fall. Bark is black and rough.

Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana)
A hybrid first produced in 1820, this tree has become the most popular of magnolias. Known for its profusion of large pink and white blossoms, it subsequently has red, cone-like fruit.

Common Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Native to Europe, this tree has been cultivated in America since the mid 18th century, and is now naturalized here. Leaves are compound, with 7 leaflets. Flowers are huge white cones. The shiny brown, inedible nuts are encased in a spiny husk.

Crimean Linden (Tilia x euchlora)
This hybrid was first noted in Crimea around 1860. Old trees are fairly rare in America, but plantings have been common since the 1980's. Our trees (we have two of them) were likely planted in the late 19th century.

Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
The pin oak, a native tree, tends to grow near water. Nursery owners love it, because its lack of tap root makes it the easiest oak to transplant. Its leaves are fine and deeply cut, and often color well in autumn. Its acorn is very small. Our big specimen may well be from the 1861 plan.

Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus octandra)
The yellow buckeye, a Midwestern native, is not common in Connecticut. Our tree is the second largest reported in the state. Its leaves are similar to the common horsechestnut, but much more elliptical. It bears big clusters of yellow flowers. The nut is like the horsechestnut, but the tan husk has no spines. Probably planted around the turn of the century.

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)
The scarlet oak is native to Connecticut. It is often seen in park-like settings as often as some other oaks because it is difficult to transplant. The glorious deep red fall foliage makes the effort worthwhile, however. Our tree is one of the state's larger specimens, and was probably planted early in the 20th century.

Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulate)
This species first came to the USA in 1876. Our specimen is probably an early 20th century planting. It has cherrylike bark and big clusters of creamy flowers which bloom somewhat later than the common lilac. Not a common tree, but becoming more popular.

Plume Sawara Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Plumosa')
This double-trunked specimen is the largest of four similar trees in the immediate area. A frequently planted variety of C. pisif era, this Japanese tree was introduced to England in 1861, making it highly unlikely that it was in the Olmsted planting. The branchlets are somewhat feathery, the trunk red-brown, and the numerous cones pea sized.

This page is based upon a self-guided walking tour researched and created by Ed Richardson, Notable Tree Committee, Connecticut Botanical Society. Graphics by Harrison Jenkins Design, photographs by Bruce Clouette.

Hear about our notable trees

  • Ed Richardson discusses the IOL's historic trees in an interview that aired on WFCR, Jan. 22, 2007.