Among the scenic locations on campus more than 300 species and varieties of woody plants have been planted throughout the history of the college. A large portion of this diversity was gathered and planted by John T. (J.T.) Baldwin, Jr., professor of biology from 1946 to 1974. The entire collection represents a living archive that also supports research and teaching by faculty and students from both within and outside of the College. By vote of the Board of Visitors, this collection is known as "The Baldwin Memorial Collection of Woody Species".
The campus tour of woody species is self-guided and contains over 70 different kinds of plants, which is only a subset of the woody diversity found on campus. The tour is loosely based on the original walking tour given for many years by Professor Baldwin and includes several original specimens, but it is also periodically updated to compensate for plant mortality and to incorporate additions to the campus collection. For example, some native species that predate the Baldwin additions as well as naturally-colonized noteworthy trees are now included.
The tour begins and ends near the Wren Building on the Old Campus, following a loop that includes the 13 locations noted on the map and keyed to the left navigation menu. Each location marks the vicinity of multiple specimens to observe. At a moderate pace, it takes about 45 minutes to complete the tour. This does not include the time it will take to find and enjoy the specimens on the tour.
John T. Baldwin Jr. majored in biology at William & Mary and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 1937. He taught botany at the College from 1937 to 1939, returning as a full-time faculty member in 1947. His research specialized in cytogenetics (the study of plant chromosomes) and published widely throughout his career. He was instrumental in discovering natural sources of cortisone, in the plant Strophantus sarmentosus, and was considered a national authority on boxwood. He well appreciated the diversity of plants and expressed this through the many interesting specimens growing on campus.
In his travels and studies Professor Baldwin visited four continents, often sending back to the College or returning with unusual seeds and plantings. Over several decades, with the assistance of his colleague Professor Bernice Speese, he gradually turned the campus into a natural laboratory dotted with dozens of exotic species. Some of these initial plantings are among the oldest cultivated representatives of the species in the nation.
Before his death in 1974, Professor Baldwin charged his colleagues with responsibility for the collection. With much of the original documentation no longer available, Biology Professor Martin Mathes launched in the late 1970s a project to identify, inventory and map the various species represented. He was assisted by senior student Louise Mozingo and a number of colleagues and funders, and the effort resulted in production of a bound catalog identifying and mapping the locations of approximately 325 species and varieties of woody plants. A second publication chronicles the history of vegetation on the campus. Both are available in Swem Library.
The collection as it stands today is the result of dedicated contributions involving many people. Retired Biology Professor Martin Mathes for many years led the walking tours originated by his former colleague, Professor Baldwin, and he contributed significantly to the diversity of plants on campus. The late Jane Henley was a leading advocate and private funder whose generous donations continue to maintain and extend the campus collection of woody plants. The College's Gardens and Grounds division of Facilities Management cares for specimens in the collection and for the campus landscape as a whole. Dr. Martha Case, Associate Professor of Biology and College Conservator of Botanical Collections, has expanded the original tour and continues to update the representation of plant specimens in it. Efforts to include campus photographs of all specimens as well as labels and geospatial coordinates are also underway and coordinated by her. Together, we seek to connect plants and people as we begin a century that has inspired a deeper understanding of the value of a verdant heritage.
- Martin C. Mathes, The Planting of a Campus Tradition, 1987
- Martin C. Mathes, Collection of Woody Species, 1992