UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In honor of National Arbor Day on April 29, we take a look at one of Penn State's longest living traditions: Old Willow.
The original "Old Willow" was planted on campus by Professor of Horticulture William G. Waring in 1859, around the time the college admitted its first students.
Waring, who laid out roads, buildings, orchards and landscaping as the college’s first superintendent of farm and grounds, located the weeping willow (Salix babylonica “Pendula”) beside the main driveway of the front campus (on today’s Allen Street mall, across from Sackett Building).
It’s not clear when students dubbed it the “old willow,” but the tree quickly captured their hearts. “So long the ‘picture of loveliness and stately grace,‘” wrote Penn State historian Erwin W. Runkle in 1934. “No one who ever saw it and loved it in its prime will ever forget its beauty and majesty.”
Various claims as to the tree’s origins include that it was brought from Europe by founding President Evan Pugh, a scion of one growing in Twickenham, the famous garden of English poet Alexander Pope. Another legend is that it was planted to mark the turning spot for contractors’ wagons bound for the original Old Main construction site. Or, Professor Waring may have planted it from his own stock, as he tended many willow saplings in the college’s nurseries.