Part 3: 1990s - Present

Taking action: planting the canopy for the next century

In 1991, Harvard began a series of studies of the open spaces in Harvard Yard. A tree committee was convened to compile a list of species suitable for planting within the Yard. The following are trees that are suitable for the canopy:

  • Acer rubrum (red maple)
  • Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
  • Celtis laevigata (sugarberry)
  • Gleditsia triacanthos (thornless honeylocust)
  • Gymnocladus dioicus ( Kentucky coffeetree)
  • Liriodendron tulipifera (tuliptree)
  • Magnolia acuminate (cucumbertree)
  • Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak)
  • Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak)
  • Quercus palustris (pin oak)
  • Quercus phellos (willow oak)
  • Quercus rubra (red oak)
  • Sophora japonica (Japanese pagoda tree)

The committee also made a list of “periphery trees” which it reasoned could be used around buildings or to lower the canopy at the edge of the Yard:

  • Betula nigra (river birch)
  • Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura tree)
  • Cladrastis kentuckea (yellowwood)
  • Fagus sylvatica (European beech)
  • Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo)
  • Larix decidua (European larch)
  • Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum)
  • Nyssa sylvatica (black gum)
  • Tilia petiolaris (pendant silver linden)
  • Ulmus parviflora (lace bark elm)
  • Zelkova serrata (zelkova)

These recommendations were used by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to produce a landscape plan for the Yard. Not all these trees were used in this plan, and by the same token some trees not on the list were included. The first step was to remove any unhealthy trees, including infected elms. There was no reason to create a landscape plan around trees that would not be there in a few years anyway.

A tuliptree is planted in the Sever Quad (Harvard Magazine)

The character of the American elm was maintained in the selection of species for the Yard. Trees like, for example, an American linden were omitted from the canopy portions of the yard because it branches very low to its trunk. Only trees whose lower branches could be removes were planted in the Old Yard and Tercentenary Theatre. Removing the lower branches promotes vertical tree growth, creating a desirable canopy. Great effort was made to ensure that there were unobstructed views across the Yard.

Go to the map section to see the locations and names for all the trees in Harvard Yard. However, the best way to experience the history and beauty of Harvard Yard is to stroll through it.


General Information about Trees on Harvard Property. HUB 3848, Harvard University Archives.

Shaw, Jonathan. “Every Tree Doomed.” Harvard Magazine . July/Aug 1994. 46-53

Tredici, Peter del . “The Ecology and Economics of Elm Replacements in Harvard Yard.” Arnoldia. Spring 1998: 27-32.

Van Valkenburgh, Michael and Tredici, Peter del. "Restoring the Harvard Yard Landscape." Arnoldia. Spring 1994: 3-11.


Created by Ryan Lynch

Last updated February 28, 2007