Photo by Steven Sypniewski

The Maud Gordon Holmes Arboretum at Buffalo State University has brought thousands of students closer to nature on the 100+ acre urban campus, along with providing educational benefits. Formally dedicated in 1962 in honor of Maud Gordon Holmes, founder of the Garden Center Institute of Buffalo, the Arboretum has grown from 300 trees initially to over 1,400, with more than 85 varieties and cultivars of native and nonnative species. In addition, it offers landscape beds featuring flowering shrubs, perennials, and annuals. Because of its Arboretum, the campus displays greenery year-round while marking the seasons with fragrant blossoms and luminous autumn colors.

While Buffalo State does not offer a formal arboriculture or landscape management curriculum, the school utilizes the Arboretum as an outdoor classroom, establishing trees and shrubs for scientific and educational purposes. Steven Sypniewski, Assistant Campus Planner and Arboretum Manager, consults with facilities and the University tree committee when devising planting plans as well as reviewing landscape architectural plans for any capital improvement projects on campus. Buffalo State boasts a robust science department. “The arboretum is used not only for the identification of plant and tree species but the study of insects, plant diseases, fungi and mosses as well,” Sypniewski says,

Maud Gordon Holmes’s husband and his brother owned and operated a thriving barrel business in the city, which she took over as president when both passed away in the early 1900’s. She had an abiding interest in plants. ( A professor at Buffalo State and friend of Gordon Holmes, Edna Lindeman, was instrumental in the founding of the Arboretum.

Photo courtesy of National Register Nomination
Photo by Steven Sypniewski

The Arboretum’s formal dedication included the ceremonial planting of a Scotch elm in Gordon Holmes’s honor. The campus is located at 1300 Elmwood Ave., north of Buffalo’s downtown, a thoroughfare long known for the elm trees that lined both its sides “to create the appearance of a cathedral ceiling,” according to Sypniewski. In the 1950s and ‘60s these trees declined due to Dutch Elm disease and were removed. Sypniewski speculates that the founders of the Arboretum might have selected a Scotch elm because in the 1960’s Scotch elms were believed to be Dutch elm-disease resistant. (They were not.) The University’s yearbook is also called The Elms. Though the original Scotch elm no longer stands, a Princeton elm (Ulmus americana Princeton) has replaced it near the site alongside a plaque commemorating the dedication of the Arboretum.

The school’s Arboretum map can be accessed online at It includes a searchable list of trees with their common and botanical names, accompanied by photos.

Chloe Mokadam, a Buffalo State graduate — she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology in 2019, a Master of Arts in Biology in 2021 and Master of Science in Science Education this past spring — has helped to develop the Arboretum. “To me, it represents the limitless potential of Buffalo State University,” she says. “Throughout my time as a biology and science education student I was privileged to help create the digital field guide that catalogues the campus’ tree species. During my work, I found endless opportunities for learning. The Kentucky coffeetrees and honeylocusts provide opportunities to discuss the extinct megafauna —mammoths, gomphotheres, and giant sloths — that once dispersed their oversized seeds. The kousa dogwoods provide edible fruits that are of interest to members of our culinary program, and hopefully the newly planted pawpaws will also bear fruit in years to come. The flowering trees and the outdoor sculptures that punctuate the landscape are inspiration for our art students.”

Photo by Steven Sypniewski

Trees on university campuses offer shaded green spaces for students and faculty to gather and have been found to improve students’ mental and cognitive health as well as providing an appealing aesthetic. According to Mokadam, the Arboretum is “a place of calm and respite.“ She says. “I am endlessly entertained by the squirrels that live in the hickory tree outside of Rockwell Hall. I am soothed by the bumblebees that lazily buzz from flower to flower on the littleleaf lindens. I am wowed by the red-tailed hawks as they try to scoop up a songbird from one of the saplings near the library.” As a new graduate and soon-to-be high school science teacher, Mokadam plans to bring her students to the Arboretum “so they too can learn about all it and Buffalo State University have to offer.”

The Arbor Day Foundation officially recognized Buffalo State University as part of its 2022 Tree Campus Higher Education program for the university’s commitment to effective urban forest management and dedication to including green spaces on campus, one of 411 campuses around the United States that have achieved the distinction. Buffalo State met Tree Campus Higher Education’s five standards: maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance, and student service-learning project.

Since 2019, the Friends of the Maud Gordon Holmes Arboretum and the University’s Sustainability Committee together have hosted a series of annual Big Dig volunteer tree-planting events on campus, with the goals of  increasing the diversity of trees in the Arboretum and offsetting those lost to storm damage, construction, infestation and disease. The Friends group formed in 2016, inspired by the two-hundred plus local ash trees lost to the Emerald Ash Borer.

At the Big Dig, students, faculty, staff and members of the community spend a day learning how to properly plant trees and shrubs. Most recently, on a beautiful sunny day in October 2022 over seventy volunteers transformed the steep slope between Moot and Ketchum Halls from a hard-to-mow area to a naturalized planting of trees, shrubs and perennials. Trees were also planted on the turf Islands of Rockwell Rd., further beautifying the campus. Thirty-five 1.5″ bare-root trees went into the ground.

The group also brings speakers to campus and organizes events to celebrate and encourage sustainability and green initiatives.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Maud Gordon Holmes Arboretum

“The participants are very enthusiastic and proud at the end of the day,” says Sypniewski. “I try to give a crash course on how to plant bare-root trees and I am thankful there are professors and others who help me guide the participants.” Participants take the experience with them into the future. “Many of Buff State’s students are from urban centers and several have told me that this is the first time they’ve connected to nature by digging a hole and planting a tree.”