Site 6: St. John’s College - Tulip Poplar

Tulip Poplar -- St. John's College St. John’s College

Spread over 36 acres, St. John’s College is the third oldest college in the U.S. and is the alma mater of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner. Today about 450 students meet with “tutors” for a unique, four year study of the “great books”.

A number of extraordinary trees grace the campus. One of the most noteworthy, the Liberty Tree, was lost forever after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. This magnificent Tulip poplar was so named for the groups of colonial rebels who secretely met beneath its branches before and during the Revolutionary War to plot activities, far from eavesdropping Tory ears. Although the Liberty Tree had lived far beyond its expected life span, its inevitable loss was greatly mourned.

Round the corner onto College Avenue. Just to your left across from the College is the USNA Alumni House (build by William Ogle in 1739) with a huge deodar cedar in the front yard. This tree is an Annapolis landmark when it is decorated with lights during the Christmas season.

Lining College Avenue just inside the campus hedge is an attractive double row of trees; most are willow oaks (narrow leaves) or lindens (round or ovate leaves). Entering the central walkway, look to your far right, toward the end of the campus to see the large sycamore next to Woodward Hall. As you walk along the entrance, a number of outstanding trees are before you. First you will proceed through two willow oaks framing the entrance. Next, on your right you will see a little leaf linden that is, probably the tallest tree on St. John’s campus. On your left will be a horse chestnut. Further up the walkway are three swamp chestnut oaks (or basket oaks), one on the left and two on the right of the walkway. Just beyond the basket oak on the left you will have a fine view of a truly spectacular tulip poplar. This tree is actually a scion of the Liberty Tree, as noted on a tree-mounted plaque identifying that it was planted in 1889. As you approach McDowell Hall (directly ahead), you will see a large and stately American elm, with its small oval, serrated leaves.

Continue to the intersecting walkway and turn right. This walkway is lined with pin oaks on the right side. Just in front of the Pickney Building, you will see two relatively young bald cypress. This area previously held a very old holly that was lost to old age and drought. Continue just beyond Pickney and you will encounter an area with a number of unique trees. This area is not paved with walks so you may want to view from the front walkway. First you will see an unusually tall dogwood just next to a Fraser fir. Viewing beyond these trees you will next see a Hinoki cypress, just beyond which is a European ash, and finally one of the most interesting trees of St. John’s, a twisted old osage orange tree. This tree has unusually hard, orange-colored wood used by American Indians for bows and by early settlers for fence posts and a yellow dye extracted from the root bark.

One final “must see” before you leave the campus, is a gigantic American sycamore. This tree is easy to locate by backtracking along the main walkway in front of Pinkney and McDowell Hall. Continue down this walkway to the path in front of Humphreys, and turn right. This will lead you back toward the Campbell Parking lot. Believe it or not, this magnificent tree is located right in the middle of campus parking. This sycamore was recently measured to have a circumference of 18’6’’ and a crown spread of 105’.

Exit the campus, by proceeding down St. John’s Street. Be sure to stop by the native garden on the corner of College Avenue and St. John’s. An attractive maidenhair ginkgo, with its characteristic fan-shaped leaves, is located just behind the garden. The ginkgo is a native of China, where some say Buddhist priests saved it from extinction by secretly planting it on temple grounds.

Next For your next stop, proceed down College Avenue toward Church Circle. Turn right on Bladen Street to see the State Legislative Offices.

Last updated on November 20, 2001.

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