The Legacy of the WJ Beal Botanical Garden

Established in 1873, the WJ Beal Botanical Garden is the oldest continuously operated botanical university garden in the United States.

“The WJ Beal Botanical Garden has played a central role in plant science on campus for 149 years, as it is a place where research and education are central,” said Alan Prather, acting director of the garden, in an email. . “Our curated plant collections highlight many important biological and cultural themes, focusing on the role of plants in human life. You can come to the Garden and see food plants, medicinal plants and poisonous plants from all over the world. You can learn more about plant diversity. Each plant in the collection has its own story to tell and you can spend hours in the garden reading those stories. Plants are important to every person, and the Garden offers a way for everyone to understand this more clearly.

Entering its 150th year, the Garden has begun work on two major projects for this fall.

“One will be a red cedar shoreline restoration project in the garden that shows what native shoreline communities in Michigan might look like,” Prather said in the email. “We’re removing invasive species, planting native species, stopping erosion and adding interpretive panels to explain everything. Another project will be a pollinator garden based on native plants, including some of the species Beal placed in the garden over a century ago.

The Garden is also developing new policies to protect the environment and reduce the spread of invasive plant species.

“As times change, the garden must change too – we must reflect the needs of our times and be good stewards of our environment. These issues will receive increasing attention from our program and this type of evolution is what has kept the garden relevant and loved for nearly 150 years,” said Prather.

Although the Garden focuses on research and education, there is an undeniable beauty and tranquility. Science serves to remind us that the outdoors is a form of healing, a space away from the overabundance of stress, doubt and pain that plagues most of us.

“We know people come here to find some peace and quiet in the midst of a busy and often stressful campus,” Prather said in an email. “So another way we connect with our community is to honor the garden’s role in providing peace of mind to Spartans and campus visitors. We have several benches where you can sit quietly and enjoy the plants and the views. We offer Pilates in the Garden with MSU Health4U and IM Circle during the summer. We have events like Music and the Garden with the College of Music. Next year we plan to have location-based guided meditations available at select stations where you can log in via a QR code. Honoring this role of the garden means that everyone can enjoy it and every Spartan can create great memories here.

William J. Beal, who originally founded the garden in 1873, created such a lasting impact on campus and the institution because he was extremely focused on major, long-term scientific issues. In addition to starting the Botanical Garden and nurturing it during his decades at MSU, he also created the famous Beal Seed Experiment, which is the longest running seed experiment in the world. Eventually he took over the management of the MSU Herbarium and expanded the collection from 20,000 specimens to over 100,000.

Today, the herbarium contains over 540,000 specimens and continues to grow daily.

Beal planted the Beal Pinetum on campus and started the Campus Arboretum, as well as planting many of the trees that grow on campus today too!

“He started forestry in the Midwest,” Prather said in an email. “These contributions have all stood the test of time. It has had an immense impact in the fields of agriculture, crop and weed science, forestry, plant biology, etc. and without his hard work and success, MSU would not be one of the world’s leaders in plant science. When he invested his time and energy, great things happened, one of those things being the WJ Beal Botanical Garden.

“From my perspective as a Campus Planner and Landscape Architect (Class of 1982), the garden provides students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors with many positive opportunities,” Stephen Troost said in a statement. E-mail.

According to Troost, students have resources for structured teaching, learning, and research. The garden serves as a place of exploration and engagement with the outdoors in hopes of educating visitors in a collegial, as well as spiritual way.

“The informative staff and narrative panels provide wonderful information about native and non-native plant material in an organized and thoughtful way,” Troost said in an email. “The garden provides a place for quiet contemplation and mental relaxation, all part of a wholesome living experience.”

The garden also helps fulfill the university’s land-grant mission by providing outreach events and resources that any visitor can enjoy.

“Plant collections are grouped by specific subject groups such as plant classification (taxonomy), economic use (medicinal plants, food plants, perfume plants, fiber plants, poisonous plants, dye plants, weeds, Native American food plants, etc.), Michigan endangered and threatened plants, and so on,” Director Emeritus of the WJ Beal Botanical Garden and Campus Arboretum Frank Telewski said in an email. So there are plenty of opportunities for self-directed learning.”

Professor Beal created the garden as a “living outdoor laboratory” for the teaching of botany. When he established the garden in 1873, he was one of the first instructors to encourage and implement the idea of ​​hands-on learning. In the mid-1800s, education was based primarily on book teaching and lectures.

“Professor Beal sought to change that by introducing microscopes into the classroom, now a hands-on experience in the laboratory. The microscope was an expensive scientific instrument at the time, but the cost of microscopes was falling as manufacturing technology increased availability. He designed the garden specifically for students to go into the garden, observe the plants, collect plant parts and take them back to the lab and observe them under the microscope,” Telewski said in an email.

Professor Beal had a quote that read “Keep squinting,” which was his response to students when he asked them to describe what they saw when they looked at a plant. When the student believed he had reported everything he could analyze to Beal, the professor knew that the student still had not seen everything he could report and encouraged him to “keep squint”.

Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and helping fund the future of journalism.

“He wanted to train his students to be ‘careful observers of the world around them,’ a lesson still relevant today and one that the Beal Botanical Garden strives to instill in campus students and visitors from around the world” , Telewski said in an email. .


Share and discuss “The Legacy of the WJ Beal Botanical Garden” on social networks.