The Earl G. Maxwell Arboretum
More than 50 years ago one man began to plant trees near a creek that meandered through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus. Today, those oaks and evergreens are a towering woodland and the heart of a unique five-acre area bearing his name - the Earl G. Maxwell Arboretum.
Dedicated as the second site of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Maxwell Arboretum's trees and shrubs provide the greatest diversity of plant species on the campuses. Specialized collections of trees, shrubs, vines and perennial plants, sunny open prairie and trial sites for new cultivars all can be found in this exceptional area of the UNL Botanical Garden and Arboretum.
The Karl Loerch gazebo is an attractive entrance to the Arboretum and offers shady seating for visitors. From the gazebo, paths branch off through the Arboretum where secluded benches and picnic tables offer space for studying, lunching or quiet contemplation.
Each bend of the path brings the revelation of one of the uncommon and beautiful specimen trees and shrubs scattered throughout the Arboretum. A majestic blue ash and unusual chestnut trees shade the Holdrege Street frontage; pawpaw, sweet gum and black gum grow among the oaks near Arbor Creek.
Maxwell Arboretum Collections
A fine group of mature oaks is the centerpiece of the Arboretum. Immense old English and swamp white oaks shade the path. Nearby, sawtooth and columnar pin oaks are among the younger trees that will carry the arboretum into the 21st century. Black oak, shingle oak and shumard oak are among the specimen trees seldom seen in Nebraska.
As you wander the woods, take time to enjoy the hosta collection. Over 80 different cultivars of this excellent shade plant, ranging from tiny dwarfs to giant-leaved varieties, carpet the ground beneath the trees, thriving in the deep shade of mature oak trees. .
Our collection of viburnum cultivars is scattered throughout the woodland. Some grow in the shade of the clear yellow autumn leaves of a sweetgum tree, others surround a secluded bench and are under planted with hostas and Japanese anemones. These versatile shrubs beautify shade with their varied sizes, textures and colors and diverse flowers and fruits.
The handsome vine arbor supports a lovely array of native and introduced vines. From summer into fall the arbor offers a shady, fragrant refuge where the vines can be closely observed.
Mown paths beckon one through the one-acre prairie, where the whirring of insects and the gentle swaying of the big bluestem and Indian grass offer a taste of the immense sea of grass that once covered the Great Plains. Significant native wildflowers and grasses are displayed at the north end of the prairie.
Bold swaths of colorful perennials, shrub roses, hydrangeas and conifers embellish a raised berm while smaller, equally as colorful perennials, border a pool of green grass.
The perennial foliage and flowers displayed on the Fleming Slope are planted into a plastic honeycomb web used to anchor the soil. Their strong forms and contrasting foliage textures show that many perennials can perform beautifully as groundcovers on difficult sites.
April and May are the months to visit the lilacs. Surround yourself with fragrance while enjoying the colors, forms and sizes of the diverse Syringa varieties and cultivars. Flower colors go far beyond the familiar purple and white, ranging from true blue to pink to purple with white edges.
The shade and shelter of the arboretum create a perfect environment for testing rhododendron hardiness, a trait any cultivar must have to survive in Nebraska. New cold-hardy cultivars are constantly being developed and the best are planted for evaluation in the trial collection.
Earl G. Maxwell (1884-1966) was extension forester at the University of Nebraska from 1934 until his retirement in 1954. He was widely known and admired for his leadership in promoting tree planting throughout Nebraska.
Maxwell taught at NU from 1915 to 1917 and in 1918 became the first county extension agent in Douglas County, serving for 12 years. As administrator of the Clarke-McNary Tree Distribution Program for 18 years, he distributed more than 20 million trees to farmers and ranchers in Nebraska.
Trees were not Maxwell's only interest. Friends called him "a searcher for beauty" and "a lover of woody plants and a keen observer of western plains flora." He became one of the state's leading wildflower experts and was a peony fancier whose plants won prizes in flower shows. As an evangelist for tree planting, Maxwell spoke to many garden clubs and civic groups and was known for ending his talks with recitations of poems of James Whitcomb Riley.
Maxwell died in 1966 at the age of 82.