Personal tools
You are here: Home Museum Founders W. B. Alwood The First Arboretum at VPI - Planting the Alwood Oak

W. B. Alwood

William Bradford Alwood was an early pioneer of pest management and fruit culture. He was referred to by his peers during his era as father of Virginia horticulture, the savior of the Virginia fruit industry, and a worldwide expert in pomology, viticulture, enology, and pest management. At Virginia Tech he is regarded as the father of our horticulture and pest management disciplines and as one of the University's greatest scientists.

The First Arboretum at VPI - Planting the Alwood Oak

In a 1932 letter to Dean Harvey L. Price, Alwood stated that he planted many of the first trees on the VPI campus. He not only planted the trees, but he cataloged the trees and photographed them. The photographs were donated to the plant pathology and bacteriology department sometime after the letter was written.

In Templeton's history of the cadet life (Bugle Echos) between 1891 and 1894, more than a 1,000 additional trees were planted on the campus. Spruces and junipers were set out in front of the academic buildings, and maples were planted in rows to shade the roads. The line of maples from the First Academic Building was extended to the Old Mil at the foot of campus. Professor Alwood of the Horticulture Department took over the project and set out a line of saplings for each side of the new Faculty Row road.


A reply to Alwood was written by S. A. Wingard* on behalf of H. L. Price referring to the importance of Alwood's pioneering work in plant pathology and accepting the photographs. Alwood sent the photographs to Wingard after the response. Wingard indicated that the photographs would be valuable for college publicity. The collection now resides in the Virginia Tech Newman Library Special Collections in the A.B. Massey photo collection. It consists of a set of 80 photographs, a typed index, and Alwood's original field notes. The inventory documents the planting of over a hundred trees on the campus in the late 1890s by Alwood and his staff. One tree in particular is important in this inventory. Tree number 66 was a bur oak** planted at the site of the old agricultural experiment station. Alwood took the photograph on September 11, 1902 when the tree was 7 years old. There is very good reason to believe that today that tree is the only living member of Alwood's inventory. This (now) very large bur oak stands in front of Burruss Hall as a prominent icon of the campus. Several photographs of the tree can be viewed to your right.


*[In the letter, Wingard also credited Alwood with using a weak solution of Bordeaux mixture (2-4-50) 31 years before this method was discovered by others.]

**Bur oaks are unique trees in Virginia. Quercus macrocarpa is native to the mid-western states such as Ohio where Alwood grew up. It is very possible that Alwood had the acorns (or seedling trees) of the Alwood bur oak sent from his family in Ohio. The Alwood family (brother, John Alcester Alwood) owned a very large nursery near the Ohio State University campus in Columbus. The lands were gradually sold to the university between 1906 to 1950. In the Ohio State archives the locations are recorded as the Annie J. Alwood House, the Lisle Farm, and the Alwood Greenhouses, all on Olentangy River Road. Alwood may have germinated the acorns in the station greenhouse and planted the seedling from these acorns (or seedlings were sent from the nursery) on campus. Making this story even more interesting is that there are five other bur oaks, of about the same age as the tree planted at the station, planted in the Grove (the grounds surrounding the president's home).

Re: Experts check health of Virginia Tech' trees. Roanoke Times & World News, 08/17/10.
Addendum:  In a discussion with Alwood's grandson, Richard, in 2015, we learned that Professor Alwood collected acorns from a burr oak on the family farm in Delta, Ohio. These acorns were brought to Blacksburg around 1895 and germinated in the experiment station greenhouse. The trees were then planted on campus.

Copyright, 2011, M. J. Weaver. All rights reserved and protected under the Berne Convention Implementation Act, amending the 1976 Copyright Act to conform to most of the provisions of the Berne Convention.
Document Actions

On April 8, 2011, the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (MAC-ISA) sent its dream team of arborists to Blacksburg to conduct maintenance on the Alwood Oak. The group had met earlier to work with Eric Wiseman, Assistant Professor and Urban Forester at Virginia Tech (College of Natural Resources) to develop a comprehensive plan for the tree. The team installed cabling to reinforce the tree against weather extremes.  It also (thanks to Bartlett Tree Experts) installed a state-of-the-art lightning protection system in the tree. The group inspected the tree for rot and removed over two pick-up trucks full of dead wood from the tree. They pronounced the tree in good health, although with some noticeable problems. The tree is suffering from root damage from nearby roads, sidewalks, foot traffic, and electrical lines intruding into the root zone. This will have to be watched and a plan was established to aerate the roots and expand the mulch area under the tree.  Virginia Tech is eternally grateful to this group for the work they did and continue to do to preserve the tree!

cals logo VCE logo