The University of Wisconsin Press

Environment / History / Wisconsin

Pioneers of Ecological Restoration
The People and the Legacy of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum
Franklin E. Court

Wisconsin Land and Life
Arnold Alanen, Series Editor

A rich history of pioneers who shaped an ecological mission to restore tallgrass prairies, forests, and wetlands

Internationally renowned for its pioneering role in the ecological restoration of tallgrass prairies, savannas, forests, and wetlands, the University of Wisconsin Arboretum contains the world’s oldest and most diverse restored ecological communities. A site for land restoration research, public environmental education, and enjoyment by nature lovers, the arboretum remains a vibrant treasure in the heart of Madison’s urban environment.

Pioneers of Ecological Restoration chronicles the history of the arboretum and the people who created, shaped, and sustained it up to the present. Although the arboretum was established by the University of Wisconsin in 1932, author Franklin E. Court begins his history in 1910 with John Nolen, the famous landscape architect who was invited to create plans for the city of Madison, the university campus, and Wisconsin state parks. Drawing extensive details from archives and interviews, Court follows decades of collaborative work related to the arboretum’s lands, including the early efforts of Madison philanthropists and businessmen Michael Olbrich, Paul E. Stark, and Joseph W. “Bud” Jackson.

With labor from the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s Depression, University of Wisconsin scientists began establishing both a traditional horticultural collection of trees and plants and a completely new, visionary approach to recreate native ecosystems. Hundreds of dedicated scientists and staff have carried forward the arboretum’s mission in the decades since, among them G. William Longenecker Aldo Leopold, John T. Curtis, Rosemary Fleming, Virginia Kline, and William R. Jordan III.

This archival record of the arboretum’s history provides rare insights into how the mission of healing and restoring the land gradually shaped the arboretum’s future and its global reputation; how philosophical conflicts, campus politics, changing priorities, and the encroaching city have affected the arboretum over the decades; and how early aspirations (some still unrealized) have continued to motivate the work of this extraordinary institution.

Franklin E. Court has volunteered at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum since 2007 and has given numerous presentations on its history. He is emeritus professor of English at Northern Illinois University.


Wisconsin Public Television talk:



“Court's history of the UW Arboretum is fascinating in its detailed depiction of some of the giants of ecological restoration, but is also an important reflection on the struggles of establishing, defining, and maintaining a new branch of science in an urban setting.”
Natural Areas Journal

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Of Related Interest:
The cover of this book features a photo of Aldo Leopold, and mentions the appreciation by Wendell Berry.Aldo Leopold
His Life and Work
Curt Meine
With a new preface by the author and an appreciation by Wendell Berry
“An excellent, full-length biography of a figure central to the environmental history of the United States.” —Science

White cover has several images of the arboretum and portraits of the people who made it possible

April 2012
LC: 2011041958 QK
336 pp.   6 x 9  
23 b/w photos, 2 maps

Book icon Paper $29.95 a
ISBN 978-0-299-28664-4
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“A very substantial overview of the history of the arboretum, with an emphasis on the people who conceived of it and worked to develop it. I learned a great deal.”
—Paul H. Zedler, University of Wisconsin–Madison

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Updated March 18, 2014

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