LSU Hilltop Arboretum. Photo by Luis Ayala.

Sharing Hilltop Arboretum’s hidden secrets

Already treasured by local nature lovers, the LSU Hilltop Arboretum has recently branched out onto the national stage. The destination was recently named one of the 50 most beautiful college arboretums in America by Best College Reviews.

The 14-acre property on Highland Road sustains more than 150 species of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, along with environmentally sensitive buildings designed to complement their natural surroundings.

Much of the garden, which was donated to the university by Emory and Annette Smith in 1981, traces its roots to 1929, when the couple first bought the plot to house the plants they had collected during their travels across Louisiana. At least one of these original—and most unusual—trees has even been registered in its cultivator’s name.

“The Emory Smith Southern Magnolia is a standout feature of the arboretum,” says Hilltop executive director Peggy Davis. “It’s 80 feet tall today, growing straight up like a column by the bridge near the entrance.”

According to Davis, the Smith family had always admired the beauty of nature, but the light through forest leaves also struck something deeper in Emory. While postmaster at LSU, he decided one night to attend a lecture about European cathedrals. After that, he began to envision his trees like high walls around grassy rooms, passages like connected hallways, and old trunks like pillars around a central path.

But one thing is certain: the trees have no creed, and visitors may enjoy their company free of charge any day of the week, from dawn until dusk. Whether you are a student conducting research or a passerby in the shade, the Hilltop Arboretum is a prize for the whole city.

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