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W.J. Beal Botanical Garden’s Spartan Tree Stories

2. The Beal Katsura Tree

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

William J. Beal planted this beautiful katsura, native to Japan. The tree has long been a centerpiece specimen within the heart of the WJ Beal Botanical Garden, but its origin has been a bit of a mystery. Dr. Jane Taylor, founder of the MSU 4H Children's Garden, told me the story of how, in the late 19th century, a professor from MAC was invited to Japan to establish a western style dairy in Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. That professor sent seeds of plants native to Japan back to campus, including this tree. Although I never found verification for this story about the origin of our katsura tree, years later Cynthia Drew Redmon, the daughter of Dr. Drew, (former chair of the Botany Department here at MSU), requested a commemorative bench be placed in the garden in honor of her father and his guidance of the garden in the 1940s and early 1950s. I asked her where she would like to have the bench placed and she replied, “with a view of the katsura tree”. When I asked her why the tree was important to her and her father, she told me the story of her great grandfather William P. Brooks, who was a graduate student of Professor William Smith Clark, the President of Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC), which is now the University of Massachusetts, Amhurst. In 1876, William Clark was invited by the government of Japan to establish the Sapporo Agricultural College. He returned to MAC in 1877. To follow up on Clark’s work, David P. Penhallow and William Brooks were sent to Japan. Between 1877 and 1888 both Penhallow and Brooks sent seeds from Sapporo to MAC where they were grown and planted on campus and shared with the Arnold Arboretum. This included Cercidiphyllum japonicum. It is still unclear if we received the sapling directly or from the Arnold Arboretum. However, Professor Beal did have a close affiliation with the Arnold Arboretum and exchanged plant material with them. This katsura tree was noted in the garden inventory in 1900. In an unrelated development, Professor Beal moved to Amhurst, MA after his retirement to be close to his daughter and her family.

- Dr. Frank W. Telewski
Retired, Director of W. J. Beal Botanical Garden and Campus Arboretum
Professor Emeritus, Department of Plant Biology


The Beal Katsura Tree
The Beal Katsura Tree 
The Beal Katsura Tree 
Photos courtesy of Anna McGuffie.