Milliken legacy is visible in Spartanburg arboreta

Kevin Parris often reminds his students in the horticulture program at Spartanburg (SC) Community College how lucky they are to study within a short drive of five arboreta. “I tell them every year, you can’t go to a university in this country that has access to the grounds that we do within a stone’s throw and see mature tree specimens,” Parris said.

In addition to the Spartanburg Community College Arboretum that Parris oversees on SCC’s campus, he can also take students to the Milliken Arboretum at the Roger Milliken Center, the Roger Milliken Arboretum at Wofford College, the Hatcher Garden & Woodland Preserve and the Susan Jacobs Arboretum on the campus of the University of South Carolina Upstate.

These five entities have collectively referred to their community as “Arboretaville” at times. “We know we’ve got kind of a hidden treasure,” Parris said.

Three of these arboreta—Milliken Arboretum, Spartanburg Community College and Wofford College—maintain active profiles on Plants Map, and continue to load plants to those profiles because of the potential to reach more visitors, students and supporters.

How did Spartanburg, S.C. end up with such a rich collection of arboreta? Parris points to one man.

Roger Milliken (1915 – 2010), CEO of the Spartanburg-headquartered Milliken & Company from 1947 until 2005, understood how nature could serve as a visual representation of his company’s commitment to environmentally responsible manufacturing.

The effects of that philosophy reached beyond his own 600-acre corporate campus into the wider Spartanburg community.

“He was able over the course of his life to encourage the business community to upgrade their landscapes,” Parris said. “Anybody who wanted to be in Mr. Milliken’s circle and follow his lead wanted to do good landscaping.”

Milliken & Company’s Paul Pruitt said that when new schools or other public improvement projects were in the works around the city, “He would take an active role in donating or supporting landscaping for that project. His enthusiasm for public improvement encouraged others to follow his lead.”

Milliken Arboretum

‘Green Vase’ Japanese Zelkova

The 600-acre Roger Milliken Center campus is one of the largest corporate greenspaces in the Southeast.

A former peach orchard, the land has been meticulously cared for and managed since the campus was started in 1958—an age before sustainability and environmentally certified practices were on many businesses’ radars.

The campus includes a 300-acre arboretum that is open to the public. Milliken & Company even added an extra lane to a public road to accommodate the vehicles of visitors coming to stroll the grounds, run the 5k trail or feed the ducks and fish in some of the ponds on campus.

Pruitt says one of the most striking aspects of the arboretum is not only its variety, with 500 different trees and shrubs, but also the large groupings of mature specimens, which create a visual impact visitors don’t soon forget.

Along one entrance, two rows of ‘Shawnee Brave’ Bald Cypress create a scenic avenue. Forty ‘Green Vase’ Japanese Zelkova dating to the late 1980s delineate another walkway on campus. “They are absolutely gorgeous,” Pruitt says.

‘Milliken’ Chinese Elm

The ‘Milliken’ Chinese elm, a cultivar named for Milliken himself, is evidence of the man’s enthusiasm for trees and the role they can play in beautifying the environments of everyday life.

Some of the trees at the Milliken Arboretum came from a partnership with Oregon-based J. Frank Schmidt & Sons nursery. Starting in 1989, the nursery shipped 30 or so trees to Milliken each year to see how they fared in Spartanburg’s climate.

One of the most recent recommendations from Schmidt & Sons is a grouping of 58 ‘Emerald City’ tulip trees, bred for their slender, straight trunks. These were planted in 2012.

Pruitt said the Roger Milliken Center campus is an example of the company’s approach to sustainability. “Our emphasis on sustainability has helped position us as a company known for doing good,” he said. Milliken & Company has been included for the past 11 years on Ethisphere Institute’s list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

The company composts food waste from its cafeteria and diverts nearly all waste from its campuses worldwide from landfills.

The arboretum at its Spartanburg headquarters is one very visible example of that commitment. “We have designed the arboretum to be around for generations to come,” Pruitt said, “as a reflection of the impact we have on the world.”

That impact also extends to the local community. The entire campus of Wofford College was named the Roger Milliken Arboretum in 2008, because of the Milliken’s service to the school. “If you look at that campus, you see a number of tributes to his legacy,” Pruitt said.

Planting for the future

At Spartanburg Community College, Parris considers his entire campus to be the school’s arboretum. “I’ve got faculty who ask, ‘Where’s the arboretum?’ I say, ‘You’re in it,’” Parris said.

His presence on campus taking pictures of plants to add to the school’s Plants Map profile, and his ability to share this Web-based record of the campus landscape, has helped him build awareness, he said. “It’s really half a century of student projects that continues to grow,” he said. “We draw our inspiration from botanic gardens and put as much of the diversity we see in the region on campus.”

Parris is completing a dissertation on the hybridization of magnolias, and has added many to the SCC arboretum. “It’s my intent to have more taxa of magnolia in our collection than any location in the country,” he said. He has organized those on campus into their own collection on Plants Map.

Through his involvement with the Magnolia Society, Parris has brought visitors to his campus from Japan, Korea, Vietnam, China, England, the Netherlands and France.

For both visitors and community residents, Parris and Pruitt both said the concentration of arboreta in Spartanburg are a true asset to the community. “We feel pretty strongly that the arboreta really encourage our community to explore the outdoors and engage in active living,” Pruitt said. “It really tangibly represents the entire community’s commitment to the environment.”

To learn more, follow Spartanburg Community College Arboretum, Milliken & Company and Wofford College on Plants Map.

Also see from the Milliken Blog: Investing in the Future through the Milliken Arboretum