The McAlester Arboretum features 25 acres of some of the most unique trees and plants in the country, including one of the largest collections of named cultivars of Oaks and Redbuds west of the Mississippi River.
The Arboretum is arranged along the Mike Deak Walking Track, a 1-mile track around the McAlester Public Schools’ Mike Deak Baseball Field and city soccer and softball fields on the south side of McAlester. The track is along 13th Street from Franklin Avenue on the north to McArthur Lane on the south.
The Arboretum was started in 1981 by a group of Boy Scouts as a “bucket brigade” in which the pine trees they planted were watered by buckets. Later, a shade-tree project for the city’s walking track grew to what today encompasses more than 750 trees and other plants.
The trees at the Arboretum include Oaks, Redbuds, Elms, Maples, Ginkgos, Evergreens, Cypresses, Sweetgums, Aspens, Birches and Willows. McAlester Land Maintenance Supervisor Sherman Miller believes the Arboretum’s 62 named cultivars of Oaks and 32 of Redbuds represent the largest collection of the trees in the region.
The McAlester Arboretum’s collection is so unique and varied that it draws experts from throughout the nation to tour, test and share its plantings.
The Redbud is the most popular of the trees at the McAlester Arboretum, with many varieties planted along the northeastern boundary of the track along 13th Street. The Rising Sun Redbud is particularly spectacular, with leaves of apricot, chartreuse and shades of green as they mature. This tree is directly behind the McAlester Arboretum sign on 13th Street.
Tall, spindly Burr Oaks are among the newest trees to the McAlester Arboretum, while the rare Contorted Oak is one that will never be seen on the general market. Also offered is a Weeping Cedar of Lebanon, more than 30 varieties of Maples, and Arizona Cypresses in an array of colors.
Tours of the Arboretum are offered to the general public and the facility serves as a Living Classroom for the botany class at Eastern Oklahoma State College as well as the Oklahoma State Forestry Service and the Oklahoma State University Extension Service.
To schedule a tour of the McAlester Arboretum, call the city’s Parks and Recreation Department at 918-421-4922.
The Arboretum is also a test garden for the Oklahoma State University’s Horticulture Department and nurseries from nine states around the country. As a test garden, plants and seeds are sent to the McAlester facility where they are planted and tracked for hardiness, viability and marketability. That’s why you can find trees at the Arboretum that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Some of the plants haven’t even been named when they are sent to McAlester. Quarterly progress reports about the test plantings are filed with those testing at the McAlester Arboretum.
The Arboretum also shares its plantings with nurseries around the country. The collaborative exchange of seeds and cuttings allows growers to experiment with cultivations in McAlester while the city accepts test plants for the Arboretum as well as plant and tree donations for the walking track and for residents.
The McAlester Arboretum hosts a tree give-away each fall for city residents. The trees are donated through the McAlester Tree Board by various nurseries. The give-away of about 150 free trees includes a planting seminar taught by city experts on the proper planting and care of the new trees.
Other donations helped replace many of the McAlester Arboretum trees lost during ice storms over the past decade. Nearly all of the Arboretum’s trees were killed during one ice storm or the other, and were replaced with the donations combined with McAlester Tree Board and City of McAlester purchases.
Trees at the McAlester Arboretum are replaced as new types become more popular or trees are lost to weather, disease or vandalism. When the McAlester Arboretum was first planted, Pin Oaks and Bradford Pears were popular and were among those chosen for the city project. Today, there is a wide variety: flowering, variegated, popular, unique, columnar and wide. New trees are added each year.
Local nurseries and others frequently inquire about trees and other plantings at the McAlester Arboretum that residents have seen and would like to use at their homes. The city uses small metal naming signs made at the city’s sign shop to identify various trees by their popular and botanical names along with the year planted.
Additionally, the McAlester Arboretum is part of a memorial setting for residents. Donors may select a tree and purchase a memorial plaque of their choosing for installation by the city. In turn, a donation is requested to the McAlester Tree Board.