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Strong Wind Knocks Down Old Willow

Update, 6:45 p.m.: Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant intends on replanting the next generation of Old Willow on campus in the future, according to a statement from the department.

OPP said Penn State arborists and landscape construction crews took “extra precautions” to ensure obtained cuttings from the fallen Old Willow would survive. Those cuttings will be grown and tended to at Penn State’s tree nursery.

Once one offshoot reaches a mature height, the fourth generation of Old Willow will make its debut on campus with approval from the University Tree Commission.

“The tree with the nicest form will be selected to be used on campus,” said Curtis Ruyan, an OPP horticulture supervisor. “Since it is a rooted cutting, it will be a clonal variety to carry on the tradition.”

Runyan said it could take a while before Old Willow makes its return. However, he noted willows grow fast, and a sample substantial enough to survive “the busy university environment” could be ready in four to five years.

Original Story: Penn State lost a beloved campus landmark Friday afternoon due to strong winds in the area.

Old Willow, whose storied history can be traced all the way back to the late 1850s, was knocked down by wind gusts Friday. Crews were on-site near Old Main to assist in cleanup efforts and eventually begin chopping up the tree’s remains.

“The loss of the Old Willow is a tremendous loss for campus that is tied to a long tradition,” said Bill Sitzabee, Penn State’s vice president of facilities management and planning and chief facilities officer.

According to AccuWeather, Friday’s forecast calls for sustained winds of near 20 mph with gusts topping out near 55 mph.

Although the legends disagree on exactly how the landmark began, the most widely accepted tale says Old Willow grew from a cutting obtained by former Penn State President Evan Pugh from the home of British poet Alexander Pope. Once Pugh brought it back and planted it, Old Willow quickly became known as one of Penn State’s first historic symbols.

This is far from the first obstacle Old Willow (and its ancestors) have faced. It’s been replanted a handful of times over the years using saplings from the very first tree, which fell during a strong storm in August 1923.

Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant did not immediately respond to a request for comment on potential plans to replant Old Willow.

However, Mount Nittany Conservancy already offered to lend a hand to bring back the campus icon in the future. Penn State Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford said on Twitter the organization is working to preserve Old Willow’s wood “for future projects.”

In 2014, Old Willow was honored with a new landmark plaque that delves into its history a bit more. It reads:

For decades, freshmen bowed to Old Willow as Penn State’s oldest living tradition. Legend claims that when Penn State’s first president, Evan Pugh, returned from a six-year sojourn in Europe, he brought back an off-shoot of a willow from the famous garden and grotto of English poet Alexander Pope. This sapling was planted on the Allen Street Mall, near Sackett Building, by Professor William Waring in 1859. Waring was the first superintendent of farms and grounds and was charged with the layout of roads, buildings, orchards, and landscaping. After wind felled the tree in 1923, an off-shoot of this tree grew until the late 1970s, when this third-generation tree was planted.

A handful of Old Willow’s descendants can be found at the Arboretum or even the homes of some former Penn State trustees, including Anne Riley and George Henning. Hopefully, an offshoot could find its away back onto campus sometime soon.

We’ll update this post with more information as it becomes available.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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