Plants on Campus

Plants on Campus

When I was choosing a college, there was one aspect of Caltech which I could not get out my head. It wasn’t its rigorous academics, its world-renowned research, or even its number one rank by Times Higher Education. In fact, the strongest pull I felt from Caltech had nothing to do with education at all. I was in love with the plants.

I visited Caltech in the spring, when the orange trees lining the walkway by the South Houses are laden with fruit and fill the air with a delicate perfume, when purple blossoms dangle like grapes from the wisteria vines covering the archways around Millikan Library, and fluffy layers peel from the peach-skinned trunks of gum trees towering into the electric blue sky. A year later, everything is blooming again, so let’s take a tour.

We’ll start in the southwest corner of campus, bounded by East California Boulevard and Wilson Avenue. Walking up Wilson, we’ll soon have a direct view of Millikan Library on our right. It’s the tallest building in Pasadena, but only two of the nine floors of this “library” actually store books. Heading towards it, we’ll walk between two archways covered with wisteria. Entwined with each other and clinging to the stucco walls, the wisteria vines blindly grope for support in the sky.

Just around Millikan Library, we’ll be met with roses erupting in a volcano of color.

We’ll continue east, past the turtle pond and the real library, Sherman Fairchild, until we arrive on the Olive Walk. Once upon a time, some students made olive oil from the trees along this path. I think some can be bought today. Our next stop is the Orange Walk, Caltech’s own orange grove. Most of the fruit here will make you pucker, but the first tree on the right produces yellow-skinned citrus that’s mildly sweet—and may actually be grapefruit.

Beside the Orange Walk is the block of South Houses, with Fleming and Dabney alongside one row of trees. We’ll turn left, passing the North Houses and then Chandler Café, and stop in front of Jorgenson Laboratory, which houses the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. Outside, lavender flowers sway on soft, gray-green stems.

We’ll go left again here and head back across campus to our last stop, the lily pond. As we pass Sherman Fairchild Library again, we’ll catch a glimpse of the turtle pond on the other side. Now imagine one of those turtles crawling all the way over to us and continuing for the remaining hundred meters to the lily pond—or don’t, because it’s actually happened. Who knows how the turtles found it so far from their home, or how they got past its raised concrete walls.

This concludes our tour—hope it gave you a feel for campus!