Vanderbilt’s magnolia trees and the women who planted them

magnolia blossoms on campus


Did you know that the Southern magnolia is one of the most common trees on campus—and that it’s thanks to the efforts of Margaret Branscomb, president of the Vanderbilt Women’s Garden Club from 1952 to 1954?    

Margaret Branscomb shared her love of magnolias by planting them across campus to add beauty and greenery amid the construction boom of 17 buildings in 17 years overseen by her husband, then-Chancellor Harvie Branscomb.   

Margaret Branscomb is flanked by her son Lewis Branscomb, a Vanderbilt trustee emeritus, and her husband, Chancellor Emeritus Harvie Branscomb, at the unveiling of the statue in 1985. (Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections & University Archives)

In 1985, a bronze statue of Margaret Branscomb was installed underneath a magnolia to honor her and the other women of the garden club, who were instrumental in planting not just trees like this one, but also other trees, shrubs and flowers that helped establish the park-like setting of campus. Due to its large size compared with others on campus, this Southern magnolia is likely to have been one of the original trees planted by Bishop McTyeire at Vanderbilt’s founding and may well have been the inspiration for Margaret to spread their beauty across our campus.    

How many magnolias did you walk past today? Next time you pass by the statue of Margaret Branscomb, give her a moment of appreciation. 

Learn more about the many trees on campus on the Vanderbilt Arboretum website