Renewing a Campus Treasure

The Coker arbor draped with native wisteria, blooming with purple flowers
The existing arbor at Coker Arboretum draped with American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), a southeastern native vine.

The length of a football field, the 300-foot wooden arbor at Coker Arboretum is an iconic site on the University of North Carolina campus. Draped with native flowering vines, this shady arbor parallels Cameron Avenue in the heart of the University.

The arbor was last replaced 25 years ago, and some of the black locust timbers have begun to deteriorate. In addition, the walkway under the arbor ends in a flight of stairs that makes the path inaccessible to many community members.

UNC Facilities Planning and Design and the North Carolina Botanical Garden are joining together to renovate this campus treasure so that it is accessible and enjoyable for students and community members for years to come.

The new walkway will have a new, sloping grade, roughly parallel with the street on Cameron Avenue. In addition to better accessibility, this will mean greater visibility for public safety officers and community members in the Arboretum.

We are working with Andropogon Associates to develop the design plan for the future arbor. From community meetings about this project, we know it’s important the structure maintain its rustic character and the play of light and shadow in the space. The stone gathering circle to the side of the arbor will remain in place, and the new arbor and walkway will connect to it.

Tentative Timeline

Note: This timeline is subject to change. Stay tuned for updates!

October – November 2022: Removal of vegetation from existing arbor
Mid-late December 2022: Walkway closed for demolition of arbor
Early January 2023: Walkway reopens
Spring – Summer 2024: Walkway closed again for construction: grading, pouring footings, resurfacing walkway; building arbor
Fall 2024: Replanting vine collection and adjacent landscapes

Support the Arbor Restoration

Help us rebuild this campus treasure!

For questions about making a gift, contact Stephen Keith at 919-962-9458.

Class of 1997

Arbor Restoration Fund

Give now or Click Here to learn more about the Class of 1997 class gift.


The Coker arbor on April 11, 1922. Courtesy of the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives at UNC.

In 1903, Dr. William Chambers Coker, the University’s first Professor of Botany and the first chair of the University Buildings and Grounds Committee, began developing a five-acre boggy pasture into an outdoor University classroom for the study of trees, shrubs, and vines native to North Carolina.

The arbor at the south end of the arboretum was donated in 1911. Built of  native black locust logs, it was planted with Carolina jessamine and American, Japanese, and Chinese wisteria (the latter eventually took over). The 1974 version of the arbor succumbed to rot and to damage from Hurricane Fran (1996).

Thanks to a gift from the UNC-Chapel Hill Class of 1997, it was rebuilt, again using black locust, and raised a foot taller. A central entry with a stone gathering circle was created at this time. In keeping with NCBG’s focus on native plants, the new arbor was planted with ten species or cultivars of native vines.