Grounds on campus

Rice University itself is a designated arboretum, The Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum. Named in honor of the Houston horticulturist often described as the founder of the native plants movement in Texas, The Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum is a teaching and research resource of Rice University. Specifically, The Lowrey Arboretum consists of a collection of woody plants dispersed throughout the Rice University campus that represents native and introduced species suitable to the soils and climate of the Houston area. The project of the Lowrey Arboretum is a remnant of a riparian woodland on the banks of Harris Gully. Through plantings of native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs, Rice seeks to create a replica of a natural system once widespread in the Houston area. As a designated arboretum, Rice’s primary mission is to maintain the environment and landscape that currently exists on campus.

As such, Rice’s Facilities, Engineering and Planning department goes to great lengths to uphold the standards of sustainable landscape management. The following are a number of strategies employed by the university:

Grasscycling—Instead of collecting and disposing of grass clippings, Rice employs “grasscycling” by leaving grass clippings on the lawn when mowing. These clippings decompose and return valuable nutrients to the soil. Furthermore, any leaf and branch material that is gathered is kept on-campus and reused.

Green Roofs—Rice University boasts a number of buildings with green roofs, including the South Plant, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) and the Duncan and McMurtry residential colleges. These green roofs cover an impressive 11,000 square feet and work to keep the buildings cooler while conserving energy.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—Pest control is based on IPM principles to minimize chemical use and toxicity in managing pests. Specifically, Rice has outlined its own mission for IPM and follows the IPM strategies for turfgrass and ornamentals that were developed by Texas A&M’s Department of Entomology and published in 2014. You can see the plan here.

Local Purchasing—The large majority of Rice’s plant material comes from within a 100-150 mile radius of the campus so as to reduce the transportation costs and thereby reduce the environmental impacts.

Organic Soils—Rice utilizes Hou-Actinite, a recycled sewage sludge derived from activated waste water. It is a naturally nutrient-rich, slow-release organic fertilizer. The slow-release characteristics reduce its risk of burning and leaching from over watering.

Porous Paving—Out of the 19 miles of sidewalks and paths on Rice’s campus, there are 0.8 miles of pervious sidewalks, and four miles of granite sidewalks and parking lots. Thus, about one-fourth of Rice’s campus employs porous paving.

Promoting Native Species—Rice itself is designated as the Lynn R. Lowery Arboretum, and as such, there is an Arboretum Committee that advises new projects with regards to the landscape selections. Although the Arboretum Committee does not have the ability to reject a design, it certainly reviews the designs and gives its opinions. Overall, the committee tries to promote native plants and plant species that are well-adapted to Houston’s climate, as well as identify appropriate species that will add to the biodiversity on Rice’s campus. In the Harris Gully Natural Area, for example, a number of invasive plants have been removed in an effort to encourage native species and restore the space to its original ecology. The Texas wildflowers that are sown in the area each spring have thrived, making this location stunning and diverse. On other parts of campus, native grasses and drought-resistant plants have been used, including on top of Rice’s green roofs.

Tree Care—The Arbor Day Foundation has designated Rice University as a "Tree Campus USA" for taking care of its more than 4,600 trees. In order to earn the Tree Campus USA recognition, Rice upholds three core standards of tree care, including a campus tree advisory committee; a campus tree-care plan; and a dedicated annual expenditures for the campus tree-care plan.