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M-oving Forward

7 Facts About Famous Floral Landmark as It Takes Root in New Home

By Annie Dankelson

Two red M Circles on UMD campus

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

UMD has never been M-less, with the original landmark remaining while work finished on the new one, which was sodded today.

After acting as the backdrop for countless Terp graduation photos over more than four decades, one of UMD’s most iconic landmarks is commencing a new chapter of its own.

The M Circle, created in 1976 in the traffic circle at the intersection of Campus and Regents drives, has settled into its new home across the street, in front of the Mitchell Building. The floral M shifted to make way for the light-rail Purple Line, which will link New Carrollton to Bethesda and include five stops on or near campus.

Despite the move, UMD has never been M-less, with the original landmark remaining while the granite and lights were installed, the sod was set and the flowers were planted on the other. With the new M complete, the flowers will soon be removed from the old one, though the original circle itself will remain for now.

As the transformation becomes official and the university marks this milestone, we commemorate—com-M-orate?—the occasion with these facts about the famous feature:

1. An M for the USA
The M Circle was introduced to campus in 1976 to celebrate America’s bicentennial. The physical plant department (now Facilities Management) worked to elevate the upper portion of the traffic circle 9 feet, form a 33-foot-wide, 34-foot-long Gothic M out of railroad ties and fill it with red and white petunias raised by the horticulture department—a $5,000 project, according to archives of The Diamondback.

2. Terp Terminology
It didn’t take long for the M to enter into Terps’ collective consciousness. Two years after its formation, “M” was included in a glossary of sorts to help incoming students get up to speed on the talk of the town. Also included: the Mall, the Row and the often-mispronounced Taliaferro Hall. 

3. Landmark a Slam Dunk
Besides brightly greeting campus visitors and making for a great photo op, the M Circle even reportedly helped convince a highly coveted athlete to call UMD home. “(My aunt) told me not to worry—that I’d go visit a school and would know that it was the place for me,” women’s basketball player Kris Kirchner, whose name is now all over the Terp record books, said in The Diamondback in 1978. “When I saw the ‘M’ in the flowers here, it hit me.”

4. Classes of 1986, ’87 Light the Way
Class gifts to UMD have often involved campus landmarks, like the sundial (classes of 1965 and 1990), the Jim Henson ’60 and Kermit the Frog statue and garden (classes of 1994, 1998 and 1999) and, of course, the original Testudo statue (Class of 1933). For their gifts, the classes of both 1986 and 1987 contributed lights to let the M Circle shine at night. New lights, including uplighting, have since been installed around the second M.

5. Zooming Around
Z-O-O temporarily joined the fun on the M Circle in 2001, part of the university’s “ZOOM!” brand campaign, similar to today’s “Fear the Turtle” or “Fearless Ideas.” The initiative focused on how UMD had “zoomed” forward in student and program rankings and celebrated academic and athletic progress and success.

6. Planting Seeds of Pride
Making the M bloom—the goal for both the old and new M’s—is no small task. More than 850 flowers are planted twice a year, a job that takes four to five landscape maintenance workers a full day; the landmark typically features yellow pansies in the fall and red begonias in the summer. Lining up the plants so they fill the M-shaped space just right is a “meticulous task,” said UMD horticulturist R. Scott Rupert.

7. A One-of-a-Kind M&M
Because UMD never wanted to be without its beloved landmark, two M’s have been temporarily visible on campus in recent months, with the original blooming in the background as work moved along to bring the new one to life. So no, you’re not seeing double!

Flip through the gallery below to see how the M has transformed over the years:

1 of 6

M Circle Construction circa1970 1920x1080

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