Students Plant ‘Smoking Hot Sycamores’ and Other Trees around Campus Paths

Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)
Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)

If there’s one thing that can be said of St. Mary’s students, it’s that we don’t lack concern for the environment.  While the rest of the community was huddled inside early Saturday morning avoiding the cold, rainy weather, about 15 students met at the Campus Center to take action and support the environment by getting their hands dirty planting trees.

The project of planting 250 native trees around campus was sponsored by EcoHouse, the Sustainability Committee, the Grounds Crew, the Critical Area Commission, and the Office of Planning and Facilities.  The planting was part of the College’s Buffer Management Strategy, which specifically works to make the College have ecologically sound buffers while also preserving important campus viewsheds.

Emily Saari, a sophomore EcoHouse member, helped bring the project into fruition when she proposed the idea to Dan Branigan, the Director of Design and Construction on campus.

“I suggested it as a way for EcoHousers to get credit for a community outreach project, and he was very open to the idea,” said Saari. “It’s really good to see it getting off the ground.”

The students helped plant trees in three locations across campus: below the grassy hill across from the campus center, around the pine forest beside Queen Anne, and in the small field beside the path to Dorchester.  Upon arrival, students were given shovels, potted saplings, and directions on how to properly plant the American sycamores, dogwoods, and other types of native trees.  In the end, the rainy weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise since it made the ground soft for digging, and the better-than-expected student turnout allowed the project to be completed an hour earlier than planned.

Senior Liahna Gonda-King helped plant five trees with Senior Cynthia Lawson for the project.  She said, “It’s really nice that our campus is actively trying to sustain the environment instead of just talking about it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by all in attendance, eager to improve the campus’s environmental health.  Senior biology major Stacey Meyer said of the project: “They’ve been doing so much construction on campus lately, it’s nice to see some greening making up for it.”

Knowledge of the tree-planting project was spread by Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall, who rallied support for the initiative with his all-student emails.  In them, he stressed the importance of greening the campus.

“These trees will help shore up our shorelines, improve our storm water management, create more habitats for native organisms and make our campus even more beautiful than it already is,” his email said. “Think of how cool it will be when you come back 20 years from now and say to your kids/spouse/in-laws, ‘I planted that smoking hot sycamore right there, and that radical eastern redbud over yonder.’”

Regarding his personal view of the project, Hall said, “I was excited to say the least, and anxious to help get more people involved and get the plants in the ground!”

Hall said that the native trees that were planted have evolved in the campus ecosystems, and therefore use the water and nutrient availability of the area optimally and are resistant to natural diseases and pests. According to Hall, they will provide the best habitat for other organisms and should do very well. He said that naturally there will be some “thinning” as the trees establish themselves, but “we took that into account when planting them.”

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