Urban Trees, Human Impact on Nature

On Wednesday, April 4, Richard Olsen, a Research Geneticist from the National Arboretum, visited St. Mary’s to present his lecture called “The Urban Forest.” Olsen discussed the evolution of trees over the years in urban, rural, and suburban areas. This Natural Science and Mathematics (NS&M) Colloquium was co-sponsored by the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association.

“I’m trying to make this more of a philosophical, fun talk today,” began Olsen. His presentation consisted entirely of photographs as he spoke freely about them. He started off his lecture by talking about root systems of trees and how they work.

“After a storm, we see trees fall over, and we see a pancake of a root system,” he said about the structure of roots. Ninety percent of the root system of a tree is in the top 18 inches of the soil. He showed pictures of effective and ineffective ways of planting trees, and how ineffective ways can lead to girdling roots, which can ultimately kill a tree.

“We’re setting up our urban forest for disaster,” said Olsen as he showed pictures of trees planted directly below power lines. Their top branches will eventually have to be trimmed or cut off, which is not good for the tree.

Olsen explained that the 400 year old dogma of planting urban trees in symmetrical lines along the side of a road needs to be abandoned. Trees need more space to grow.

“We weren’t planting trees in cities until the 1600s,” said Olsen. This is because at that point in time, cities were smaller and usually surrounded by trees, so there was no reason to plant more of them in the city. Poplar trees were the first type of popular street trees in the United States. They symmetrically lined the original Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Just like expecting them to be symmetrical in layout, building planners also expect trees to look the same. “If you grow things from seeds, you have all sort of different growth rates,” said Olsen. However, if clones are used, every tree grown from a clone will look exactly the same.

Olsen emphasized that planters need to be careful about where they plant trees and with what they surround the trees. Some trees grow best in a dry, arid area, while others are best in wet, swampy areas. For example, the weeping willow is healthiest when grown in a swampy area. Some trees grow steadily over time, while others spend years building up a root system and then suddenly shoot up out of the ground.

Human action widely determines the encouragement or elimination of a species, and humans have the power to lead to the extinction of a particular species of tree. “If you don’t think we’re not affecting pretty much the entire planet, just look at us at night,” said Olsen, showing the audience a nighttime satellite photograph of the Earth.

“Just the presence of all this concrete and asphalt… is affecting the climate,” said Olsen as he discussed how urban land cover can impact seasonal change.

“If you give trees the right space, they’ll grow for maybe 150 years,” concluded Olsen.

“I thought he was funny and was a great speaker, and he started off great with a focused topic on the impact we have on nature,” said senior Don Rees. “He progressed in a sensible way to trees in cities but then at the end just rattled off pictures and examples of trees in cities. He seemed excited but there was no deep analysis or discussion at this point, just a picture show. Overall, not bad but the ending needed work.”

“I agree with Don, it wasn’t the most organized colloquium I’ve seen,” said senior Julie Frank. “Though I really appreciated how excited and passionate he was about his work. Every picture he showed seemed to have a story behind it and a personal connection.”

Maloof Speaks for the Trees at VOICES

Biologist, writer, activist. On Mar. 8, St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Department of English and the VOICES Reading Series presented Joan Maloof, an artist whose passion for old growth forests is rooted in these three professions.

Nearly every seat was filled in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) as the author of “Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth” and “Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest” presented excerpts from her novels.

Associate Professor of English and Environmental Studies Coordinator Kate Chandler introduced Maloof, sharing an anecdote of how the two met. “It was in a forest that I first met Joan,” Chandler said. “We were on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, attending an environmental literature conference. We went on a field trip after hours of a very bumpy bus ride into this forest that was in a deep valley in Vancouver Island and we walked through a Pacific coast old-growth forest. The trees were giant.”

Chandler described the trees in these forests as having been the width of DPC and as tall as a building thirty stories high.

“You were awestruck by these trees,” Chandler added. “Partway through the hike, I saw a woman standing by one of the largest trees taking notes. It was Joan Maloof, and I learned that she had written a book about these trees and was working on another book. She was writing about these trees, and it was intriguing to me that her book was comprised of essays rather than documentations of scientific experiments, so I got it – and now I get it. I get why this scientist has added creative writing to her list of accomplishments, to bring others into the forest with her.”

Maloof began her reading by sharing three sections from her first book, “Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest.”

Her first excerpt, entitled “Grandfather trees,” passionately portrayed how it is a common belief that gigantic Grandfather trees – the kind that Chandler described in the old-growth forest – hardly exist anymore.

Maloof also shared forest statistics for Maryland gathered from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stating that Maryland has approximately 8 billion trees. However, 95 percent of these trees are less than five inches in diameter. Furthermore, only two percent of the forest trees are the width of the average person’s shoulders or wider. Less than .1 percent are Grandfather trees.

“I think some trees should just be trees,” Maloof read. “I think some trees should be allowed to do whatever they want, and be able to die of old age, right where they’re standing. Whatever the fates hold in store, is what we should allow for these trees . . . Grandfather trees are the ones closest to death, yet they are also the ones with the most to teach us.”

She continued the reading with three sections from “Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth,” her second novel. In this book, she answered the question that most readers asked after reading “Teaching the Trees:” where can I find an old-growth forest? Maloof outlined directions for her readers, with hopes that they too can experience these amazing forests.

Currently, Maloof is a professor emeritus from Salisbury University where she teaches biology and environmental studies. She has recently founded a non-profit organization called the Old-Growth Forest Network, which strives to ensure the survival of ancient forests for future generations to enjoy.

“She set out to save the trees,” Chandler said. “County by county she is asking citizens to set aside parcels of trees that will not be cut, will not be managed, and will not be touched. We may not have old growth forests in St. Mary’s county, but we could in several hundred years.”

More information on the non-profit organization can be found by visiting www.oldgrowthforest.net.

St. Mary’s Lives Up to “Tree Campus USA” Title by Planting More Trees

Living up to St. Mary’s College’s recent approval as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, Lesley Urgo, a member of St. Mary’s Arboretum Association, along with 21 students and community members planted 19 trees around campus on Thursday, Nov. 10.

According to L. Urgo, the group broke up into three teams for about an hour to plant one Sour Wood, five Crab Apple, six Sugar Maple, and seven Linden trees. All are native to the area and were planted around the Michael P. O’Brien Athletic and Recreation Center (ARC), Goodpaster Hall, Schaefer, and Calvert Halls, and Waring Commons (WC).

Although the original plan was to plant 29, the grounds crew will plant the remaining ten trees over Thanksgiving break when the cars clear out of Parking Lot R located near WC, where the unplanted trees currently reside.

“We had a good turnout. The rain held out, and we got everything done we wanted to,” Urgo said.

Urgo also claimed that besides adding to the campus, the tree planting is also about the environment. “There’s more to it than being beautiful, we try to be smart, we try to be environmentally sound,” she said. “Every spring and every fall we hope to have some event much like this.”

Urgo also urges the importance of student involvement in the association. “If students get involved [with the Arboretum Association], it shows they care about their campus and community,” she said.

She noted that planning has already begun for a student project in the spring, which involves planting fruit-bearing apple trees on the site of the old campus farm.

For more information about the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association, contact Lesley Urgo via email at ldurgo@smcm.edu, or visit the Arboretum webpage on smcm.edu. For more information on Tree Campus USA, visit arborday.org/treecampususa.

College Arboretum Blooms with Celebration

At 10 a.m. on Saturday March 26, The Arboretum Association had a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the Arboretum at St. Mary’s. The ribbon was tied around the willow oak that stands between Calvert and Kent Hall and was cut by Lesley Urgo, a leader in the Association.

Of the people who spoke before the ribbon cutting, many emphasized what they thought the Arboretum meant for the St. Mary’s Community. Dr. Kevin Fletcher, an executive director from Audubon International, said, “St. Mary’s College has established a neat sense of space, blending ecological consciousness with grounds management,” He also encouraged all people in the community to become, “better stewards of the environment.”

However, the St. Mary’s arboretum is not just about becoming more environmentally friendly, it also plays a major part in keeping the campus beautiful. Lesley Urgo said that at the minimum the Arboretum could help “people see and respect the world around them,” with the hope that they would think the world is, “worth preserving, improving, and sharing.”

After these speeches Lesley Urgo cut the ribbon around the Willow Oak. As a joke the group celebrated the launch of the Arboretum by breaking a Champaign bottle against the tree as well.

The speakers and those who were there to listen then moved to the opposite side of Calvert Hall in order to plant a white oak as a way to celebrate and remember the formal beginning of the association.

The celebration of the Arboretum Association was one of many events that celebrated the Inauguration of President Joseph Urgo and one of two that specifically promoted being environmental stewards. While not many students went to the event, approximately six, there were many members of the Board of Trustees as well as other staff who wanted to show their support for the Arboretum.

The Arboretum currently has a walking map around campus that can direct people around to specific trees and groves. The organization’s website is: http://www.smcm.edu/aboretum/.