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Memorial Trees

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Reunion and Commencement is the season when memorial trees always come to my mind. Middlebury has over 85 class trees and memorial trees-a class tree may be planted by a class during a reunion, while a memorial tree is often dedicated to a professor, or a classmate that died while they were a student. People often come back and look at the trees, a living memorial to a memory, or to a person they love and remember. I bet I get 2-3 calls a year from someone looking for a special tree.

One I remember was right after a commencement ceremony several years ago. Someone walked up to the “chair general” asking where the tree planted by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was located. They were impressed when, after reaching me on the radio, I knew right where it was. Really, though, how often do you run into maples planted by the Dalai Lama? Of course I knew where it was. You can

visit all the class and memorial trees in Google Earth.

All the memorial and class trees get a little extra love and care, as you can imagine. They’re on a 2 year inspection schedule, as opposed to 5 or so, and get more regualarly pruned and mulched. Planting a new one is a sad honor, and a little stressful. It’s something you don’t really want to mess up. Even simply picking the variety of tree is tough. It’s got to live a long, long time. Having the memorial tree for someone die is just immensely sad and un-imaginable, so I tend toward longer lived species, like oak or maple.

At my previous job at a garden center I had to help a couple I vaguely knew pick a memorial tree they wanted to plant for a young man who had died that had worked for them. I take them out to the large trees, and I steer them towards the Sugar maples. He veers away, makes a beeline right toward the Birches (a short-lived tree I wasn’t walking near on purpose), points to one, and says “That’s the one I want to plant”. His wife looks at him, jaw dropping, hauls back, and slugs him in the arm as hard as she can. He stares at her in disbeilief (she’s very pregnant at the time), and she says, “You can’t pick that kind of tree, that’s the tree he skied into!” They went with a maple.

Location is obviously important too. While I would hope all trees I plant will be there for until the end of time, the reality of an evolving campus means a careful reading of the master plan is in order when choosing a spot to plant a memorial. Class trees tend to be clustered around Library Park, while Memorials try to get planted somewhere meaningful to the person, perhaps near a dorm or an old office. Perhaps the finest example of tree species and location is found in a memorial tree to Pavlo Levkiv ’11, a Bur Oak on the west side of Bicentennial Hall. A very long lived species, and all the room it needs to grow. I wish I was around in 200 years to see it mature.

Pavlo Levkiv '11

Prompting this post was a Chinkapin Oak, rare in Vermont, but native to the Clayplain forest. We’d planted one outside Allen Hall, next to the Limestone ledge behind Chateau, in memory of Nicolas Garza ’11. Coming around the corner on what would have been his graduation day, I saw that his classmates hadn’t forgotten him, nor the tree.

Nick Garza '11

 

 

Arbor Day 2011

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As you would expect from a bunch of tree fanatics, Arbor Day is a flexible holiday. The national holiday is the last Friday in April, but Vermont has snow experience in April, and pushes the date back to the first Friday in May. Here at Middlebury, we’re pushing it back even a little further, as a welcome diversion from studying for finals.

Come Celebrate Middlebury College’s Arbor Day

Wednesday May 11

Take a break before Finals start and celebrate Middlebury’s new title as a Tree Campus USA, designated by the Arbor Day Foundation! After over a year of planning and coordination, Middlebury was named a Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation for 2010 this February. We are one of only two schools in New England to receive this recognition.

 

The schedule for our celebration is the following:

1:30 pm- Tree campus tour, beginning from McCullough patio, ending at Bi-Hall, in time for—

3:00 pm- Tree planting, located between Coffrin and Bihall. Plant your legacy on campus. Planters get eternal gratitude, and an ice cream sandwich.

4:30 pm- Tree-K running race (3mi, starting from McCullough patio and following the cross country course). Touch 20 or so trees on the McCullough Quad before finishing back at the patio. Fastest Male and Female students win a gift card to the Campus Bookstore, Fastest Faculty/Staff to win a blueberry bush.

5:00 pm- Saplings kids’ race (1/4 mi loop around the main quad in front of Old Chapel, start at the McCullough Patio)-Prizes and ice cream for all kids.

 

Middlebury Becomes a Tree Campus

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I’m very (very) pleased write that Middlebury College has been named a Tree Campus for 2010, culminating work started in January of last year by the students in my Trees and the Urban Forest Winter Term class. Special thanks goes to two students in particular, Chelsea Ward-Waller and Hilary Platt, for being the driving force behind the application process, and for being strong advocates of our urban forest on campus.

I’ll quote from the letter we received-

The Tree Campus USA program is an initiative that sprang from a partnership between the Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota MotorNorth America, Inc., to foster the development of the next generation of Tree Stewards. The program is designed to award national recognition to college campuses and the leaders of their surrounding communities for promoting healthy urban forest management and engaging the3 campus community in environmental stewardship.

As you already know, trees are a vital component of the infrastructure in campus landscaping, providing environmental and economical benefits. Trees in urban areas, and especially on campuses, reduce the heat island effect caused by pavement and buildings. Leaves filter the air we breather by removing dust and other particles. Properly placed trees create a welcoming environment that makes students, administration,and alumni want to be a part of the campus.

Last year there were 74 Tree Campuses across the country,and this year there are 114. Middlebury is the only campus in Vermont that is a Tree Campus, and one of only two in New England. The older program, Tree City USA, has over 3400 communities, with 8 in Vermont, including Burlington and Rutland. We all can take great pride in our trees and campus landscape, and I enjoy being part of a team that places as much value as we do on our campus environment.

The standards to become a Tree Campus are designed to create a sustainable plan to care for and manage campus trees, and to provide opportunities to engage and educate college students and community members in tree planting, benefits of trees, and in Best Management practices. To be eligible for Tree Campus USA recognition, schools must meet five core standards of tree care and community engagement: Establish a campus tree advisory committee, evidence of a campus tree-care plan, verification of dedicated annual expenditures on the campus tree-care plan, involvement in an Arbor Day observance, and a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body in sustainable efforts. Collaboration is encouraged-the program is a platform for students, faculty, staff, and community members to team up and learn from one another about the benefits of trees on college campuses. Ensures true sustainability of the urban forest by joining forces with the broader forest community.

Our service learning project was a high point in the entire process. Another group of students in the Winter Term tree class worked on a complete Street Tree plan for an area in Middlebury known as Buttolph Acres. This included an inventory of existing trees, recommended locations and varieties, as well as tree planting specifications. The students also used a computer model known as iTree to estimate what the potential carbon sequestration, storm water abatement, and pollution control the tree planting would yield in 25 and 50 years. The work they put into this is amazing-I highly recommend downloading it ( Buttolph Acres Proposal ) and reading it.

And yes, we’re planning a heck of an Arbor Day (May 6). Stay tuned!

A New Tree Map

Categories: GIS, Midd Blogosphere

Admittedly, the campus tree map posted on this site can be a little overwhelming, and almost too large to be useful. Google Earth is a wonderful program, but not everyone had access to it. Ben Meader, a digital media tutor from this past summer, toured the campus with me one day, and we picked the 99 must see trees on campus. This represents one of nearly every variety of tree on campus. He then took pictures, and put them all into a Google Maps file, viewable from any web browser, no Google Earth required. The link is also available on the campus tree map page. Enjoy!

The Return of the Vandal(s)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

We are not alone, for better or for worse.

The Burlington Free Press on Sunday wrote an excellent article entitled “Taking it out on Trees: Vandals go out on a Limb“. In it, Joel Baird writes of the problems with vandals in Burlington, and a student in my old dorm at UVM who spoke up. He called me as well, after reading of our travails here at Middlebury on the blog. He writes-

“Parsons said he believes a strategy of engaging more students in their landscape likely will pay higher dividends than highlighting the acts of a few misguided vandals. ”If you publicize it too much,” he said, “you risk getting more of it.”

I also enjoyed the comment section, where someone under the psuedonem Caberg posted a comment that got deleted (wished I’d read that one!) then re-posts and says

Huh? All I did was point out the ridiculousness of Tim Parsons’ personification of trees and the acts of “violence” against them: “This is an act of rage, of violence, well beyond wanton destruction of property, senseless passing violence against an animate object incapable of screaming or defending itself”

I’m all for punishing these vandals and I love trees and naute, but let’s not get carried away here. Trees are not people. Suggesting otherwise ust makes you look like a fool.

Heehee. Yeah, I’m a little foolish. I can live with that.

So I thought I was done, finished writing, whining, wailing, lamenting a priviliged student’s acts every weekend, stopping count at 10 weekends in a row. On to writing about happier things. Then Friday night, another branch on my favorite Katsura tree on campus.

Katsura in Front of Carr Hall

And it begins anew.

Tree Hazards and Removals

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

How do we decide when to remove a tree?

It’s the hardest part of our job here in the landscape department, deciding when to give up on one of our trees, and schedule its removal. Some of our oldest trees on campus have their life span measured not in years, but in centuries, so removing one of our noble specimens is very difficult. Even taking down a little young tree makes us sad. We obviously can’t remove a tree just because it doesn’t look quite right, or is in an inconvenient location-our bar is set higher than that. We look at tree risk, the factors that make a tree hazardous.

Students in my Winter Term class learned a simple definition of a hazard tree. A tree is a hazard if it has something to fall on. A tree needs a target to make this dubious list. Sadly, this isn’t much of a guide for us on campus. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re a target rich environment-between buildings, other trees, sidewalks, roads, power transmission lines, sculptures, squirrels, bike racks, students, staff, parked cars, professors, and light poles, we’ve got our share. We certainly prioritize them, and may speed removal of certain hazards quicker than others, but we assume that all trees on campus need to be watched pretty closely.

This fall the landscape department made a special project out of looking for hazardous trees. We surveyed about 2/3 of our 2275 mapped trees, specifically looking for hazardous defects, such as a crack or a split, something that could potentially make the tree fail and injure someone or something. And while it is certainly true that if you start looking for problems you can find them, in our case we identified only 120 trees that met our definition of hazardous, less than 5% of our population.

Of these 120 trees or so, 60% are maples, with Sugar Maple itself making up 40% of the hazard trees, double their representation in the population, as maples make up about 30% of our total. This is shocking, for a state whose tree is the Sugar maple, but not surprising, as Maples, Sugar in particular, are very intolerant to urban conditions, root compaction being one of the worst.

A hazardous tree comes in varying degrees. It’s like having a history of heart trouble in your family-being a hazardous tree is not a sentence of doom, just a cause for, well, not alarm, but extra vigilance. The majority of our hazardous trees will have risks mitigated by good care, such as corrective pruning, cabling, bracing, and simply close monitoring.

There are, of course, trees where even the best of solutions aren’t enough. Generally, these are trees arborists would call ‘over-mature’, or past their expected life span. While a tree in the woods can slowly fall apart and die without any thought to dignity, on campus we can’t wait for catastrophe to happen. Unfortunately, as would be expected, the majority of risk trees are in the older areas of campus, places where similar species and ages are planted together. A good example of this would be the east side of Voter Hall, where several large Silver Maples have serious problems, but make up the majority of the tree canopy.

So of our 120 hazard trees on campus, 6 are slated for removal this year.   These trees contain flaws so egregious that no amount of fixing would make them safe, so it is time to let them go. As is our custom most years, we try to schedule large tree removals over Holiday break-chainsaw and chipper noise during finals isn’t conductive to study. I’ll post some pictures in the next couple of days to show the trees we are removing and why. I think you’ll find it interesting, and you all may want a chance to say goodbye.

Norway Maple

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one of the more contentious trees in our urban forest, the Norway maple. Late this fall, while the leaves were still turning, I recently closely inspected over ⅔ of our campus trees, looking for problems, and Norway Maple kept appearing in the problem lists, with similar patterns of failure.

Norway Maple-healthy young tree

Some would say this is to be expected. Norway maple has been an extremely overused plant in the North American landscape, a victim of its own success. 100’s of cultivars have appeared over the years, including one of the most popular shade trees, Crimson King Maple-what most former customers of mine would simply call “Red Maple”, for its dark red leaves all summer long.
John Bartram, one of the fathers of early American botany, introduced the Norway maple in 1756, after receiving seedlings from Philip Miller in England, and started selling them in 1762. The trees remarkable adaptability to varying site conditions, including a broad tolerance of soil texture and pH, made it a popular tree among early arborists and gardeners. And a knack for sending out sports made it one of the first trees to get cultivars selected from it.

Norway Maple,  Acer platinoides,  flowers attractively in the early spring, late April here, with clusters of yellowish green flowers appearing before the leaves, each flower about ⅓” in size, but held in large clusters called corymbs, completely covering the tree. Norways are actually one of the most attractive early flowering trees. Bright yellow fall color can frequently be seen, in years when Tar spot doesn’t decimate the crown foliage.

The flowers turn into large seed pods called samaras, with a pair of seeds held in the center, and large flat wings spreading to each side. Split in half, and each side will helicopter towards the ground slowly, or alight in a breeze and fly for some distance. The wings of the helicopter extend around the seed, and can be opened like a book, where the milky white sap inside can act like a glue, allowing the samara to be attached to one’s nose, where it can stay stuck until nap time.

This milky white sap is a great way for the confused to identify Norway maples, as the similar sized Sugar and Red (Swamp) maples have a clear sap when broken. Spend some time with them, though, and identification becomes easier. The bark is a dark gray, and is ridged and furrowed, unlike any native maple. The leaves are large and dark green, larger than any other maple around, and while similar to Sugar maple, are flatter at the base.

It’s the leaves that cause many of the problems of the species, a victim of their own success. The size of the leaves create a super dense shade, making growth for grass underneath nearly impossible, but also for any interior growth on the tree itself. All the leaves on a Norway maple, and therefore all the growth, is on the outside of the tree. This is a red flag in the tree structure world, where all the end weight of the tree, and all of the wind load, is not shared throughout the tree, but, being held at the ends of the branches, and can be prone to breakage. Fortunately, the wood is fairly strong, and failure is more often seen in bad branch angles. The bare interior of a Norway, though, to me, is as distinctive an identifying characteristic as anything else.

Trunk Failure from Bad Branch Attachments

The dark dense canopy from the leaves also aid in the invasiveness of the species. Norway maple has been outlawed for sale in southern New England, and will become so in Vermont in a couple of years. The shade tolerance, in addition to its own dense shade, and its shallow root system makes the tree a fierce invader in the forest ecosystem, out-competing native maples in the understory, and inhibiting native seedlings (Galbraith-Kent, S. L. and Handel, S. N. (2008), Invasive Acer platanoides inhibits native sapling growth in forest understorey communities. Journal of Ecology, 96: 293–302. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2007.01337.x) . The shallow roots also hinder the growth and development of native forest flower species.The tree itself hosts less native caterpillars than other native maples, and North American mammals don’t recognize the seeds as a food source.

Norway maple gets its name from the northern end of its native range, and the population extends through the Caucasus and Turkey. There, the tree flowers 3-4 weeks earlier than the similar Sycamore maple, and is thereby kept in check, as both trees are insect pollinated, but the earlier flowering means only 5-15% of the seedling forest population seems to be Norways. Normal longevity for the species only seems to be 100-150  years, although trees in it’s preferred habitat, the Balkan peninsula, lives to about 200.

Our campus trees seem to be failing all at about 100 years as well, for a variety of causes. As mentioned above, Norways seem to be prone to bad branch angles, where cavities form and cause holes in the branches and trunk. Another problem with the tree seems to be a propensity towards girdling roots-roots that circle around the trunk underneath the ground, choking itself off. Norways make up about 10% of our tree population, but account for more than that in shade canopy, so, while they are invasive, we clearly can’t actively remove them. Some younger trees are in front of Forest Hall along Route 125, as well as in front of Emma Willard. The largest specimen is on the north side of the Axinn Center, a tree held together by a jungle of cables up in the crown.

Over-Mature Norway Maple at Axinn