2011’s Tree Karma Score

Applying for certification for Tree Campus involves a very enjoyable day of taking stock of the previous year. They ask about tree plantings, removals, dollars spent, volunteer hours, and community service projects. During a terribly boring snowless winter, it was nice to sit down and revel in our accomplishments during the previous growing season.

2011 was a banner year for tree planting. With the Forest renovation, the CFA renovation, our normal tree planting program, and the Atwater Turf Battle construction, Middlebury planted nearly 100 trees on campus this year.

We’ve had to remove some too. Storms and hazard tree removals are the most common culprits, although occasionally construction takes it’s toll as well. (It’s this reason I get lots of input from many people before planting, including managers in Facilities and the Master Plan Implementation Committee.) This year 22 trees have been removed.

So our Tree Karma score for 2011 is a very healthy 4 1/2 trees planted for every one removed.

Informally we try to plant 2 trees for every one removed. Our six year karma average is 3.8 trees planted for each removed. I got asked the other day what my favorite trees planted this year were, and thought it was either the Arbor Day planting, the large trees planted around Ross Commons, or maybe the rare trees planted to the west of Munroe, including a Stewartia, a variegated Tulip tree, and a rare yellow Magnolia. Or maybe the disease resistant elm in Adirondack Circle. But how can I single out one child over another?

We’re planting this spring too, mostly locally grown trees, in various locations all over campus. There is a method to our madness, we don’t just randomly plunk trees down all willy-nilly. One example is this year’s Arbor Day planting, just north of Battell. That awkward little triangle of grass lets Battell Beach lose it’s structure on that corner, and the space of the beach bleeds into the quad in front of La Chateau. The trees planted there will form a wall of sorts, segregating two spaces, and probably extending the usable lounging space of the edge of the beach.

(Not making any sense, am I? The next good beach day, go look at where people are laying out on Battell Beach. The southeast corner, down by Forest hall, along the southern edge, near the Forest hall sidewalk and some pretty spectacular ash and beech trees, or along the base of the slope that heads up to Pearson hall. Think about all those spaces. Psycologically, they are all protected–your back is up against a building, or a line of trees, or a slope. The northeast corner, near Chateau? No wall, no back, just open space across the sidewalk. Almost no one sits there, preferring instead to be near the line of spruces on the north end of the beach.)

Other places trees get planted are near trees that are dying, albiet slowly. I don’t like removing trees, and it makes me feel better to know when I do remove a tree I’ve already got it’s replacement planted and well established nearby. Look for some new trees near the Davis Family Library for this reason.

And by all means, join us today at 1 to plant some more-north of Battell Hall. We’ll allow you to get dirty.

A New Class Tree

What we call a Class Tree on campus is a tree commemorating a graduated class, typically christened with a ceremony during reunion, such as on a 10th, 25th, or even greater. Our department was recently asked to pick a potential class tree for the upcoming reunion, and we’re more than happy to help. Traditionally we use a tree we’ve already planted in the recent past, and only ask that the class pay for the stone and plaque. This way we know the tree is already well established, so will live a good long time.

Trees connect us in many ways—through life, shade, a place to lean and sit under. Class trees are connected memories, bundles not of neurons and blood, but marking with rings and twigs the experiences of four years at Middlebury, a snapshot in time. Looking at class tree makes you think of your time in Middlebury, and your life during the time of that class.

Even before the discussion of where the tree would be and what type, I’d already picked one I thought would be perfect, and the request of having a Vermont Maple aligned perfectly. It’s a Sugar maple, grown by my good friend V.J. Comai at the South 40 nursery in Charlotte, and was planted 3 years ago.

My first summer here I was out in front of the Davis Family Library mapping the trees in the Library Quad. Collectively some of our oldest trees on campus, they are also the most stressed, with years of soil compaction wreaking havoc on fragile root systems. A professor came up to me, to this day I don’t know who, but he undoubtedly taught some of the students in this class. He asked what I was doing.

I explained how I was mapping trees, assessing health and measuring, and he asked if there were plans to plant more trees in this quad. I said most certainly, and showed him some of the weaker old trees nearby, and told him how it was much easier to remove a dying tree if the replacement tree was planted nearby and already well established. He then asked if I was going to keep the original line of trees, and fill some of the holes.

I had no idea what he was talking about. The trees in this quad are scattershot throughout, in random locations in between the uneven lawn shapes formed by the sidewalks. When the new library was constructed, many of the sidewalks were re-done in the library quad. At present, they are graceful swooping curves connecting the various destinations, such as Old Chapel, the library, Emma Willard, and Warner Science and Starr Library.

He points, and I look, and then finally see how many of the trees in the quad aren’t random, but demark a sidewalk long gone, connecting the south (front) door of Warner to the north (again front) door of what we now call Starr/Axinn. The old sugar maples lined the walk, and reading the landscape history, it was clear where some trees were removed, and needed to be replaced. The line is like a hidden Easter egg, a subtle reminder in the landscape of the past that many of us here don’t even know, a past the graduated class looking for a new tree took for granted as they walked on the now removed sidewalk from class to library.

I’ll be placing this plaque in the ground, looking down the row of trees, and thinking about what I was doing while these students were walking the long gone sidewalk. I was failing naptime in preschool.

My preschool was in a church basement, with a painted concrete floor reminiscent of the tile in the church upstairs, but harder, colder. Naptime means we bring out our blankets mom brought the first day of the year, and we place them out in neat rows, lay down for a half hour or so, and probably give the workers there a much needed break. My blanket had developed a hole, and my mom  brought it home the previous night, sewn a patch over, and hung it back up on the rack as she dropped me off.

I lay my blanket out on the floor. There’s the patch I’m seeing for the first time, a large, black, hairy spider right where the hole used to be.

Screaming, tears, running, and no nap. For anybody.

 

A New Tree Map

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!

A Rare Vermont Dogwood

I’ll probably say this a couple of times a year-drop everything and go look at a tree. Middlebury is fortunate enough to have a Flowering Dogwood on its campus, and she (?) is in flower right now. Go ahead, take a walk at lunch. Be late, blame me. It’s in front of Allen Hall, the one at the end of Chauteau Road.

Like the Star Magnolias, this tree was probably planted here because of its proximity to a steam line. (That’s not a guess, there is a Magnolia right next to it.) This little pocket on campus is a unique little microclimate, which is a gardener’s way of cheating zones.

Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, is a decidedly southern plant, hardy to zone 5, but just barely. Does best in Zone 6. Zone 5 means it can’t really take temperatures below -20, and this winter saw -22 at my house. Zone 6 is no lower than -10, so you can start to see how special this dogwood is. The actual flowers are puny little yellow things, but it is the bracts that command all the attention. White, although pink ones exist as well, they are effective in the landscape for at least two weeks. Their asset in the landscape is the horizontal structure of the tree, which can be used to break up a monotony of vertical lines, as most tall trees can seem when amongst them.

You can buy Flowering Dogwood around here, go to any large chain home center, they will be glad to sell you all sorts of plants that don’t live this far north. If you are lucky enough to have a microclimate like the front of Allen (and yes, I’m talking to you Middlebury town residents), brag about it on my friend’s blog, he’ll set you up, responsibly. Buy local, and buy from plant geeks, and you won’t go wrong.

A watched Spring never boils

The problem with watching the weather is the frustration. Even my years of experience in spring anticipation somehow still hasn’t prepared me for the wait, the fits and starts of the season. The landscape waits patiently, though, and the plants are right where they need to be.

Today in blooms? Well, it’s pretty mellow. The family Betulaceae is showing it’s stuff. On campus, that would the Birch, Hornbeam, and Hop Hornbeam trees, and in shrubs the Corylus, or Hazel, genus. Michael Dirr states, of birch flowers specifically, “the birches flower in April before or with the emerging leaves; they possess a hidden beauty which is lost to most people because they have never examined or considered the birches a flowering species…” After three days of a cold rain, I’ll consider any flower.

Look for large catkins hanging from birches. They hang in clusters of three from the ends of the branches, and have been there unobserved all winter. In Birch they are male and female-in Hazel, the female flowers arise from the leaf buds.

How would I describe the flowering catkins? Ask the Dutch. Catkin comes from the dutch word katje, meaning kitten, as the flowers resemble a kitten’s tail. I’d say I’ll get around to a picture but, well, the buds are swelling on the forsythia, and I swear I saw a couple of whitish blooms on a Magnolia in front of Forest, so I probably will once again ignore the catkins. Hidden beauty is all well and good until the Magnolias start popping.

A Wednesday Thunderstorm

Last wednesday we had a rip-banger. Thunderstorms developed in the hot summer air over Northern New York, and built as they tracked across the lake. The line continued to build once across the lake, and erupted on top of Middlebury.

I was sitting at home, (I was at work early), watching lightening strike all around us, many up on the ridge of Snake Mountain, some in the fields below. The wind was howling, and sheets of rain poured down. The Middlebury weather station recorded a 20 degree temperature drop in less than a half of an hour, and more than a half an inch of rain in the same amount of time. Peak wind gust came in at 40 mph.

The college weathered the storm ok, but 3 trees took it quite hard. A Green Ash behind Emma Willard (Admissions) took a lightning strike-that was interesting, as it was the shortest tree around, but it was all by itself in the center of the back yard.

Another tree we lost, not surprising, but still sad, was a large Weeping Willow on the northwest side of Battell Beach (the upper Quidditch Pitch). We almost always see Adirondack chairs underneath this tree. The center two stems of this tree had a fast moving fungus that caused a rot in the sapwood of the two center trunks. The sapwood is what carries water upwards to the branches, as well as nutrients throughout the tree, so having this vital structure rot away was a irrecoverable death in waiting. High winds torqued one of the trunks, and broke it away to lean against one of the remaining ones. We removed the tree the next day, before it broke further on someone sitting in a chair.

The final tree may or may not be a casualty, time will tell. One of the large Norway spruces we left in the Main Quad Tree Removal, the most southern one, was hit by lightning. Friends at work in the service building told me it was the most impressive lightning strike they’d heard in a long time. The tree shows a classic spiral scar from the top of the tree all the way down to the bottom root flare. Bark like shrapnel was scattered all over the quad in long 3′ strips, and filled the back of one of our gators. The prognosis of the tree is unknown. The roots seem to be intact-while there is bark peeling on the root flare, it does not seem too bad. Certainly I’ve seen trees recover from worse. We’ll know in a couple of weeks-if the tree is going to die quickly we’ll know soon.

An Early Fall

It’s not your imagination, the leaves are turning early this year. The reason will seem a little odd, but an understanding of a tree’s relation to time helps.

I feel for scientists that have trouble explaining the concept of time. We are lineal creatures, stuck watching time pass from one year to the next. As a horticulturist, my year goes from spring to spring. But anthropologists measure civilizations in centuries, not our ordinary years. How about geologists, counting back years by the billions. Most impressive, let’s talk about Astronomy. A light year-the time and distance it takes for a photon of light to travel. It’s called the speed of light for a reason.

Tree time moves differently. Trees do everything slowly-germinate, grow, mature, reproduce, even die. Some varieties live well within one of our short lifetimes, while others will live for generations. Time moves in fits and starts for a tree, on yearly cycles familiar to those in Agriculture. But they aren’t exactly lineal.

Remember last year? It was a growing season in a bitter drought, with no rain for most of the spring, all of summer, not breaking until late in the fall. It was hot, dry, and overall not very pleasant. I use our annual flowers we plant as a barometer, and the ones we planted around campus languished in the heat, and with the exception of some petunias none ever really amounted to much.

Our tree canopy looked OK though, and we had a nice fall. But this year, not so much. Maples are turning early, losing their already smaller than normal leaves about 4 weeks too soon. Oaks have been thin all year, with many dead twigs and branches. But it was a great growing season this year, with all flowers blooming non-stop since commencement. But not in tree time.

Sugar Maple by Battel-
August 30

Trees are about a year off, marking time in their own way. They leaf out and grow all season, but reach back to the previous year’s sugars and energy stored from the prior growing season. Last year’s food is this years energy. So the drought last year certainly affected the growth of trees, but on tree time it doesn’t show up until this year. Weakened roots and inadequate resources in twigs and stems are stunting growth this year, and trees are wearing out and starting to turn early. Trees live a dual year, growing in the previous year while stockpiling for the next.

Same Maple as Above-
September 18

Ordinarily in the early fall there are always a couple of trees starting to turn, and the easy answer is that they are weakened, stressed trees, our canary in the coal mine showing us underlying problems we might not have seen. Usually the Black maples east of Old Chapel turn fall color early, a problem of not only age but poor soil and compaction from living in a college quad for 200 years. This year, though, it is many, many trees. Primarily sugar maples, and mostly middle-aged trees, I’d guess 40-75 years old. In tree time for a maple you can think of them as 30-year olds facing a mid-life crisis with all the associated baggage. Primarily we’ve seen trees turning this year as ones in poor soil, either on ledge, or heavy clay. Above my house on Snake Mountain I see the canopy turning color, the relatively young forest showing it’s stress.

Snake Mountain, first Week of September

Younger, less mature trees are probably more in balance, and also flaunt vigorous and resilient root systems, while old, mature veterans had the massive underground roots to weather the (lack of) storms. Neither are showing the stress or are turning early.

It’s too soon to say what the fall will bring for color, but I’d sure like to see a little more rain soon, and a break in this mini heat spell we’re having. I do predict an early season, though, maybe longer if the oaks in the lower elevations can hang in there.

Another Day, another storm

The storms certainly keep coming, and, worryingly, the trees keep succumbing.  Today at 3:30 a very brief but intense cell blasted through campus. We’d lost power for a little bit, I don’t know why. The weather station recorded about 1/4″ of rain in 15 minutes, with a peak wind gust of 35 mph, from the north. This was enough to take the life of a poor Hackberry tree.

Hackberry by Warner Science

This poor tree had been scarred at the base years ago, maybe by a random mouse, maybe by something mechanical. At any rate, the worst place to wound a tree is right at the base. A tree has a very hard time compartmentalizing the wound at the base, and structural integrity of both trunk and root system is compromised. Look at the picture below-the wound was on the north side of the tree. The roots rotted away on that side, and the strong north wind gust toppled the tree right over.

Base of Hackberry

I took these pictures on my way home at 4, but I would imagine the rest of the campus trees are fine. A perfect wind knocked this one down. I’ve already got a replacement in mind.

EDIT: Middblog just posted some YouTube video of the rain here-it’s impressive.

Arbor Day 2011

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.

 

Arbor Day 2013

It’s been a gorgeous spring, and we’re celebrating with a huge Arbor Day celebration. Plan on joining us May 14th, details below. But in the meantime…

love a tree? share the love. send us photos, poems, and other art about your favorite campus tree. Submit a photo, or post on twitter with #middarborday. submit by may 10 to have your tree featured in the arbor day tree-k race! Either go twitter (@middland) or send to tparsons (at) middlebury.edu to submit. Prizes, fame, fortune, and good tree karma await. And the winning trees will become the basis of the second annual Tree-K race around campus (run 5-K,, and learn the names of 5 of the trees along the route to win) A kid’s race will be held as well. Winners receive gift certificates to the Grille.

The days events will be as follows:

Campus Tree Tour-join us for a walk around campus and learn about some of our woody friends. The tour starts at the McCullough Plaza at 2 PM, and wends its way through campus until about 3:30, when we will end up north of Battell Hall, where we-

Plant a Tree– a whole bunch of trees will be awaiting your tender loving care to be planted north of Battell Hall and in between Allen and Wright Theater. If you’ve never planted a tree this is something you should do-it will still be here for all of your reunions, like the rest of your old friends you’re eagerly awaiting to see. Afterwords, you can run or watch the-

Tree K Race-run about a 5-K loop around campus to all the various favorite trees nominated by the Middlebury campus community. Winners will receive prizes, and all kids will as well. Not too strenuous, as you’ll need to save strength for-

Food, music, and ice cream-We’ll be on the Atwater plaza, with a cookout by Grille Catering using local foods, ice cream, and listen to music by Will Cuneo and Rita Pfeiffer. Enjoy the sunshine for an hour or two before heading back inside to study for finals. A huge thank you to the Environmental Council for funding us!

So spread the word, let your neighbors know, and come celebrate our campus forest.