Trees, shrubs enhance campus,
serve as resource for teaching
May 4, 1998
As students prepare for final exams and the University community gears up for Commencement, the blooming profusion of trees and shrubs add a colorful and attractive backdrop to the activities on campus.
"The campus offers a quiet place to relax and study," says freshman Jared Yellen. "The trees on campus are ideally planted surrounding the Swan Lake and the Mirror Lake, framing the buildings, enhancing the landscape and making the campus pretty."
The 1,400 varieties of trees, shrubs and perennials on the Storrs campus are not only of ornamental and aesthetic value, but also serve as a teaching resource for courses in horticulture, landscape architecture, natural resources management and engineering, forestry, botany and biology.
"The campus has a huge collection of native and non-native trees and shrubs," says Carol Auer, assistant professor of plant science. "Their presence on campus help the students to learn to identify the various species, a skill that is useful in many careers involving ecology, forestry and creating and managing landscapes."
Edward Corbett, an associate professor of plant science, uses the trees on campus as a living lab for his courses.
Terry Webster, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, uses one particular species as an incentive to his students. In the fall, he collects seeds from specimens of Ginkgo biloba on campus, propagates them and then rewards students who answer key questions in his class with a Ginkgo seedling.
G. biloba, a deciduous tree with clusters of fan-shaped bright green leaves and native to China, is the only living species of the genus that dates back to the Mesozoic era.
"To my students a potted Ginkgo is exciting and they look forward to answering the question and winning the Golden Ginkgo Award," Webster says.
G. biloba is not the only exotic species on campus. Tucked away among the native trees is Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) - a deciduous conifer that was thought to be extinct until rediscovered in China in 1941. It has a flared trunk with a braided appearance and serves as a landscape tree in the Torrey Life Sciences garden, near Arjona, Monteith and Castleman buildings.
Another exotic tree of East Asian origin is the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) that was brought to campus by Harold O. Perkins, a professor of landscape design who died in 1968. Perkins also designed the Pharmacy Garden in front of the School of Pharmacy, which has a collection of plants used in medicine.
The massive deciduous trees growing more than 100 feet tall in several spots on campus, including the ones in front of the Waring chemistry building and Beach Hall, are Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) that are native to Connecticut. They have tulip-shaped leaves and cup-shaped yellow flowers that form in the upper branches.
Many of the trees on campus were planted by graduating classes, by members of the University community to commemorate an event or honor an individual, or by faculty for research purposes.
A collection of dwarf pines was brought to UConn by Sidney Waxman, professor emeritus of plant science. Waxman developed an interest in the dwarf pines that result from Witches' Brooms in 1963, after attending a meeting of the American Society of Horticultural Science at Harvard. Witches' Broom is a spontaneous mutation that occurs in nature and the seeds from such trees produce 50 percent dwarf trees.
During a period of six years, Waxman traveled all over New England to collect seeds from pines with Witches' Brooms. He raised nearly 100,000 seedlings and introduced 32 new dwarf pine varieties, that are now planted all over campus.
The Waxman garden, planted beside the W.B.Young Building in honor of his research, has a collection of his famous introductions including "Varied Directions," a European larch, and "Cinnamon Flake," a hybrid paperbark maple.
The trees planted in the "pinetum" - pine garden - on Horsebarn Hill include specimens planted to honor the memory of Henry Haalck and Robert Schramm, former faculty members of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and a Japanese pine donated by the Lions' Clubs of Connecticut.
Not all the pines on campus have been so lucky. The hurricane of 1938 destroyed more than 1,700 pine trees on campus, including an area known as The Pines, a shaded walkway between Storrs Hall and the Duck Pond (now Swan Lake), that was a favorite spot with students and faculty in the 1930s.
Elm trees on campus have also been hard hit. The American elm (Ulmus americana) in front of the Storrs Community Nursery School, planted by the Class of 1892, is one of the few elm trees that survived the Dutch Elm disease that claimed many native American elms.
Maintaining such an extensive collection of trees and shrubs poses some challenges to facilities staff. Some of the trees have grown so large that they obstruct the view from campus buildings. Others are no longer accessible to students or landscaping staff because of new construction.
William Cone, facilities landscape architect, is compiling a complete inventory of trees on campus to ensure that the specimen trees with aesthetic and educational value are preserved.
Carol Auer, who teaches courses in herbaceous perennials and woody ornamentals, says she hopes the University will take the opportunity to plant new species and add to the existing diversity while landscaping the areas around new buildings.
With such an outstanding collection of trees and shrubs on campus, it is fitting that the University has adopted a tree as its new symbol. The oak tree represents wisdom, endurance, longevity and hospitality.
"There are about 10 different species of oak on campus," says Mark Brand, associate professor of plant science. "Oaks are excellent shade trees and the acorns attract a number of squirrels and other wild life."
The White Oak (Quercus alba), native to Connecticut, served as the hiding place and protector of the Fundamental Orders, the first written constitution that created a government in the country.
In 1884, the second graduating class of Connecticut Agricultural College was held in an oak grove behind what is now Holcomb Hall. Located on the east side of Gurleyville Road, it was a popular gathering place for open-air meetings up to the 1930s.