September 24, 2010

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. — On the northeast edge of campus behind the Gateways near the Tustin building, an American elm tree stands, one of the few survivors among dozens that fell victim to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

A few steps away, the famed Bucknell Grove remains a sanctuary to some of the oldest trees in Lewisburg, many dating to the 1770s, when borough founder Ludwig Derr cleared much of the landscape to provide timber for a sawmill operation.

The trees are among 73 specially marked specimens on the Bucknell University campus that now mark an interactive walking tour developed by a group of professors and students during the past three years. The walking tour, which is available online, will officially launch Friday, Oct. 1, the same day University officials will designate Bucknell an "arboretum campus."

"When you stroll through the grove, take a moment to consider that many of these majestic oaks were already mature trees when the University was founded," said Associate Professor of Biology Mark Spiro, one of the professors who worked on the arboretum project. "Every Bucknellian has enjoyed the shade of these same trees. This is only possible because of the wise stewardship of our predecessors."

Entire campus encompassed
The arboretum campus designation differs from a campus arboretum in that it encompasses the entire campus and its diversity of trees rather than a dedicated garden where trees were planted, said Associate Professor of Geography Duane Griffin, who also has been working on the project.

The idea to establish Bucknell as an arboretum campus and to create a walking tour grew out of a biodiversity survey conducted by the Campus Greening Initiative, Griffin said. The goals include:

  • maintaining the aesthetic qualities of the campus landscape while enhancing biodiversity and promoting sustainability;
  • providing student research and teaching opportunities using the campus as a living laboratory;
  • promoting education and public outreach in the areas of botany, ecology and sustainability;
  • preserving historic and significant trees and restoring native plant communities where possible.

During the past three summers, Daniel Wang, Class of '10; Nick Gonsalves, a senior geography and international relations major; Bobby Mullin, a senior environmental studies major; and former Bucknell student Giorgina Alfonso worked with Spiro and Griffin to map, identify and measure more than 1,700 trees on campus with the help of aerial photographs. They collected information about the characteristics of the trees, noting their species and common names and whether they are native or invasive species. The project is funded by the Wayne E. and Margaret S. Manning Internship in Botanical Sciences. The information is available on a website (

"Based on that survey, we realized we had a great collection of trees on campus and we had the idea of establishing an arboretum," Griffin said. "Having this educational resource opens up a lot of opportunities. We would like to spark the curiosity and awareness of trees on campus. We hope people will see the signs and go online and look."

Spiro also has been working with students in the Environmental Residential College on service projects to remove invasive exotic species and plant native trees in their place.

"We see the arboretum as a great way to combine education and conservation and to get students involved in their campus," Spiro said.

Online database, walking tour
The online database, which overlays an aerial map, allows visitors to identify all of the trees on campus by species and common name or to find all of one particular type of species. The half-mile walking tour begins at Freas Hall and takes about 90 minutes to complete. It includes a biologically diverse selection of trees found in prominent areas of campus such as the Academic and Engineering quadrangles, along Loomis and St. George streets and in front of the Biology and Chemistry building.

"We looked at all the trees to figure out which ones would make sense to be on a walking tour," Gonsalves said. "There has to be a flow that hits the major points on campus."

There are two American elm trees on the tour, including the tree near Tustin and a disease-resistant variety planted in 2008 in the engineering quad by a group of students in the Environmental Residential College. There also is a rare Franklin tree behind the Olin Science Building, a weeping white pine, also near Olin, which grows horizontally because of a genetic mutation, and a Japanese cherry by Marts Hall.

"One of my favorites is the American elm tree by Tustin," Gonsalves said. "This is a surviving sample of what used to be one of the most common trees on campus. It was able to survive even though every other elm did not."

Another of Gonsalves' favorites is a white oak by the facilities building on Snake Road that boasts a 150-centimeter breast-height diameter making it the fifth-largest in Pennsylvania.

He is hoping other students, faculty, staff and residents will become more invested in the arboretum.

"What I'm hoping is that this will promote further ecological research on campus and a greater appreciation among students of the environment around them," Gonsalves said. "If you go out and look at these trees that you see every day, hopefully, you will become more connected with them."

Wayne Manning legacy
The late Wayne Manning, who retired from Bucknell after 23 years in 1968, labeled and mapped many of the trees on campus during the 1960s with the help of the facilities department, but time has taken a toll on the signs and identification labels, said Warren "Abe" Abrahamson, the David Burpee Professor of Plant Genetics.

Manning's research focused mainly on trees in the walnut family, but he and his students took many samples from numerous trees on campus, which are catalogued in the Wayne E. Manning Herbarium in the Biology building. The collection includes more than 22,000 plant specimens from all over the world, including New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, Europe and Asia.

Abrahamson lauded the arboretum project as continuing Manning's legacy and highlighting an integral aspect of the Bucknell campus.

"Wayne would have been delighted to see the realization of the campus arboretum," Abrahamson said. "Environmental literacy initiatives such as the campus arboretum are crucial in our efforts to connect people with their environment. Knowing a tree, shrub, insect or bird by name adds familiarity, and familiarity facilitates respect for nature."

Contact: Division of Communications