Sunday, June 1, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Trees

They cool our campus, reduce run-off, provide shady study spaces and make our daily environment beautiful, but few Princetonians ever think about the astonishing work that goes into maintaining Princeton's trees.

On Friday, alumni and current students gathered for the annual Tree Tour of Princeton, led by Grounds Manager Jim Consolloy and Philo Elmer '69.

"I grew up in Princeton ... This campus is like the back of my hand. I've seen the trees go up and down," said Elmer, who has a masters in environmental studies and taught ecology.

Denali Barron '09 represented Outdoor Action, which sponsored the tour.

"It's nice to learn about campus history amid the alumni who have shared so many experiences here," Greg Snyder '09 said.

Princeton's campus has a total of 5,280 trees. Each is inventoried and mapped. Among campus' 150 species of tree are Tulip Poplars, Maples, Ash, Red Oaks, White Oaks and Magnolias. An endowment from 1880 provides for campus plantings.

"We like to think of campus as a park," Consolloy said.

The work behind the scenes to maintain Princeton's trees became strikingly clear as the tour wound its way from Canon Green to Prospect Garden. The 50-foot trees implanted in Whitman College cost $18,000 each.

Aside from money, a great deal of labor is invested in the stately giants along the pathways and in the greens and courtyards. For example, staff removed 50 feet from the crown of the tree at the corner of Canon Green closest to the East Pyne arch. The trunk suffered a compression fracture from the sheer weight of its leafy crown.

"Some [trees] are better patients than others," Consolloy said.

A 10-acre nursery on the south side of Lake Carnegie produces trees for the campus, including Golden Larch for the new Butler Courtyard.

Soil compaction is the biggest challenge facing these trees. In addition, new campus construction that disturbs underground root systems can cause trees such as the one in front of Scheide Caldwell House to die back.

Reunions presents a special challenge. "Beer is not good tree food," Elmer said, laughing.