What will my memorial tree be? It’s a question that has been on my mind more often after completing an often-overlooked but necessary project: cataloging dedicated campus trees.
As a world-class arboretum, the University of Maryland Arboretum & Botanical Garden has a collection of 15,000 trees and woody plants, with many of those being dedicated trees. Some trees are planted for special events, like Arbor Day, centennials or anniversaries. Some are planted in recognition of service to the university, and some are planted when loved ones pass away. As part of our mission at the arboretum, it is our duty to maintain all the plants in our collection, but we have a special duty of care for these dedicated trees.
It was always assumed that anyone could visit our campus to see the trees that were planted for their loved ones, but over the past two years it became apparent to me that more was needed, as our travel was limited and our connection to campus was frayed. I wanted to be able to extend the dedicated-trees program out to people across the country and the world virtually, so I began the project of searching for and cataloging all of the dedicated trees on campus.
Prior to the start of the project, this information lived solely in old Flikr pages, in vague recollections of past employees or, disparately, in the knowledge of our director and horticulturists. Not only did I want this information to be available digitally, I wanted to create a specific collection of these trees on our website, one place where everyone – staff and visitors alike – could look to find the dedicated trees. If our staff members don’t know which trees are dedicated trees, how could they make a special point to care for them?
It was not a small or fast project to catalog these, especially with no collections manager and a staff already stretched thin. Intern help in locating the trees and then photographing and researching them was invaluable. Still, there were many holes in the information, and we continue to come across trees in our landscape to add to the website. To make sure we are capturing the data, from now on, whenever there is a new dedicated tree planted, we will ask the requestor to provide information that can be posted on our website immediately after the planting, with plenty of photos for posterity’s sake. Unfortunately, several of our trees were planted long ago, and we only have the name and dates on a plaque under a tree and can find no other information about the person honored. In these cases, we state that information on the page and provide our contact information for any updates to be sent to us.
For tree companies holding contracts with small municipalities or institutions, this can be an additional revenue stream for both them and the institution. Dedicated trees on our campus require a donation that goes to provide funding for the initial purchase, care of the tree and a replacement if needed within 10 years of the planting date.
Just getting the project started, providing a way to organize and share the information and being a resource for information about the tree species can go a long way toward strengthening such a program. It ties community members to the trees, even if they themselves have never planted a dedicated tree, by recognizing that others have and that trees are something we should care about. I’m extraordinarily proud of the work I’ve done on the dedicated trees on our campus and the legacy it will leave.
Meg Smolinski, an ISA Certified Arborist, is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Applied Agriculture program and is outreach coordinator for UMD’s Arboretum & Botanical Garden in College Park, Maryland.