Don’t be Tree Blind

Laura Doan

Everyday, hundreds of students walk by The Battle Oaks, unaware they are passing the three oldest living things on campus. On the corner of Whitis Avenue and 24th Street, the trees, all resilient Texas live oaks, rooted in the hill an estimated 250-300 years ago and predate both the Civil War and The University of Texas. 

The trees were named after the man who saved them: Dr. William James Battle, former university chairman. Thanks to Battle and a group of concerned faculty and staff, the oaks survived 1923, when constructors threatened to cut them down to clear space for biology labs. According to one University legend, Battle sat under the oaks’ sprawling branches with shotgun in hand, prepared to defend them at any cost. 

These stories matter. Our campus trees have names, and some have even more history than the University itself. So don’t be tree-blind when you walk around campus. Our trees will be a part of this campus much longer than one any of us will, and they provide integral benefits to this University. This Arbor Day, stop to read the Battle Oaks’ plaque and make an effort to learn more about UT trees and the people who care for them.

Students should be cognizant of how much campus landscapers do to make our trees truly exceptional. For 10 years, UT campus has been designated a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, and was part of the first group of colleges to receive that award in 2008. “We’re pretty proud of that. It’s not an easy thing to do,” said Jim Carse, the manager of landscape services. UT landscapers care for the trees in many ways: They prune, they plant, they transplant, and they treat trees sick with diseases like oak wilt. And they do so on a large scale: We have 4,771 trees on campus of 109 species and 40 different genera. 

 “The landscape and the trees are generally the first things people see when they walk on this campus,” Carse said. Our oaks, our cedar elms, our bald cypresses help establish great first-impressions for potential students and visiting scholars at UT, and we should credit Carse and his team for that. 

Those unmoved by aesthetic value must at least acknowledge the trees’ financial benefits, totaling around $550,000 each year. The number is an estimate of the value the trees provide by, among other things, upping property values, improving air quality and reducing cooling costs of campus buildings with shade from the tree canopy. 

In return for all our trees give us, the very least we can do is know their names. Go to MyTreeKeeper online for the genus, height and diameter of every tree tagged on campus. Peruse the stories of notable trees like the Littlefield Deodar Cedar and the Constitution Oak, and visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s site for more detailed information about every genus and species of tree you can find at UT. 

Or ask the experts and show up in person at the Arbor Day celebration Friday in the East Mall in front of Jackson School of Geosciences, where the landscaping team will plant a handful of small trees and offer a sign-up for those interested in volunteering next year. 

Next time you’re walking in between classes on campus or reading against the base of a trunk give a little bit more thought both to the trees that quietly, gracefully benefit our campus and the landscapers who manage them. We are only fleeting parts of the lives of many of the trees on campus who have firmer roots than we do, and we will be here long after we walk across the graduation stage. 

So respect your place in a larger ecosystem. Marvel at some trees. Allow them to be what Dr. William James Battle intended: “A source of enjoyment for many generations.”

Doan is an English and Plan II junior from Fort Worth.