Hug the Trees: Part 1

Editor’s Note: This article was researched before UC San Diego’s transition to remote learning due to COVID-19. The programs discussed in this article are temporarily not available for student participation. 

If you asked UC San Diego students to name a type of tree on campus, most would respond with  eucalyptus. After all, the campus was constructed where a vast eucalyptus grove resided, and the Stuart Collection’s installments of “Trees” and “Two Running Violet V Forms” hinge on the leveling of this grove for meaning. 

However, despite the eucalyptus trees’ prevalence and recognition, they are far from being the only trees on campus. In fact, there are more than a hundred different species of trees currently growing across UCSD. The beginning of the 2019-2020 academic school year kick-started three new initiatives to encourage greater awareness and support regarding tree diversity on campus. 

In honor of Earth Day, The UCSD Guardian compiled this series to share with readers what these new campus initiatives entail and their ultimate goals. 

Tree Tours

A new opportunity to learn about and support campus sustainability emerged this year with the “Tree Tours.” These events are free, hour-long tours that teach students and faculty about the various species of trees on different parts of campus. The tours were the idea of Chris Johnson, a groundskeeper, student garden coordinator, and horticulturist. He was joined by Mike Hogan, an urban forester, in both applying and later hosting the tours. 

“On a tour, we visit an area of campus,” Johnson explained, “and talk about six or so trees, their natural and cultural history, ethnobotany, how they got their name, why they are interesting here or why they were planted, and as a Beatle friend and regular ‘customer’ added, what Beatle song each tree reminds me of.”

The tours began this academic year after receiving funding from the UCSD Staff Sustainability Network in Spring 2019. According to Sustainability Engagement Manager Jennifer Bowser, this annual network award “provides funding for a staff member through a grant that helps increase awareness of sustainability on campus.” The funding Johnson received was able to pay for informative handouts and tree-related snacks — for example, pine nuts for discussions on pine trees — to tour attendees. 

“I am always thinking of ideas to push my agenda of a campus arboretum, and having been to dozens across the country, I put forward what they do. I’m not inventing anything, I’m just inventing it here,” Johnson said. “Many arboreta and gardens have tree tours, and to push tree advocacy, familiarity and knowledge come first.”

After receiving this funding, Johnson and Hogan began hosting the tours with groups ranging from three to 25 attendees across campus. As of the beginning of March, eight Tree Tours had been held, with the most recent one taking place on February 28 at the base of the Sun God statue and focusing on “the trees the Sun God sees.” Students were able to learn about the nearby tree species’ characteristics and history, and at the end of the tour, Johnson gave a seedling tree he started growing in his nursery to a student attendee. 

“I am interested in succulents and trees, so when the tours came along, I was intrigued,” Divisional Manager of Facilities Karen Wagner said. “Mike and Chris are so knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, I have become a regular. They share information on native species, but also where the non-native tree species come from. The Tree Tours have inspired me to explore new parts of the campus and learn more about its history—there really are some hidden gems out there.”

Currently, Chris Johnson spends his days tending the trees and student gardens while campus access is limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tree Tours have been cancelled for the remainder of the academic year, but students interested in joining when physical classes and events resume can access the Staff Sustainability Network calendar here.

Photo by Esra Elhendy for The UCSD Guardian.

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