Field of Science

RIP Carolina Silverbell

Halesia tetraptera, the Carolina silverbell, is a quite elegant ornamental tree. The center of the maize and soybean desert is quite a bit north of its native range, but a rather large specimen was growing on the east side of Williams Hall when I arrived on this campus some 30 years ago.

I am officially in mourning for this tree, and it died needlessly. This area was turned into a pedestrian mall several years ago, an attractive alternative to a city street that used to cut through campus. However, a 2-foot tall wall was built around this area, and then soil was added to raise the level of the bed. You wouldn't think it would matter, but for many trees, burying the roots is a sure means of killing the tree. Even before the soil was added I pointed out that burying the roots would kill the silverbell tree, but it was too expensive to seek a solution. Boy, you hate to say "I told you so", but I did.

Now you may take the attitude that it's only a tree, but this one was at least 60 years old, of substantial size for its species, and it's an unusal and very ornamental species to boot. Not only that but this campus is an official arboretum, which is supposed to show some interest in the tree collection. For this species of tree of this size, in an arboretum, the value calculated to be $25,500, not to mention the cost of cutting it down. For a fraction of that cost, a reverse wall could have been built, and the raised bed reduced in size, re-engineered for the sake of the silverbell. But "it cost too much" then. Well, what's the cost now? And how long will it take to get something as nice and as big to look at? Trees like that can not be bought, they can only be grown, and that takes time. We need to show some respect for our woody elders.

Wonder if I can get the campus to fly the flags at half-mast?

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