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April 17, 2020

MSU’s arboretum is a sustainable, resilient living laboratory

April 22, 2020, marks the golden anniversary of Earth Day, and for Frank Telewski, professor and director of the W. J. Beal Botanical Garden and campus arboretum, the day holds special significance.

“It’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago when I planted a tree in my high school courtyard to celebrate the first Earth Day,” Telewski said.

Telewski, along with campus arborist Jerry Wahl and his crew from Infrastructure Planning and Facilities’ Landscape Services department, are responsible for not only preserving the rich history of the MSU arboretum, but also for ensuring its healthy future.

“With so many historic trees on campus, there’s a lot of maintenance that goes into keeping them safe and healthy,” Wahl said. “IPF is dedicated to preserving our arboretum, performing the pruning necessary to keep the trees safe and structurally sound, as well as keeping under control the diseases and insects that threaten them. In addition, all of the approximately 20,000 trees on the maintained part of campus have been mapped, and all maintenance activities are recorded by our arborist crew and a dedicated botanical technologist.” 

Beyond its beauty and rich history, the campus arboretum also serves an important role in the university’s mission.

MSU Tree Map

“I cannot emphasize enough the important role the documented campus arboretum contributes to MSU’s core mission of teaching, research and outreach,” Telewski said. “Thousands of MSU students utilize the arboretum in their courses across the entire spectrum of campus-supported studies. Being surrounded by this beautiful tree canopy contributes to a positive Spartan experience for both students and campus visitors.”

“A team of students is also investigating the ideal percentage of canopy coverage on campus as part of their capstone course,” Wahl said. “They are also developing a list of tree species that preserves the diversity of our arboretum and maximizes our carbon sequestering ability, thus contributing to a more sustainable and resilient campus.”

For the dedication of staff in maintaining this living laboratory, 2019 marked the third year in a row that MSU earned Tree Campus USA recognition. However, Spartans have never been known to rest on past accomplishments.

“Just this year, MSU adopted a new tree replacement policy that requires any tree removed on campus be replaced on a one-for-one basis,” Wahl said. “Removed trees are either repurposed as mulch or their wood is used as part of the MSU Shadows program, which not only sequesters carbon in the products made, but whose proceeds also provide funds to plant additional trees on campus.”

Telewski added, “In addition to the new trees we are committed to plant and nurture, we also care for trees that predate the MSU campus by hundreds of years. We take our trees and arboricultural history very seriously.”

Although the current coronavirus pandemic’s social distancing requirements have prevented MSU from holding its annual Earth Day and Arbor Day celebrations, the Spartan community can still commemorate the events.

Check out Infrastructure Planning and Facilities’ Earth Day page for additional campus tree facts and a list of ways to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day.

By: Anthony Yuhasz

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