A Good Day in the Arboretum

Erim Gomez with Tree

[WSU graduate student, Erim Gomez, with red oak tree being moved from near the Veterinary Teaching Hospital to the WSU Arboretum & Wildlife Conservation Center.]

Today was a good day. But then, any day you can plant a tree is a pretty good day. That’s especially true if you’re planting two nice, nearly 10-foot-tall red oak trees in the new WSU Arboretum & Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC).

During a meeting of our Arboretum Committee last week, Kathrin Brun, perhaps better known as “Kappy” by friends and colleagues, asked if the arboretum could use two red oak trees. Kappy supervises all the grounds work on the beautiful WSU campus in Pullman. As you might imagine, it took us only a split second to say, yes! Absolutely!

The two red oak trees were planted along the sidewalk near the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, but they had to be moved because some underground facility lines were going to be installed through the site.

Kappy assured me that the trees should be pretty easy to move because they were only about an inch in diameter and had been planted just last year. In fact, she thought that they probably hadn’t yet grown out of their original root ball. Nonetheless, my graduate student, Erim Gomez and I grabbed a pickup truck with a hydraulic lift gate, and threw in heavy duty shovels, a couple of pick axes, and heavy pry bars - just in case.

As you can see from the photo, Erim and I had a pretty good laugh when he walked over to the first tree, and with only a hard tug or two, pulled it up right out of the ground. Kappy was right. No new root growth yet. So given the warm weather and mild winter here on the Palouse this year, it wasn’t a bad time to move the trees.

Arboretum Woodland

[Red oak trees (center front and right) planted on the edge of the arboretum woodland.]

Planting the trees in the arboretum was a little more work, because we had to break through some frozen soil on the surface with a pick axe to make the planting holes large enough to give the trees a good start in their new home.

The site we selected is near a path that the public has created along the edge of the existing woodland in the arboretum. This patch of woods has been designated as a naturalized forest in the new master plan for the AWCC.

By keeping and actually expanding the forest, it will allow researchers, such as me, to continue to use the forest for studies of wildlife and plants. The forest already is home to nesting hawks and owls, and it has other birds and bats as well. Last summer, while conducting studies of wetlands in eastern Washington, Erim and I discovered extremely high densities of amphibians, primarily long-toed salamanders and Pacific tree frogs in the adjacent small ponds.

This arboretum forest gradually will be expanded and its composition changed over many years to make it a mixed conifer-deciduous forest that will serve as a bird and wildlife sanctuary. However, it’ll also make an excellent home or nursery for introducing native plants that require a forested environment. WSU students are already cutting a nature trail through the thick underbrush.

Red Oak Leaf The two oak trees are a wonderful addition to this mixed woodland and will add considerable wildlife value when they mature enough to begin producing “mast” or acorns. Being red oaks, the trees also will add gorgeous colors to the edge of the forest during fall. And because many oak trees tend to have leaves that persist on the tree in the non-growing season, oaks will add interest and substance to the woodland even during winter.

In the background of the above photo of Erim Gomez, you’ll note larger oak trees planted across the street from the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. You can see that by the time oaks reach that size, their limbs are already stretching out widely. So if you too decide to have a good day and plant an oak tree some where, be sure to give it a large lawn space with room to spread.

Many thanks to Kappy Brun for making today a really good day in the WSU Arboretum & Wildlife Conservation Center!