As sophomore Sarah Miller dug her shovel into the wet earth Thursday, she thought about legacy. She thought about her love of trees, a love she shares with her father and grandfather. Now, she was planting her first tree ever, a black gum.
As rain sprinkled IU’s campus, more than a dozen Landscape Services nursery staff, IU students and faculty gathered to plant trees in the Old Crescent near Wylie and Owen halls to celebrate Arbor Day, which is Friday.
“It really gives students the opportunity to have some ownership and make a mark on their campus,” said Tristan Johnson, horticulture supervisor and landscape architect for Landscape Services.
IU’s campus has more than 12,000 trees, not including the ones in wooded areas such as Dunn's Woods. That alone may contain about 5,000 trees, Johnson said.
Thirty-one trees were added to those thousands Thursday during the the 12th annual Tree Campus USA Arbor Day tree planting event organized by Landscape Services, Sustain IU and the Integrated Program in the Environment, an academic network focused on environmental sustainability.
The leaders kicked off the event by explaining the logistics of planting a tree as volunteers listened. Miller and other volunteers helped dig and fill in the hole. After placing a memorial plaque for Raffaella Maria Stroik, 23-year-old IU alumna who died in November 2018, the first tree was done.
“That’s a tree from start to finish,” Johnson said, smiling. On to the next one.
Students and campus tour groups passing by looked from underneath their umbrellas. But those taking part in the event couldn’t use umbrellas. Their hands were occupied by shovels.
Sarah Mincey, director of the Integrated Program in the Environment, said managing the campus landscape in a sustainable way and getting students involved is important for the future of forestry on campus.
“What’s most fun about urban forestry is that people are so intimately engaged with the trees,” she said. “This is our daily environment. So we want them to be healthy trees, and we want them to be diverse so that it’s sustainable.”
She said in addition to benefits such as flash flood prevention that campus trees provide, their presence can also make students and staff happier and healthier.
“To have students involved in actually producing an environment that’s healthier and makes them happier is critical,” she said. “They’re the population we’re serving here on campus.”
They split up into groups of three or four and started on different trees in the area. The trees they planted included black gums, chinquapin, bur oaks and yellowwoods.
A Bobcat hummed loudly as it approached groups to transport dirt and trees. The nursery staff shouted across the lawn to each other, looking for the clippers to snip the wiring surrounding the tree pods.
“I see them,” someone yelled. “They’re on the bench.”
They helped volunteers, showing them how to remove the decomposable burlap wrappings on the tree pods and fill in the holes with dirt.
As Miller walked away, her hair wet from the rain and her black boots spotted with mud, she thought about her own legacy and how the trees she planted will stand and grow on campus in the decades to come.
“You can come back here and show them to your kids or family or friends and tell them about this experience and how you contributed to a greater picture here, which is really special,” she said.