Each year around Arbor Day, Cathie Lavis, associate professor of horticulture, forestry and recreation, and her arboriculture students plant trees on the K-State campus that were donated by local landscaping industries. Since the tradition was established on Arbor Day in 2013, this activity has brought six healthy trees to various locations across campus.
Last April for their annual Arbor Day tree-planting project, Lavis and her students planted two trees: an oak tree in front of Dykstra Hall and a maple tree on the east side of Throckmorton Hall.
“Both trees were doing really beautiful because we had so much rain this summer,” Lavis said. “It was perfect growing conditions for those trees, and that little oak was really looking wonderful.”
However, Lavis said that approximately two weeks ago, she was riding her bike across the street toward Throckmorton Hall and noticed the oak tree was leaning unnaturally.
Later, K-State facilities staff attached the tree to a stake to prop it upright, but according to Lavis staking the tree could not save it completely. Within the next week, the tree’s leaves turned brown and, eventually, all fell from it.
It was concluded after examination of the damaged young oak, Lavis said, that the tree was likely tampered with by humans, as weather conditions prior to when the damaged tree was found did not include winds or storms severe enough to uproot it.
“It looked like they either tried to pull it out of the ground, or they tried to swing on it, or something like that, but whatever they did really stressed the root system because that tree had an opportunity to establish,” Lavis said. “To me, that’s just a really sad demonstration of just this lack of awareness of how important our trees are.”
As of several years ago, K-State became what is known as a Tree Campus USA, and like other Tree Campuses at universities nationwide, K-State must work to maintain its trees in order to maintain its Tree Campus title with the Arbor Day Foundation.
For this and other reasons concerning trees’ benefits to the campus, Lavis said it is important that students, faculty and guests respect the lives of trees throughout the area and keep in mind that a campus with damaged or no trees would not be as visually pleasing or naturally functioning.
“There are a lot of things trees do to contribute to our environment that, a lot of times, we don’t even think about,” Lavis said. “I think there needs to be an awareness that trees have value and that they can be easily damaged. Most people think that trees are tough.”
Alyssa Frey, freshman in theater, said that K-State students may not always take the time to stop and think about the full functions of trees on campus, but they likely have a basic appreciation of one of trees’ most significant functions in the backs of their minds.
“They provide us with oxygen, so we don’t die,” Frey said. “Why would someone want to kill a tree that helps us live?”
Some students recognize that campus trees not only contribute to the environment, but also to the history of K-State.
“There’s history with each tree,” Sarah May, junior in computer information systems, said. “Each tree has a purpose, and they’re a part of us. They’re a part of the history of our campus, they’re part of K-State.”
May also said that the trees are not there just to look pretty, they also create a shady study spot for many students.
“I like sunshine, but I’m very thankful that the trees are there to provide shade when I need it,” May said.
Though K-State students, faculty and campus guests may not always have functionality and significance of trees on the brain, as according to Lavis, trees’ value are not always obvious and an awareness brought back to the issue could help preserve and lengthen the lives of trees campuswide.
“People aren’t looking up,” Lavis said. “People aren’t listening to the birds singing and looking at the plants and looking at the fall color coming. We’re way too busy, and we just need to remember that trees have value, and some of that value is hidden.”