Trees given in ‘60s, ‘70s suffer from age

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Luke Hollomon, Staff Writer

Cast your eyes upward as you cross the lawn today. Look upon the trees that adorn the campus. There are many different types of trees, each with its own story. Some are very old, some are very young. Others are getting a bit sick, while some are rather healthy.

Photo by Luke HollomonThis healthy-looking Chinese elm, part of the 1971 gift from the King Foundation, is not so healthy. When the weather warms up, it will have worms.
Photo by Luke Hollomon
This healthy-looking Chinese elm, part of the 1971 gift from the King Foundation, is not so healthy. When the weather warms up, it will have worms.

Now that the leaves are gone, you can see the source of some of the sickness. Those green spots amongst the bare canopies are mistletoe, a common tree parasite.

As a parasite, the mistletoe steals nutrients from a host tree in order to survive, often causing limb damage. Biology department chair Dr. Marcy Brown Marsden shed some light on mistletoe that may reduce fears about its effects.

“It’s not a complete parasite,” Brown said. “It’s actually a hemi-parasite [half-parasite]. See how it is green? That means that it is manufacturing its own sugars. It is probably taking some water and a few nutrients from the tree.”

Brown also said that while many ecologists think that this does weaken trees, others do not believe that the effect is very strong.

Photo courtesy of Lyle NovinskiRev. Fischer (left) and Lyle Novinski (right) plant a tree in front of the old chapel (now the drama building) in 1971.
Photo courtesy of Lyle Novinski
Rev. Fischer (left) and Lyle Novinski (right) plant a tree in front of the old chapel (now the drama building) in 1971.

“If they were in my backyard, I might hire a tree service to prune it, but I would invest more in irrigation,” Brown said. “The drought has been a problem for many trees.”

When she learned of the age of the campus trees, Brown expressed concern about their health since many of the trees were planted in the early development of the University of Dallas.

In those years of the late ‘50s, all the foliage was cleared away to make room for the buildings, and much was immediately replanted.This replanting, according to art professor emeritus Lyle Novinski, resulted in the trees we have today.

Seeing how bare the campus was, a friend of Beatrice Haggerty donated some redbuds and Chinese elms in the 1960s, but only a few survive.

John Stemmons, a Dallas developer, also donated some trees in the late 1960s. These included many of the live oaks that still exist near Carpenter and Anselm Halls, as well as some sycamores near the Tower, which have since died.

The most substantial gifts came from the work of a former Chaplain, Rev. Donald Fischer, who joined with some of the founding nuns in planting trees near the chapel. One of these nuns, Sister Francis Maria, was photographed by the Texas Catholic while planting, and the paper published the photo in its next edition in 1971.

This prompted the King Foundation to call Novinski and offer more trees. The foundation was willing to donate 250 saplings, worth $5,000. Novinski happily accepted and the trees were planted soon after, mostly through the work of Fischer and Novinski.

The majority of those trees are still living. They are the pines near the gym and the red oaks spread throughout the campus.

While they were planting later that year, chemistry professor Dr. Jack Towne – the founder of the biochemistry department and professor emeritus of chemistry until last year – asked Novinski, “Why are you putting those little sticks all around campus?” Novinski replied, “25 years from today … it will all look different.”

The trees were planted in very specific places to lend the school a certain feel.

“We wanted to capture the ‘nature of place’ of the campus,” Novinski said. “It’s a concept from [writer] Christian Norberg-Schulz.”

Life has always been difficult for these trees. Many suffered from insect damage and under-watering through the years, especially the Chinese elms. Some of the original elms are suffering from a recent worm infestation; if you notice some sickly individuals, that is why.

Many of the trees that were planted in the early days will live for a very long time, although certain varieties are getting very close to the limits of their life spans. Not until 1992 did the university institute a budget line for the replacement of aged trees. Before then, the university had relied on gifts from other organizations.

Fortunately, that line in the budget still exists, and the university will replace many of the now-aged trees in the next few years.

Novinski has done much to replace aged trees. Each spring since the 1970s, he has harvested the seedlings from flowering peach trees that Haggerty donated long ago, cultivated them at his nearby home for 2 to 3 years and returned to plant them on campus.

Most likely, by the end of spring break, all will be in bloom, most prominently near the pathway to Carpenter Hall by Lynch Auditorium.

To make up for recent and impending losses of the old trees, Novinski is planning a planting later in the spring. The yard at his house is littered with about 50 specimens waiting to be transplanted.

Many trees will be here as long as the university. Some live oaks live up to a thousand years, while others die off much sooner. They will slowly be replaced as the “nature of place” and beauty of the university is kept intact through Novinski’s work.

 

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