The Daily Gamecock

USC honored for historic trees with Tree Campus USA honor

In front of McKissick Museum stands a beautiful southern magnolia planted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1954 to honor Gen. Robert E. Lee.

David Rembert, professor emeritus of biology, recounts that in 1960 or 1961, when he was an undergraduate student at USC and the tree was just a small sapling, someone, no doubt a Yankee, cut it down.


But the stubborn tree popped out a stump sprout and grew back anyway, which is why today it looks like it has several trunks. Someone placed a sign next to the tree not long after its rebirth that read, “Like this magnolia, the South will rise again.”

Whether the South will ever rise again is debatable, but there is no doubt that historic trees such as this and their younger siblings have risen USC’s profile as a sustainable campus. Last month, USC Columbia was named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota for the second year in a row.

The award places USC Columbia among 115 campuses nationally, four of which are in South Carolina, to receive the distinction. USC Upstate, Clemson University and Furman University were also named Tree Campuses.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation’s website, to earn Tree Campus USA recognition, schools must establish a campus tree advisory committee, show evidence of a campus tree care plan, dedicate annual expenditures to a on-campus tree care plan, have an Arbor Day observance and create a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body in sustainable efforts.

USC’s Columbia campus has more than 6,000 trees representing 90 species, and the Horseshoe alone is home to 84 trees. Conveying the emphasis it places on its “urban forest,” since 2000, the university has planted more than 2,000 trees on the campus — a 33 percent increase in the last eight years. USC spends $10,000 to $20,000 per year to plant an average of 250 trees, said Tom Knowles, an assistant director of facilities in charge of landscaping and environmental services.

In a short tour Wednesday of the Horseshoe’s historic trees, Knowles’ first stop was a live oak near the Osborne Administration Building that survived a lightning strike four years ago. Most of the Horseshoe’s trees are various species of oaks. A live oak can live to be 1,000 years old in perfect conditions, said Knowles, and this particular one was thought to be USC’s oldest at 150 years.

“The only real way to know would be to count the rings, and we don’t want to do that,” Knowles said.

As he strolls through the perfect weather to the next stop, a red oak between Petigru and Davis colleges thought to be the largest on USC’s main campus, Knowles stoops to pick up a piece of trash on the walkway.

“Our grounds crew probably spends a third of our day dealing with garbage,” Knowles said, before outlining the tree’s 50-inch diameter, 100-foot height and possibly 100-foot spread.

He notes the benefits of the university’s investments in trees: producing oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, absorbing pollutants, cooling buildings, housing wildlife and, perhaps most importantly, recruiting students.

At the last stop, the Gen. Robert E. Lee Magnolia, he responds to a question over whether the university would be better served by planting buildings, rather than trees, in this area.

“Heck no,” Knowles replied.


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