Defenders of the Trees

by Fran Marsh

This second in a series examines the planning, planting, care and removal of campus trees, and how this seemingly innocuous subject ignites botanical passions. Part III, Oct. 25: A tree tour.

Barking Up the Right Trees

The Campus Landscape Planning Committee, chaired by Landscape Architecture Chair Michael Laurie, is charged with promotion and guardianship of outdoor places and heritage trees.

Though some feel the juxtaposition between natural and formal areas is what gives campus its unique character, "From the very beginning," says Laurie, "the grand plan has suffered from a deep division between the naturalists and the architects."

The committee's proposed policy supports recognizing landscape issues in the initial stages of project planning and design. In spite of well meaning policies, a report says, "the campus in recent years appear(s) to have evolved building by building with sites defined by arbitrary project boundaries. Surrounding open space was typically designed as an adjunct to (a) building with little reference or connection to the whole, nor reference to broader campus values."

"Mostly what people think of is their treasured part of campus," said Michael Dobbins, a member of the committee and director of Physical and Environmental Planning. "We should think more of the campus as a whole while considering all views."

Though the committee hasn't put forward a policy statement on tree diversity, "in planning, design and construction, we do look at the teaching value of trees," says Ortha Zebroski, campus landscape architect.

As examples of diversity, Zebroski cites the tupelos (as in Elvis' Mississippi birthplace) planted on the interior of the Haas School of Business and a red-barked cultivar of the Japanese maple, Sango Kaku, that accents Haas' Gayley Road entrance.

Landscape architects also look at the upkeep required as they select species. High maintenance trees, though they may grow well here, are unlikely to be planted.

The goal is balancing the consistency of campus's character--its oaks, redwoods, buckeyes and urban plane tree accents--with special area characters, teaching diversity, and maintenance. A tall order.

"The campus is here for the long run, so we have to manage our tree resources for the long haul," says Zebroski.

"We have looked at plants that have been here for well over 100 years and are now in decline.

"We must constantly evaluate and replace. We do remove trees...our landscape isn't static."

A Moving Experience

In an effort to save our rare or one-of-a kind trees, campus landscape architects recently moved two trees displaced by construction of the Haas School of Business.

The two Camperdown elms pictured above--especially treasured by the Landscape Architecture Department--were formerly at the site of Cowell Hospital. They now grow south of Hilgard Hall. These trees with curious, umbrella-shaped tops are top-grafted onto the wych elm. The tree arose as a seedling at Camperdown House in Dundee, Scotland.

A 40-foot-tall Zelkova serrata, an elm relative native to Asia and the only one on the central campus, was moved in January 1993. A crane hoisted the 38,000-pound tree with its 40-foot limb spread and 10-foot wide, intricately tied root ball to a new home on the fountain plaza east of Kroeber Hall.

"Every season I walk out there and look at it hoping to find it is OK. It has been three seasons now, and it's doing well," said Assistant Campus Landscape Architect Christine Swanson.

Landscape architects have moved scores of trees, mostly due to construction. But transplanting larger trees is an expensive undertaking, and budget constraints often dictate whether a tree is moved.

Thirty large camellias were transplanted temporarily for Valley Life Sciences construction, then replanted in their original locations. Minor Hall construction led to moving six Hollywood junipers. But many lament several prize specimens lost when the library's underground stacks were constructed. That area encompassed part of the original site of the Botanical Garden.

Tree protection specifications are written into contractors' contracts to give the university muscle on work going on around existing trees.

Contractors must arrange for a member of the campus's tree crew to root prune trees affected by trenching, and trees surrounding construction areas must be fenced off to avoid compacting by heavy equipment.

Trees Lost...and Gained

The word diversity at Berkeley most often refers to the student population. But tree diversity is an equally burning issue in landscape circles.

Doctoral student Scot Medbury, a member of the Campus Landscape Planning Committee, has been at work on a lay person's guide to campus trees for visitors. Some 220 tree species are represented on campus, but Medbury's work would include 100 trees within the Oxford Street, Hearst Avenue, Gayley Road and Bancroft Way boundaries.

Though the future of his project is now clouded by budget constraints, Medbury speaks enthusiastically of the ways he envisions campus can maintain tree diversity.

Why We Lose Trees

"We haven't added so much as we have lost," he says. "You needn't go to the Amazon Basin to find loss of diversity. We've lost a lot."

It's not all due to building footprints, either, he explains. Much can be traced to avoidable construction impacts next to building projects. Heavy equipment traveling near work sites compacts wet soil, damaging tree feeder roots. "The damage may not show up right away, but in two or three years, the tree may die," he says. And there's little money to do renovation in impacted areas.

What About New Trees?

Often new buildings are planted repetitively with "clones of common landscape trees," says Medbury, citing numerous aristocrat pears planted near Pat Brown's Grille. "We're also planting more coast live oaks. The diversity goes away.

"I recently taught a course on native plants where I'd planned to use campus trees for quizzes. But even the natives have been lost." Medbury feels new capital projects should add something to species diversity. Instead of one, perhaps three or four species could be planted and some of the same design content accomplished.

His solution: Make landscape planning a part of the program for new buildings, and make it reflective of the university's teaching mission.

A Guide to Campus Trees

In 1976, Robert Cockrell, professor emeritus of forestry, published a revision of Woodbridge Metcalf's 1969 work, "Trees of the Berkeley Campus."

The booklet remains today the only guide available for campus trees. It contains nearly 300 tree descriptions by botanical name, a description of the various leaf shapes, a small glossary, an appendix of common names, and an appendix of trees near buildings and landmarks.

Metcalf came to Berkeley in 1914 to teach about trees in the newly begun forestry program. In 1926 he was appointed Extension Forester for California, the first position of its kind to be established in the nation.

The $5 booklet is available in the ASUC Bookstore's general book department in the local/Berkeley/East Bay section and also from Communications Services of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at 6701 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland, 94608, 642-2431.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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