GREEN AND GROWING

The Davidson College Arboretum: A Time Line

by | Jul 29, 2018 | Green & Growing, Top Left Red Box

Found on the Davidson College campus on the north side of the library, the Pistachio chinensis or Chinese Pistache has a brilliant coat of red in the fall.

1869 – Early fathers of Davidson College envisioned that the campus would be a place to preserve local trees and woody plants. In June 1869, the Report of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees proposed “to make the Campus in its contents represent in time the forest growth of the State, and, if possible, the general botany of the region.”

1982 – The campus and its woody plants have been lovingly cared for over the years. In 1982, Dr. Henry Mark Cathey, an alumnus and Director of the National Arboretum in Washington, D. C., wrote President Samuel R. Spencer, Jr. urging him to use the grounds of Davidson College as a working arboretum. With generous grants from the estate of Mr. Edwin Latimer Douglas and later from Martin Marietta Aggregates, the college first made an aerial survey in order to develop topographical maps, which identified and localized the major trees.

1984 –Grover Metz, Director of Physical Planning at the College, appointed an advisory committee which included Irvin Brawley, Director of Buildings and Grounds, Professors Tom Daggy and John Williamson of the Biology Department, and Margaret Zimmerman, a member of the Davidson Garden Club. This committee made a proposal for the creation of the arboretum to President John Kuykendall and the Board of Trustees at the College.

In their report, the stated purpose of the arboretum was to develop, maintain and display a major collection of woody plants that will thrive in the Piedmont of North Carolina. It would enhance the natural beauty of the College and, at the same time, provide an outdoor laboratory for students, faculty, and staff of the College, for the local community, and for visitors to the College.

The proposal envisioned that the Arboretum would be a special kind of museum where collections of living trees, shrubs, and vines would be displayed outdoors for people to study and enjoy. It would be a scientific and educational facility, using its collections and natural areas for programs of research and education.

Functions of the Arboretum as outlined in the report included the following:
1) To provide learning experiences in a continuous, living laboratory for students of botany, horticulture, and nature.
2) To provide recreational interest by means of walks and trails through well-planned and maintained displays of woody plants.
3) To collect, maintain, and display in one area, plants hardy to that locale with proper identification and labeling with scientific names, common names, and places of origin.
4) To maintain selections of woody plants that may be used for comparison of ornamental values.
5) To introduce new plants into an area. To increase the productivity, economic importance, and beauty of an area by well planned displays of woody plants.

1984 to 1988 – The Arboretum was approved, over 1,650 trees were labeled, and Davidson College with its 85 acres of active campus and a total acreage of 450 acres officially became a member of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta. By December 2005, the college newspaper Davidsonian reported that there were 3000 labeled woody trees and shrubs on campus.

1989 – On September 22, in the early morning hours, the 85 mile-an-hour winds of Hurricane Hugo blasted the Davidson community. On the campus, no historic buildings were damaged nor was anyone injured, but the Arboretum took a heavy toll. Well over 230 trees were felled during the storm and others whose root systems were irreparably damaged went down in the weeks and months after the storm.

Grover Metz was quoted in the September 27 issue of the Mecklenburg Gazette: “You cannot express in tangible terms what was lost. Dollars and cents just won’t do it. Everyone had special trees around campus, and the sight of them all lying on the ground at once was powerful.”

John Kuykendall remembers the Live Oak, which stood by the circle drive in front of Chambers Building. Some days after the storm, a car parked under the tree was crushed when the tree suddenly fell due to severe damages from the storm.

Today – The College has worked to replace the trees and woody plants felled by Hugo, and today it is in Irvin Brawley’s words, “a living museum.” The Physical Plant at the College with David Holthouser, Director, currently manages the Arboretum and continues its legacy.

Lacy Dick

Longtime Davidson resident, Lacy Dick, is a Master Gardener having completed her training in York County, South Carolina. In Davidson, she has been active in the Davidson Garden Club, where she served a term as President. For several years she was chair of the Davidson Horticulture Symposium,which has been sponsored by the garden club and has been held at Davidson College for over 30 years. Lacy has a special interest in trees and in the history of plants. 

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