Category Archives: Trees and Forests

Increasing Student Interaction with Trees

Despite the warming weather, many UVA students restrict themselves to studying indoors. This is not a positive health decision. As per the Stress Reduction Theory, derived from a 2013 study conducted by Bratman, Hamilton, and Daily, nature is proven to have a positive effect on ones stress level. Schools and hospitals continue to increase use of windows, in an attempt to foster a stronger connection with students and nature. Many trees across our grounds provide shade and are accompanied by benches and tables, creating an ideal study spot. The reason many students study inside might be due to a lack of knowledge of the prevalence of these study areas, along with the lack of knowledge surrounding the positive benefits that trees can provide to students on grounds.

As a University, we need to increase our awareness of these bountiful locations throughout grounds and take advantage of them. When studying or eating indoors, students do not receive the benefits of trees and nature. Benches and picnic tables under trees provide a relaxed, positive, and resourceful work environment for the aspiring student. A 2011 UVA landscape report refers to some of these locations under the subheading “Refuge + Retreat – Gardens and Courtyards”. 2 However, a shifted perspective to these areas being viewed as more multifunctional and as alternative study areas can greatly help reduce the stress of student and faculty.

When studying, a student will take breaks or get distracted by unrelated things. When studying outdoors, a break period is not an unproductive distraction, but is referred to as soft fascination. Soft fascination consists of the therapeutic and restorative elements found when observing nature. Soft fascination is positive for the body and mind, helping to reduce stress hormones (Rinchen-Wongmo).

A location on grounds that does not receive enough acknowledgment is the spaces surrounding Nau Hall. The environment surrounding this building has multiple sites for studying in sight of, or next to trees. The back patio area does not receive shade coverage from the tree canopy, yet reaps benefits from the many surrounding trees. The student sits in a more controlled outdoor environment and experiences the soft fascination of trees, rustling leaves and insect biodiversity. The same student has the option to move out to a more distant area on the nearby grass, and can potentially study or relax under a tree. The paths surrounding Nau Hall make the scenic route worthwhile, as there is a lot of exposure to trees (picture 1).


Picture 1: Trail around Nau Hall



Picture 2: Area outside Nau Hall

The other side of Nau Hall differs in that there is an area in which both benches and a picnic table are directly immersed by the noninvasive, ornamental trees seen in picture 2. The trees of this area provide shade and create stress-free environment to productively study, eat or relax. Many tables within the building overlook the outdoor area. If you cant be outside, perhaps due to weather, a seat with a view of trees can help to reduce stress through an indirect form of nature.

The many pavilion gardens surrounding the perimeter of the lawn have trees and benches that are not being used to their full potential. These areas put students in a place that is away from their daily stress, allowing them to relax and study in an effort to avoid poor mental health. The negative effects of stress are extreme, and studying or not, we must utilize these areas bountiful with nature to combat the high levels of stress regularly seen in a college setting.


Picture 3: Pavilion VII Garden



Picture 4: Pavilion V Garden

The University can add more benches under the existing tree areas, as a solution to students who avoid sitting on the ground. Tables can also be put into place to replicate a setting of a library; this can help a student using multiple books and accommodate larger groups. By promoting these relaxation regions as alternative study areas, UVA not only promotes a positive image for utilizing the nature around us, but also shows that they encourage students to obtain both academic success and a healthy mind.


Post by Ben Steinberg

Work Cited

Bratman, Gregory, J. Paul Hamilton, and Gretchen C. Daily. “The Impacts of Nature Experience on Human Cognitive Function and Mental Health.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1249 (2012): n. pag. Web.

Landscape Typologies + Standards. Rep. Office of the Architect, University of Virginia 2011, n.d. Web.

Rinchen-Wongmo, Leslie. “Environment, Meditation, & Soft Fascination.” Threads of Awakening RSS. N.p., 23 June 2009.


Hereford Residential College

One of the most historic and proud residential colleges found on Grounds here at the University of Virginia is the Hereford Residential College. The goals of first building this residential college was to provide social and intellectual programming while also promoting a deep notion of community. Hereford opened in 1992 as the University’s second-ever residential college. Its design was intended to emulate a modern version of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village plan. Being a resident of Hereford myself, I have observed how similar the community is to that of the one on the lawn. The scenic view and the untamed nature around the residential college is absolutely astonishing especially because it sits on top of Observatory Hill overlooking the mountainous terrain beyond.

Embedded in the middle of the five buildings of Hereford is an acre of lawn that acts as the center of the community where you can find picnic tables and hammocks. Now that the weather has started to take a turn in favor of spring, students have started to frequently visit this spot whether it is to study, hangout with friends, or just soaking up the bright rays of the sun. The great thing about this area is that it is lined with trees that so nicely drape over some of the hammocks that are present. These trees provide shade over the hammocks which makes it extra relaxing and comfortable for the people using them. The trees themselves provide a feeling of comfort and wholesomeness especially when you are nestled deep within them while laying on a hammock, sitting on the grass, or tossing a football around with others.  Without the trees, the space would feel really empty and there would definitely be something missing in the thick of it all.


Hereford Residents making use of the hammocks and picnic tables under the trees.

In a recent study published by the journal Environmental Pollution, the researchers found that people who lived around more trees relative to people who lived in dense cities, tended to live longer. The study found that “trees prevented 850 human deaths and 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in 2010 alone”.  When a significant area of trees is removed from a population, air pollutants begin to rise in the environment because the trees had acted as a filter in a way to intercept these pollutants.  The study concluded that trees serve a more impactful use when they are in urban areas, rather than rural ones, because of the closeness of proximity to people. Everyday we take the trees and forests around us for granted without realizing how much importance they have by removing the potential air pollution that could be present without them.


Post by Garrick Sin

The Effect of Trees on the Corner

For UVa students, the Corner is the central hub for commerce in Charlottesville. There are popular restaurants, bars, and retail shops all located conveniently near UVa Grounds. It is always bustling with people and makes for a great place to spend an afternoon or evening. The main stretch of the Corner on University Avenue features scattered trees on the sidewalk, while the section on 14th street does not have any.

The trees provide many services for pedestrians, shoppers, and diners on the Corner. First, they provide a temporary escape from the heat for pedestrians. The shade under a tree can be about 2.3 degrees Celsius lower than the temperature in the sun (Simpson, 1998). Secondly, a single tree can absorb 750 gallons of storm water per year (Earth Gauge). Lastly, trees can greatly reduce air pollutants. One tree absorbs 60 pounds of pollutants from the air in one year (Earth Gauge).

The above section of the Corner greatly benefits from having street trees. They provide shade and a psychological sense of separation from both the busy road. On warm days, The Virginian can take advantage of the tree’s benefits and places two tables on the street. The outdoor environment, combined with the possibility of seeing friends passing by makes these tables among the most popular places to eat on the Corner.

This section of the Corner, at the intersection of 14th Street and University Avenue features no trees. Among the eight restaurants between University Avenue and the Wertland and 14th intersection, four restaurants, Boylan Heights, Christian’s Pizza, Two Guys Tacos, and Basil, have outdoor seating. Instead of street tables, though, they all have built structures such as patios or porches to accommodate tables.

The Boylan and Christian’s porch is just a few feet away from an incredibly busy intersection, a railroad bridge, and a coal-fired power plant. I know from experience that when a UTS bus and a train pass this spot simultaneously, you cannot hear the person sitting next to you. Additionally, all of the activity increases the temperature and emits many toxins into the air.

While the trees on the Corner are beneficial, having them can come at a cost. Trees require a good amount of space that could be used otherwise. For example, sidewalks must be extended in order to plant a tree, and that eliminates the space that could be used for parking. Also, they increase risk of property damage as falling limbs could hit cars, buildings, or even people. However, the risk of property damage from trees is still very low and reduced parking motivates people to walk more and keeps the air cleaner.

Overall, trees help both businesses and people on the Corner. They add floor space to restaurants and create a pleasant ambiance for dining outdoors without having to build an additional structure for seating. Additionally, the cooling power of trees can reduce the amount of sun entering a building, lowering the need for air conditioning (Simpson, 1998). The trees on University Avenue create a quasi barrier between the street and sidewalk, creating a cool, clean environment for pedestrians. There are several problems on the corner that trees could help address. Storm water management on the Corner is not great, especially after a snowstorm. The side streets and sidewalks frequently flood and make walking difficult. Additional trees or other vegetation could help absorb storm water, but there is no more space available for more to be planted. Also, to help improve air quality, the city could plant more trees around the power plant. I believe that if more space were available, the city would plant many more trees on the Corner as the most cost-effective way to manage issues with temperature, air quality, and storm water runoff.

Post by Scott Schutte

Works Cited

Simpson, J. R. (1998). Urban Forest Impacts on Regional Cooling and Heating Energy use: Sacramento County Case Study. Journal of Arboriculture 24(4): 201–214.

“National Arbor Day.” Mother Earth News. Earth Gauge, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.


The Giving Trees

As a student at the University of Virginia, I find myself spending significant amounts of time outside walking from class to class, jogging through grounds, or just taking a stroll on the Downtown Mall. I pass countless numbers of trees scattered throughout grounds and the Charlottesville community, often failing to take notice of their presence. It seems that, particularly as students, we frequently fail to acknowledge the nature around us and the benefits that it can provide. Specifically, the presence of trees in a public space can provide economic, energy, environmental, and social benefits to those who reap its rewards. The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards, a local group dedicated to supporting “rural and urban forests by increasing public awareness of the intrinsic value and beauty of trees, educating the community about trees and tree care, and partnering with local government agencies and civic groups to improve and restore the tree canopy in the area” are extremely knowledgeable about the external benefits of the presence of trees in the Charlottesville area, specifically.

Economically, the presence of trees can increase property values, reduce the need for investing in erosion control strategies, reduce incidences of illness reporting, and even encourage people to pay more for goods and services in tree-filled areas. Energy-wise, trees have the ability to provide cooling shade, reducing the need to expend energy on air conditioning. Furthermore, they can reduce heating costs in buildings if situated in the proper location, and they can reduce harmful wind speed detriment by acting as windbreaks.

Photo from:

Environmentally, trees reduce noise pollution by absorbing sound, reduce the Heat Island Effect, collect and retain rainwater, reduce and ameliorate the presence of CO2 in the community, and even lessen the effects of storms by reducing runoff and erosion. Finally, trees possess many social benefits as well, as even the sight of nature has been shown to reduce stress in people. Additionally, areas with copious amounts of trees have a lesser frequency of crime than those with low levels of nature, hospital patients exposed to nature demonstrate faster recovery rates than those who are not, and even hyperactive disorder symptoms in children are lessened after contact with nature.

While this merely demonstrates a brief synopsis of the benefits of the presence of trees in our lives, expert organizations like The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards seek to spread awareness in the greatest detail of the positive externalities of trees in the community and welcome any interested community members to join their meetings and discussions of the welfare that trees can provide. Furthermore, the Charlottesville Tree Stewards encourage those with all levels of knowledge to participate and facilitate an interest in the importance of trees, prompting interest through the YouTube video “Why Trees?” found at Those who are interested can attend one of their monthly meetings, on the third Monday of each month at 9 am at the Department of Forestry in Charlottesville. For more information on the societal, environmental, and economic benefits of trees, or to contact the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards for more information about their upcoming events and activities, visit


Works Cited

“G U F F.” G U F F. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

“Trees Are Good – Tree Care Information.” Trees Are Good – Tree Care Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

“Treesteward.” Treesteward. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Post by Elizabeth Brown, Second-Year, Urban and Environmental Planning

Observatory Hill Forest

Located just west of University of Virginia’s central campus, Observatory Hill is the largest green space on campus. Observatory Hill offers the University many unique opportunities including environmental, recreational and educational uses. Having an area as large as OHill dedicated to forest has many environmental benefits. First, trees improve both the macro and micro-climate of an area. Trees have a cooling effect and help to combat the “heat island effect” caused by paved areas. Trees are also a key component of mitigating the greenhouse effect by sequestering carbon. Second, improve air quality by serving as natural air filters; they remove dust and pollutants such as CO2 from the air and release O2 back into the air. Lastly, trees improve water quality by reducing storm water runoff. In terms of recreational advantages, Observatory Hill contains many trails that are frequented for hiking, dog walking and biking. These recreational activities allow students and individuals in the Charlottesville community convenient opportunities to enjoy nature. Furthermore, Observatory Hill allows ample options for classes and students to study and learn from the forest, gaining valuable knowledge of ecology, hydrology and much more!

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 1.26.07 PM

The Ecology Department at the University has conducted several studies over the years to identify and document the biodiversity of the forest. 2920 trees were identified, covering a range of 31 different species (see chart for species and specie counts). The four dominant species of trees included: Nyssa sylvatica, Quercus prinus, Acer rubrum, and Kalmia latifolia. The largest trees in the forest though were the Quercus prinus and the Liriodendron tulipfera, with basal areas ranging from 24661-5178 cm^2.  The smallest trees were Kalmia latifolia and Nyssa sylvatica, with basal areas ranging from 2-7 cm^2. The biodiversity of the forest supports a rich ecosystem, providing habitats for a plethora of other organisms and ensuring a more sustainable forest.



Identifying and documenting tree species in an area as large as Observatory Hill can prove to be challenging, but there are many tactics one may use to conduct this task. The method used to study Observatory Hill included plotting out areas and documenting the species located in each plot. First, plots were established using a GPS and marked with rebar and tag. Within the plot,  trees were identified using a tree ID handbook, the distance of the tree from the center of the plot and the angle from North was measured, each tree was marked with tags, and height measurements for a few trees were recorded using a clinometer. Lastly, a 2m transect though the center of the plot was established and all seedlings and trees were counted and measured.

Tree identification has become easier than ever with the rise of computer and telephone applications. Virginia Tech created the Virginia Tech Tree Identification application that allows users to identify trees with just a click of their phone! The application contains information on over 900 North American plants, including pictures and map ranges for each species. The application lays out a series of questions that allows for quick identification of species.

(Source: UVA Ecology Department, Atticus Finch)

Post by Taylor O’Leary

South Lawn Trees

The South Lawn project, the University of Virginia’s largest addition to the Central Grounds area in recent history, highlighted the pivotal function of trees in the ecosystem that is the University of Virginia. Not only do trees provide an aesthetic benefit throughout the Grounds, they also serve the purpose of enhancing energy efficiency for surrounding buildings and creating an environment that fosters learning outside of the classroom. Like the rest of the University, the South Lawn area has a distinct past: during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the area was home to a community of African-Americans and was commonly referred to as the “Canada” neighborhood, according to University of Virginia landscape architect Mary Hughes. Many inhabitants of Canada had ties to the University as employees of the inhabitants of the academical village. One woman in particular, a freed slave by the name of Catherine “Kitty” Foster, purchased and owned a piece of land in Canada in 1833 and constructed a home on the property. Kitty’s home provided a place for University students at the time to store illicit substances such as alcohol and firearms, which were prohibited on Grounds at the time. Long after Kitty’s death, the thoughtfully planned garden around her home and nearby cemetery for the Canada community remained as markers of the land’s history.

Figure 1: Aerial View of UVa, Pre-1940. U.Va. prints and photographs file, Accession #RG-30/1/10.011. Special Collections University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.
Figure 1: Aerial View of UVa, Pre-1940. U.Va. prints and photographs file, Accession #RG-30/1/10.011. Special Collections University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.

From the inception of the planning and design process for the South Lawn project, the project provided a unique opportunity for University of Virginia landscape architects: rather than work around preexisting, historically significant trees, the landscape architects had the opportunity to incorporate new trees and landscape elements into the South Lawn project design because of the asphalt parking lot that existed in its place prior to the construction of Nau and Gibson Halls. Working in conjunction with the architects for the project, Mary Hughes and the rest of the UVA landscape architects developed a plan that honored the history of the site while adhering to native trees in a design that is both efficient and thoughtful. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a circle of White Oak trees was planted around what today is known as the Baptist Student Center. These trees lived healthy, long lives, but only two remained at the time that construction began on the South Lawn project. UVA’s arborists took extreme precaution in protecting and preserving the two remaining White Oak trees throughout the construction process and they emerged from the project unscathed. Ironically, lighting struck one of the trees just a week after the construction of the South Lawn was completed and today only one of the centennial White Oaks remains.


Figure 2: Circa 2000: Parking Lot that previously existed on site of South Lawn Commons, Courtesy Special Collections University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.
Figure 2: Circa 2000: Parking Lot that previously existed on site of South Lawn Commons, Courtesy Special Collections University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.
Figure 3: The last remaining White Oak tree in the South Lawn area. Photo taken April 16, 2014.
Figure 3: The last remaining White Oak tree in the South Lawn area. Photo taken April 16, 2014.

Today, the South Lawn Commons area features a constructed park atop the site of the thirty-three graves of the Canada cemetery, representing the lives of Kitty and the rest of the residents of Canada. This park showcases a grove of native Dogwoods around the previous cemetery site- serving as a memorial “frame” for the burials and paying tribute to the lives of those residents. The Dogwoods were chosen by Mary Hughes and the UVA landscape architects specifically to bloom as a simultaneous unit in the spring. However, the trees have struggled to flourish thus far and will be replanted this spring in the hopes that all of the trees will bloom at the same time next year.

In addition to these native Dogwoods, the South Lawn tree planting plans mainly featured a mix of native, mostly deciduous trees, with some evergreens as well. Trees were chosen in particular to create a shaded area on the south side of the South Lawn construction. While the landscape architects had the freedom to implement the trees that they thought would best fit the property in the long run, their decisions were not without constraints. With this project and all University of Virginia planting operations, the landscape architects faced the difficulty of dealing with University Grounds restrictions on that prohibit the planting of any type of tree within ten feet of a water line to prevent later complications with tree roots and water pipes. Furthermore, the south side of the South Lawn area features a large sunken cistern that captures storm water to prevent flooding downstream in the Valley Road community, which had previously been a significant problem. As a result, the cistern prevents any trees from being planted in this area.

Figure 4: Map of South Lawn Commons and adjacent streets and neighborhood, courtesy Special Collections University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.
Figure 4: Map of South Lawn Commons and adjacent streets and neighborhood, courtesy Special Collections University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.

The courtyard that exists in the South Lawn area between Nau and Gibson Halls is planted with deciduous Magnolias. This species was chosen intentionally to work with the design of the building- in particular, its significant height. These trees tend to be smaller than other Magnolias, which prevents the courtyard from becoming completely shaded and allows visitors to be able to see the striking architecture of Nau and Gibson Halls. The building wings provide a substantial amount of shade and shelter while the deciduous Magnolias create a pleasant environment in which visitors can study, converse, or simply enjoy the sunshine. The deciduous Magnolias bloom early in the season and represent the first sign of spring in a prominent location for students, faculty, and the like. Deciduous Magnolias sometimes struggle with freezes in the transition from Winter to Spring, but the building wings serve as a form of shelter for the trees and allow them to survive the late freezes that Virginia often experiences.

From inception to completion, the South Lawn project came to fruition through sustained dialogue between the landscape architects and the structural architects of the University. It is both representative of the history of the site and suited to accompany the twenty-first century design of Nau and Gibson Halls.


Post by Natalie Newton, Second-Year, Economics

Brown Residential College Tree Labeling Project

After months of trudging through surprise cold fronts and freak snowstorms, springtime at the University of Virginia is a relief.  Students flock to the lawn to study and sunbathe, and I go outside to read under my favorite trees.  Everyone has their favorite study spots, and one of mine is under a Loebner magnolia at Brown College on Monroe Hill.  The tree blooms beautifully in the early spring, producing white flowers with hundreds of petals that fall gently whenever a breeze hits its branches.

I studied under the magnolia for two years before taking notice of a small plaque on the back of a nearby bench, dedicating the tree to Angela A. Qazi, a former resident of Brown College who died while she was a student at the University.  It was then I began to take an interest in the trees planted around Monroe Hill, and by the beginning of my third year I was one of four students working on a Brown Residential College tree labeling project.

Loebner Magnolia dedicated to Angela A. Qazi.

Before discussing the many unique and beautiful trees located on Monroe Hill, it is important to understand the area’s history.  In 1788, James Monroe bought 800 acres on which he constructed his law office and house, land that belongs to the university today.  Of course, the university was not founded until 1819, at which point Monroe had already sold the land and everything on it.  Today, the hill on which the law office stands is known as Monroe Hill, part of Brown Residential College which was established in 1986.  The Monroe Hill House—not to be mistaken with Monroe’s actual house which stands adjacent to the Hill House and law office—is the residence of Brown College’s principal and their family.

The landscape around Brown is similar to that of the Lawn, since both areas grew up together.  Unlike other areas around Grounds where trees tend to be chosen from a select few species for landscaping purposes, and planted at the same time after the establishment of new buildings, people have been planting trees around Brown for over two hundred years, and almost every tree planted on Monroe Hill has a story.

When establishing the Brown Residential College tree labeling project, we had two goals in mind: 1) provide plaques on certain trees consisting of the tree’s common and scientific names in order to increase students’ knowledge of the species they see every day, and 2) learn each tree’s unique history.  The first goal was quite simple with the assistance of Brown fellows John Sauer—master gardener for Carr’s Hill—Cathy Clary, and Sue Plaskon, who identified trees that have aesthetic, ecological, and historical value.

Two trees which deserve mentioning here are the Princess Tree and the Mulberry.  The Princess Tree or Paulownia tomentosa is located directly adjacent to the law office on Monroe Hill, and is quite possibly older than the building itself.  The Mulberry is also located on the Hill, and has a magnificent, gnarly root system that can be seen above ground.

Princess Tree.

The second goal—to learn the trees’ unique histories—was a bit more difficult, but our job was made easier by UVA’s memorial tree website.  As it turns out, Monroe Hill is home to a number of officially designated trees and private commemorative trees, which partially explains the smorgasbord of species found in the area.  The website contains information on when the tree was planted, the species, the individual it commemorates, and also provides a map showing the location of all the designated and commemorative trees on Grounds.

The trees located on and around Monroe Hill planted for outstanding members of our community include:

–Black Walnut for James Monroe

–Yoshino Cherry for Carl Trindle,

–Merrill Magnolia for Angela A. Qazi

–Sugar Maple for Thalia Vassilatos

–Red Horsechestnut for Laura Sue Sherman

–Amu Cork Tree for Paul G. Adams IV

As we continue to work on the tree labeling project, with the goal of labeling twenty more trees to add to the ten already labeled, we have learned more and more of the stories behind the trees around Brown.  My personal favorite—which I learned only the other day as I toured the area looking at twenty new trees to be labeled with Cathy Clary—is the story of the “Wedding Tree” a fantastic Japanese Maple that was planted in secret by a former Brown president for his wife upon their marriage.

The Wedding Tree. 

Although I am graduating this year, the tree labeling project is now supported by the Brown Residential College community, and will continue for years to come.  We are currently working on adding a page to the Brown College website with information on all the labeled trees, providing a map so students can lead their own walking tours.  The University of Virginia is one of the most beautiful universities in the United States, and it seems only fair that the trees that make it so beautiful are recognized by name and allowed to tell their stories.

Post by Helen Mittmann, Fourth-Year, Anthropology

The White Oak, an Emblematic Champion Tree

Looking toward the drama building from Campbell hall, you are greeted with quite a biophilic view of greenery. However, one aspect stands out refusing to go unnoticed: a giant white oak tree. The White Oak, measuring 16 feet around, is absolutely gorgeous and gives pause to all who look out Campbell hall’s glass windows and catch a glimpse of it. Jerry Brown, an experienced arborist at UVA, says that White Oaks are his favorite trees for many reasons including their strength in storms, resistance to pests, and overall beauty. While this tree has much to offer with its beauty, its history provides an even deeper layer of appreciation.


Before the recent construction took place to build the new drama building, the view from Campbell hall was different with more trees surrounding this white oak. However, with construction comes what seems like at least some inevitable destruction. Jerry Brown describes construction as the greatest threat to trees on grounds. These trees were not removed without some debate. Members of the Architecture School as well as some of the larger student body, joined together to try and come up with a plan for construction of the new building that would allow the trees to remain. They also tried to quantify the value of these trees based on ecosystem services and other factors. This effort was impressive, bringing together knowledge from a wide range of fields. Although construction of the drama building ended up meaning the destruction of some of these trees, many good things came from this experience. For one, the love of these trees brought students and faculty together to test their skills in support of their shared beloved trees. Its amazing how trees around grounds seem to instigate this communal feeling of love and connection that is worth fighting for. This feeling was seen again recently with the debate over the magnolias on the lawn.

In addition to bringing people together, this incident also leaves a lasting memory that only makes the remaining trees that much more valuable and cherished. While many architecture students who see this great White Oak today can remember these recent past events and appreciate the remaining tree more, in the future this history may be forgotten. Perhaps it would be a worthy use of time and resources to put a plaque out by the White Oak to commemorate the other trees that once were there and remind everyone who discovers this tree in the future of its deeper significance.

This story and White Oak and extremely unique, but they are also emblematic of many other trees around grounds. The White Oak is a champion tree, which the Royal Forestry Society defines as “individual trees which are exceptional examples of their species because of the enormous size, great age, rarity, or historical significance”. This White Oak clearly fits this definition, but it exemplifies that there are other champion trees around grounds that also deserve to be noted, respected, and appreciated.


“Champion Trees.” Royal Forestry Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.

Rathbone, Emma. “Deep Rooted: A Look at the University’s Shady Side.” UVA

Magazine. N.p., 2008. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.

Post by Cara Bottorff, Third-Year, Foreign Affairs

Tree Replacement on Grounds

Without much knowledge, construction around grounds would appear to have had a positive effect on our community. Older buildings are refurnished providing students with adequate locations to learn and study and classrooms are updated with the latest technology. Because of the aesthetic improvements, consideration of other, negative elements are overlooked. Construction adds to noise pollution on grounds, disrupts the logical flow of walking paths on grounds, and perhaps most importantly affects our trees on grounds.

According to the University’s Landscape Superintendent Richard Hopkins, construction is currently the largest threat to the University’s trees. He says, “New buildings need new water supplies, electrical data, steam, chilled water, and sewer.” These are all underground elements that go into the planning and construction of a new building. Yet, with all the many buildings existing on grounds, there is a decreasing amount of space for new construction and utility installations. As Hopkins states, the declining space is “pushing these activities closer to our older trees putting them at higher risk for damage.” During construction we witness the replacement and removal of trees on ground, each of which has its own set of procedures and systems that are followed by the involved University Landscape Architects, Landscape Superintendent, Arborists, and other hired Landscape Architects on the job.

Construction on New Cabel Impedes Tree Growth.

Encroaching on the natural space once belonging to the trees calls leads to the replacement program the University has in place as part of the construction of new facilities. The replacement program involves the installation of new trees as part of construction or landscape redesign on grounds. Depending on the budget and year-to-year construction, this replacement program typically installs 100 or more trees per year, this number is separate from the usual 100 to 250 trees that are replaced year to year. During the replacement process, several factors are discussed: the number of trees lost in the year before or previous years, the budget, and scheduling factors.

Construction on grounds leads to the planting of new trees.

Special procedures are also taken with the maintenance and removal of trees on grounds. The two certified Arborists on grounds preform the routine maintenance of the trees as well as the removal of the trees. Routine maintenance includes leveling of limbs, corrective pruning, fertilization, inspection, and approval for removing trees. Trees are typically removed on grounds for one of two reasons. Either the tree is presenting a hazard to the community in some way or there is a special request for removal (typically construction). The University’s Arboretum and Landscape Committee reviews all requests for removal of trees on grounds. They look at plans for removal of hazardous trees, which are typically effective immediately, as well as new landscape installation plans for all construction projects. This process is fairly systematic.

As we continue expanding buildings on grounds, we must move past the aesthetics of each building and seriously consider the impact of construction on grounds on our University’s trees. To check out more of Richard Hopkins current ideas and projects please visit:

Post by Jackie Michnoff, Second-Year, McIntire School of Commerce

Tree and Forest Team

As we walk around grounds, our focus is usually centered on getting from one place to the next. However, as the landscape changes with every season, we often admire the beauty of nature by spending more time outside. There are over a thousand trees at U.Va. and although we appreciate the aesthetic value of these trees, the average student probably has little knowledge of the history, let alone can name or identify the various tree species that exist on grounds. In our first blog post, the Tree and Forest team will provide historical facts so the reader has some general information that he or she can use for future reference. 

In a 2008 article entitled “Deep Rooted” (U.Va. Magazine), Mary Hughes (University landscape architect) identifies a few key facts about trees at U.Va. For example, the first trees were black locust trees but none of these original trees still exist on grounds. The oldest trees are the sycamores on the north side of the Rotunda, which were planted before the Civil War. Around this same time, the University planted the Pratt Gingko on the west side of the Rotunda. The Gingko was planted in honor of William Pratt and is considered the first official memorial tree.

The picturesque Pratt Gingko. Photo by Robert Llewellyn for “Deep Rooted” article in U.Va. Magazine.

Since 1970, U.Va. has made it a tradition to plant a tree to honor an individual who has made a lasting impact on the University. This annual ceremony, which is presided over by the University President, occurs on Founder’s Day and is organized by the Arboretum and Landscape Committee. In addition to this official tradition, U.Va.’s memorial and commemorative tree program allows private individuals the opportunity to fund the planting of a tree in honor of an individual connected to the University. Overall, these trees are intended to serve as “living memorials” to significant members of the U.Va. community.

The most recent “officially designated” tree honors John Casteen, the President of U.Va. from 1990-2010. The American Linden is located in the Arts Quadrangle between the Drama building and Ruffin Hall. Photo from

Officially designated trees and the private commemorative trees are planted in various locations around central grounds. However, only a handful of trees on the upper and lower lawn are commemorative. Regardless, every tree on the lawn, whether commemorative or non-commemorative, belongs to either the ash or maple tree family (around 80 percent are ash). After the black locust trees died off, they were replaced with hardwoods that were taller, long lasting, and could provide more shade. While sugar maple, green ash, purple ash, rosehill ash, and pumpkin ash populate the upper lawn, the lower lawn largely consists of sugar maple and white ash trees.

In light of the renovations around grounds, many people have raised concerns about how to incorporate trees into the changing landscape. Trees are often viewed as barriers to new construction and, unfortunately, one way to deal with the barrier is to remove it. Recently, the magnolia trees surrounding the Rotunda were removed despite fervent pleas to save them. However, the magnolias were damaging the underground sewer lines and proposed a risk to the building itself. On the other hand, the South Lawn project (completed in 2010) provided a blank canvas for landscaping. The proposed height of the buildings meant that larger trees were needed in order to ensure that the complex wouldn’t appear too overwhelming to pedestrians. In addition to the popular ash or maple, some of the intended tree species to be planted included the willow oak and European beech. Large trees were strategically planted to maximize building shade in the summer and capitalize on sunlight in the winter. By emphasizing the importance of tree preservation and growth, the landscape design plan for the South Lawn increased the overall energy efficiency of the buildings.

Overall, the value of trees extends beyond their beauty; trees add character to the University. Although this post only focuses on the history of trees on grounds, we intend to provide more detailed findings as the semester progresses.

Post by Lisa Zimmerman, Fourth-Year, American Government