MSU celebrates Tree Campus USA designation with Arbor Day observance

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

Left: Members of the university's student chapter of the Society of American Foresters planted an oak tree during the Feb. 13 Arbor Day celebration. Right: MSU President Mark E. Keenum, left, received a plaque from Todd Matthews, urban forestry coordinator with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, in recognition of the university's designation as a Tree Campus USA campus by the Arbor Day Foundation.
Left: Members of the university's student chapter of the Society of American Foresters planted an oak tree during the Feb. 13 Arbor Day celebration. Right: MSU President Mark E. Keenum, left, received a plaque from Todd Matthews, urban forestry coordinator with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, in recognition of the university's designation as a Tree Campus USA campus by the Arbor Day Foundation.
Photo by: Megan Bean

STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State officials, along with members of the university's student chapter of the Society of American Foresters and the Campus Tree Advisory Committee, gathered today [Feb. 13] in the Junction to celebrate the land-grant institution's Tree Campus USA designation by the Arbor Day Foundation.

"I am so proud that we are a tree campus and we're being recognized as such," said MSU President Mark E. Keenum during his opening remarks. "Trees make places special. You can just look around this campus and realize how special trees are to Mississippi State University, where we have more than 10,000 trees of many different species and varieties."

Keenum said the university plants between 80 to 100 new trees on the Starkville campus every year.

"Trees are important, and we should recognize and appreciate their contributions to our lives. As human beings, we can't live without trees," he said.

This past year, the value of timber alone for the Magnolia State was about $1.2 billion, Keenum said.

"When you factor in all the products that we manufacture and produce here in Mississippi using wood products, that number balloons to more than $10 billion," he said, adding that the timber industry provides more than 60,000 jobs for Mississippians.

"We're blessed as Mississippians with an abundance of trees that we all can enjoy. Nearly two-thirds of all the land in our state is in forest land, which amounts to more than 20 million acres."

In thanking the university's campus landscape staff, Campus Tree Advisory Committee and College of Forest Resources students, faculty and staff for their contributions to university conservation efforts, Keenum highlighted a particularly meaningful use of campus trees.

"One thing that we do here at Mississippi State University that I think is really special is when a student passes away, we plant a tree to memorialize that student. We have more than 150 trees that are planted as memorials to students who have passed away. That's how much we value trees on our campus."

Todd Matthews, urban forestry coordinator with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, presented Keenum with a commemorative plaque from the Arbor Day Foundation noting the university's Tree Campus USA status.

The event concluded with the planting of a Nuttall oak tree in observance of Mississippi's Arbor Day, which is annually celebrated on the second Friday in February. National Arbor Day is April 24.

"The campus landscape is the first thing visitors and potential students see at Mississippi State," said Jason Gordon, assistant Extension professor in MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center.

Gordon, chair of the Campus Tree Advisory Committee, is one of ten members who study, plan and coordinate campus tree plantings and maintenance. The committee consists of three Extension personnel, two teaching faculty, two members of MSU's Campus Landscape and Facilities Management Departments and three forestry students, one of whom holds the vice-chair position.

Administered by the Arbor Day Foundation since 2009, the Tree Campus USA program annually honors two-year and four-year accredited colleges and universities that uphold five core standards, including evidence of a campus tree-care plan, dedicated funding for a campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and sponsorship of student service-learning projects. For more, see www.arborday.org/programs/treecampususa/.

A total of 48 hard-working employees--32 full-time and 16 temporary--are responsible for conserving the more than 10,000 trees on the 1,500 maintained acres of the Starkville campus, according to the university's associate director of campus landscape.

"That includes turf and ornamental maintenance, tree maintenance, irrigation in beds and turf with over 100 systems campus-wide, pest and nuisance control, as well as maintenance and preparation of all MSU's athletic fields," said Bart Prather.

"We also plant more than 50,000 color plants in our beds each year, as well as maintain all of the turf in these areas. We have a great variety of native trees ranging from magnolias to oaks to cedars and numerous others that are either native to the area or are ornamental in nature and provide great landscaping benefits in our area," he added.

As part of the service-learning project component required by the Tree Campus USA program, student-volunteers are actively working each semester to develop a campus tree inventory and also plant trees to celebrate Arbor Day.

"Around 20 to 40 students typically contribute to these events," Gordon explained. "Most of them are forestry and landscape architecture students, but we also have ones who come from other areas of campus such as sociology, business and geosciences."

When selecting new trees, Prather said his team consults the Campus Master Planting Plan, which advises that "new tree, shrub and groundcover plantings should consist of species that are native and/or 'hardy adaptive' to Starkville and suited to the various habitat conditions found on the campus."

"From the floral side, we are trying to go with as much maroon and white color in our annual beds to help show our school colors on our campus in a natural way," he said.

Gordon added that the university campus also boasts a broad distribution of tree age classes, which ranges "from very old trees near Bost Extension Center and the Drill Field to a number of young trees planted near new construction."

"The number of trees being planted has increased during the last several years in coordination with the Campus Master Plan," he added.

Prather said his team is currently working with a grower to produce offspring of the 'Moon Sycamore' tree located at the very far west end of Junction.

"It was grown from a seed that was taken to the moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, and we would like to incorporate more of the offspring back here on campus."

For additional information about the university's campus landscape efforts, contact Prather at 662-325-2499 or BPrather@campuslandscape.msstate.edu.

MSU's College of Forest Resources is online at www.cfr.msstate.edu and www.facebook.com/MSUCollegeofForestResources?ref=mf. Gordon may be reached at 662-325-8851 or Jg966@msstate.edu.

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