South Campus Tree Tour
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1. Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
Location: Near NW corner of the Campus Services building

The chief attraction of paperbark maple is, as one might guess, its rich cinnamon colored bark which peels and forms interesting flaps clinging to the trunk. Several young specimens of this handsome tree were planted near the NW corner of the new (in 2006) Campus Services building. Others are to be found on campus, and elsewhere in Bellingham. (A noteworthy line of young trees stands immediately north of the Fairhaven Village Green). The leaves of the paperbark maple also are interesting. The leaves are compound - three ~2 inch elliptical leaflets make up a single leaf. Paperbark maples have deep sinuses, separating the leaf into several independent leaflets. It also has the maple tree's double-winged "whirlybirds" seed pods. Paperbark maple is a slow-growing tree that reaches a relatively modest height. It is native to western China and was introduced into commerce in North America and Europe in the early 1900s. It has spectacular autumn foliage which can include red, orange and pink tones. All authorities agree that it is extremely difficult to propagate from seed. One, in fact, reports a success rate of 8% or less. The author can attest that this is, in fact, rather high - three careful attempts to date have yielded trays full of weeds, but no Acer griseum.

1. Paperbark maple
2. Staghorn sumach (Rhus typhina)
Location: NE corner of Campus Services Building

Identified by its long slender leaves, its name derives from the velvety texture and the forking pattern of the branches, reminiscent of antlers, have led to the common name "stag's horn sumach." It is native to eastern North America, but is a popular garden plant throughout much of the rest of the continent, as well as northern Europe. It grows in a wide variety of conditions and spreads vigorously via root suckers. Its spring flowers are nothing special, but in late summer and fall its leaves turn red, orange and deep yellow, providing one of the relatively few fall treats afforded by a native tree. In 2007 the WWU staghorn sumach had something of the appearance of a weed. Perhaps someday it will be big, bushy and grand. Then, conceivably, it may help students through the unpleasantness of paying their parking fines.

2. Staghorn sumach
3. Giant dogwood (Cornus controversa)
Location: NE corner of Campus Services' Building parking lot

Four of these attractive trees had to be uprooted to make way for a parking lot. The same parking lot also claimed our only black cottonwoods. As C. contraversa is small, attractive, and even somewhat unusual our gardening staff dug them up in the nick of time and planted them elsewhere. Only this one survived. Alas, there was no hope for the cottonwoods; even the fact that they may have been the tallest trees on campus couldn't save them. Go look for their cousins, in the woods. Giant dogwood is native to Asia, from the Himalaya eastward. They were introduced to North America in the 20th century and still appear to be relatively rare, judging from the dearth of information I could find in my many reference books. In their native range they are truly giant - to 100 ft. tall. In our area they may reach half that, given plenty of time. Two attributes of C. contraversa are worth mentioning. First, unlike most other dogwoods its leaves alternate along the stem instead of being arranged opposite one another. Only the shrubby native American dogwood C. alternafolia shares this characteristic. Second, the giant dogwood tends to carry its branches in distinct layers (ours is beginning to "layer" but isn't there yet - give it time.) This shape gives the tree its alternative name, the table dogwood. As our pictures suggest, the giant dogwood is a very attractive tree, especially in full bloom. WWU car commuters will certainly appreciate its beauty while waiting in line to pay their parking fines!

3. Giant dogwood
4. Durmast oak (Quercus petraea)
Location: Northwest of Campus Services parking lot

The species of this particular large oak tree has been a vexing problem for some time; the unofficial WWU tree committee (Wesselink, Godfrey, Beck) after extensive deliberation has voted unanimously for Quercus petraea. The problem is that species is exceedingly rare in North America, unlike its near relative the English oak, which this definitely is not. The presence of this specimen near campus thus poses a problem: how did it get here? The probable answer is that, long ago, it was a front-yard shade tree for the home of a true tree-lover, located at what is now the corner of S. Campus Drive and Bill McDonald Parkway. The Durmast oak is the national tree of Wales is well adapted to life on stony uplands (hence its species name). After many centuries the Durmast oak may reach a height of 100 ft. or more, with a trunk diameter of 10 ft. It yields valuable lumber, formerly for the manufacture of ships, and now for wine and brandy kegs.

4. Durmast oak
5. Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)
Location: Parking lot C

Seemingly forgotten in parking lot C, everything about this tree is large - except the tree itself. Its leaves can reach a length of 3 1/2 ft., with a breadth of a foot or more. Its flowers (late spring and early summer) can be 20 inches across. Bigleaf magnolia also is known by a half-dozen other names in its native southern Appalachians including, according to Jacobson, "Elephant Ear". What, you might well ask, is this somewhat special tree doing in the mass of disordered foliage lining the cliff that separates the two halves of Parking Lot C? Don't worry; I'll tell you. During the 1970s, at a time when students lived on campus, professors walked there, and parking lots were rare, that particular piece of parking lot was the location of a beautifully rustic little house. Its owner, an elderly lady at the time, had a garden - from which she intermittently rousted deer, rabbits and others of God's hungry creatures - including, probably, an occasional assistant professor. Now the house and lady are gone, as are the deer and rabbits, and the assistant professors are all Emeriti, or Deans. The Bigleaf magnolia, and its neighbor, an apple tree, are the nostalgic remnants of that little garden.

5. Bigleaf magnolia
6. Weeping willow (Salix babylonica)
Location: North of soccer field, at south end of Lot C

By the waters of Babylon there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof (Psalm 137) Thus is explained the obscure choice of species name for this popular, widely planted tree. However, Salix babylonica originated in China. The willow tree of the Babylonian Captivity may have been Salix alba, the white willow, which attains a stature easily sufficient to support any harp. Salix babylonica will be familiar to the home gardener as a tree that requires incessant trimming and clean-up. It is a fine shade tree; in fact, no other tree does better at blotting out the sun needed by plants attempting to survive nearby. Despite these negative characteristics, the weeping willow is found throughout Europe and North America, where it was introduced as early as the late 18th century. As with other tree-sized willows, it has many crosses and cultivars. One of the largest weeping willows known anywhere used to be found in Steilacoom, WA; 11.5 ft. in circumference and 52 ft. high. It was planted in 1857, and "murdered" to make way for a subdivision sometime after 1992. A celebrated phalanx of weeping willows guard Napoleon's grave on St. Helena. Cuttings from these trees are said to be widely distributed. Napoleon himself was re-interred in Paris.

6. Weeping willow
7. Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
Location: North of the abandoned bus shelter on South College Drive

This lone sentinel towers over its sugar maple cousins at the eastern entrance to parking lot C. In the fall it may go unnoticed; whereas the sugar maple puts on a world-class display of color, Acer saccarinum produces leaves of a somewhat dingy yellow hue, occasionally tinged with red. During the spring and summer, however, it holds its own; silver maple leaves are large, shapely, and have a silverish-gray underside that is attractive. Its leaves are carried on long stems, which cause it to "tremble" in even a slight breeze. Silver maple is a moderately important source of lumber, especially of "bird's-eye maple". Its sap can be cooked into maple syrup, although apparently not as profitably as in the case of sugar maple. Silver maple is native to eastern and central North America, but is widely planted elsewhere, including in Europe. Silver maples grow rapidly, prosper best with no competition from other trees, and can reach a height of well over 100 ft.

7. Silver maple
8. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
Location: Lining South College Drive

Dozens of these trees line College Way. With over 100 species of maples worldwide identifying specific species can be challenging. However if you wait until fall you can't miss the sugar maple. Nothing looks quite like it full fall colors, as the upper picture is meant to demonstrate. This is the tree whose leaf you encounter on the Canadian flag. Its is the main inducement to visit New England in the fall. An extract from the sap of this tree is the reason you eat pancakes, waffles or French toast for breakfast, instead of the whole grain cereal and fruit you know you should. If you know one non-native tree cold, this should be the one. Sugar maples are native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland to North Carolina and west through the Great Lakes to Manitoba. Acer saccharum is planted far beyond its native range, wherever the climate will allow it to prosper. It is prized for its graceful form, its interesting gray bark and, of course, its fall colors. Trees 100 ft. high are known. One of the largest sugar maple in Washington is located in Laurel Park, Bellingham, just north of campus.

8. Sugar maple
9. Pin oak (Quercus palustris)
Location: Tree in photo is south of the Recreation Center near the bus stop

Dozens of these medium size oak trees line Bill McDonald Parkway from the Sehome Village to the Recreation Center. It is a shapely, fast-growing, easily maintained tree with superior fall colors. The name "pin oak" is possibly due to the many small, slender twigs, but may also be from the historical use of the hard wood for pins in wooden building construction. Pin oaks are native to central and eastern North America. They have a life span of up to 175 years, and can reach heights approaching 150 ft., assuming errant drivers do not hit them first. It is a popular tree for lining boulevards due to its disease resistance and low maintenance requirements.

9. Pin oak
10. Forest Pansy (Cercis canadensis)
Location: Near the bench at the entrance to the recreation center

There is no mistaking this showy cultivar of the Eastern Redbud tree. It announces the arrival of spring with profusion of tiny rose-purple, pea-like flowers, followed by a summer show of burgundy colored heart-shaped leaves, and ends the season with a colorful display of red, purple, and yellow leaves. It is a small tree with a maximum height of about 20 feet. Its flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds and bees.

10. Forest Pansy
11. Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Dousa)
Location: South of the handicap ramp at the entrance to the recreation center

A small deciduous tree with opposing, simple leaves. Popular in NW gardens for their showy "blooms" and beautiful fall colors. What appear to be four-petalled white flowers are actually bracts spread open below the cluster of inconspicuous yellow-green flowers. Red edible berries develop in the fall, which are a delicious addition to the tree's ornamental value. The fruit is sometimes used for making wine.

11. Kousa Dogwood
12. Ruby horse-chestnut (Aesculus X carnea "Briotii")
Location: South of Academic Instruction Center

This sturdy young (in 2012) tree has been accorded a place of honor on the down-slope leading to the pathway between Fairhaven College and the rest of campus. It complements two nearby works of outdoor campus art: “rock rings” and the “steam sculpture”. In late spring it will put both to shame. The ruby horse-chestnut is a cross between the common horse-chestnut and the red buckeye. The variety "Briotii" apparently arose spontaneously in the gardens of Versailles in the mid-19th century. Under favorable circumstances it celebrates the coming of spring with upright panicles of deep-red flowers to 10 inches in length. Part of Chestnut Avenue in Bellingham is lined by red horse-chestnuts, although whether or not they are "Briotii" is unknown to the author. This particular tree was planted by the WWU Geology Department to honor my wife, Linda Joyce Beck, who died in 2011 of ovarian cancer. A bit of her beauty lives on in this tree.

12. Ruby horse-chestnut
13. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Location: Several large trees south of the Academic Instructional Center.

Several of these NW giants preside over the walkway south of the AIC building. Douglas fir should be familiar to everyone in the Pacific Northwest. It is arguably our largest native tree, and until recently was certainly one of our largest cash crops. The framing timbers of your house were likely coastal Douglas fir. There are many examples of Douglas fir on campus. Douglas firs have shallow root systems and thus are susceptible to toppling by high winds. For that reason they thrive best when huddled together in groves for mutual protection. Douglas fir was first described in 1792 by Dr. Archibald Menzies from specimens observed in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, and "rediscovered" by David Douglas, who sent seeds to England. The largest Douglas fir known to date is the Qweets fir, located in Olympic National Park. It has a diameter near its base of over 14 ft. and measures 202 ft. in height, to its broken top. Trees nearly 400 ft. tall are known. Larger and more beautiful specimens of Pseudotsuga menzesii are to be found elsewhere on campus; the nearby Rock Rings knoll has several.

13. Douglas fir
14. Rock Rings knoll ( )
Location: Near the Rock Rings outdoor sculpture

Immediately east of Rock Rings and south of the Communications Building you will find a small knoll covered with native vegetation. Some of our most successful Douglas firs are growing here, together with several healthy members of another hallmark western Washington tree species, the red alder (Alnus rubra). A bigleaf maple also is present, and several huge black cottonwoods (BC) stand nearby. The understory contains flowering dogwood and various other small plants, including the ubiquitous blackberry. One suspects that, had not growth of a university immediately succeeded the final phase of logging in this part of Bellingham (probably mid- to late 19th century), most of the campus area now would resemble Rock Rings knoll. Evidence that students use the dense vegetation as a place to hide from the manifold stresses of studenthood is present in the form of a small Stonehenge of log seats located near the center of the knoll. There are faint trails everywhere. However, even Rock Rings knoll is not entirely "natural". At its far southern end there is a young giant sequoia, definitely not a tree that is native to the Pacific Northwest.

14. Rock Rings knoll
15. Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
Location: East of the Communications Building

The species call on this tree is at least partly a guess; even some professional tree people simply lump all suspected Stewartias together as Stewartia sp. Nevertheless, judging from the color of the bark and the shape and size of the leaves, pseudocamellia seems likely. Certainly its exact identity will not matter much to the casual observer when the tree erupts in a carpet of white flowers in early summer, or, in mid-fall, as its leaves turn a glowing bright reddish orange. Even in winter the plant remains decorative, with its peeling, mottled bark in warm hues of brown and red. Stewartias of whatever sort are derived - with one not particularly decorative North American exception - from eastern Asia; Japan, China, Korea. They tend to be "tender" in cold climates (they freeze and die), and so they can be a challenge to grow in the Pacific Northwest. They are short trees (some actually are classified as shrubs), although a Japanese stewartia growing in Puyallup had reached a height of 45 ft. in 1992. Curiously enough, Japanese stewartia belongs to the Tea family (Theaceae). This makes it a close relative of the common garden camellia, which accounts for its showy white flowers. The tea we drink originally was made from a tree-like form of camellia, Camellia sinensis.

15. Japanese stewartia
16. Vine maple (Acer circinatum)
Location: Lining the sidewalk near the east entrerance of the Communications Building

Vine Maples typically have many slender stalks, large almost circular leaves with 7-11 lobes, and coarsely toothed margins. Comparisons between the Pacific Northwest and New England are inevitable. Both tend to be cool and moist, mountainous, forested, and filled with people who are proud of where they live. True, our mountains are taller and more glaciated, our rivers are larger, our trees taller, and our wilderness much wilder. But come autumn we North-westerners hang our heads, and stand abashed. New England falls are spectacular. Against this overwhelming onslaught of color we have one natural weapon - the Vine Maple. In the early fall Vine Maple leaves turn beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow, and when the sun slices through the clouds and lights up a vine maple bush, a little "Wow" can be in order. Along the highways into the western Cascades the splashes of fall color are usually Vine Maples.

16. Vine maple
17. Golden Chain tree (Laburnum)
Location: Entrance to Sehome Hill across from the ES Building.

Located near the "no bicycles" sign at the entrance to Sehome Arboretum. In season this tree erupts in golden yellow "chains" of pea-like flowers. Laburnum is a near relative of the pea. Two characteristics assist in identification: it has a compound leaf composed of three nearly identical pointed leaflets, and its distinctive chain-like pods filled with pea-sized seeds. The resemblance to edible pole beans or peas left too long on the stalk is unmistakable. However, it is important to note that Golden Chain "peas" are poisonous, and have been known to be fatal. The rhyme used to warn children of the danger of poison oak ("leaves of three, let it be") applies equally to Laburnum. Golden Chain trees are native to the mountains of southern Europe. In the Pacific Northwest they have invaded the wilds and prospered. The examples pictured here are growing wild along the edge of the forest of native trees covering Sehome Hill.

17. Golden Chain tree
18. Red maple (Acer rubrum)
Location: Lining East College Drive

This tree is known for its brilliant fall colors (upper photo). Two dozen Red Maples line East College Way near the Environmental Studies and Communications buildings and other specimens are scattered throughout campus. Red maple is an excellent ornamental tree. In the spring it bursts forth with a fine display of scarlet flowers and in the fall its leaves assume a brilliant scarlet red. Even its twigs are red. It is a tree that lives up to its name. Red maple is native to eastern North America. Its environmental diversity and its attractive visual qualities has led Acer rubrum to be planted far and wide throughout Europe and North America. There also are many distinct cultivars, adapted to many different circumstances. There seems to be a red maple for nearly every occasion. The wood of the red maple is soft and thus has few uses in the building industry; in some areas it is used for pulp. You can make maple syrup from its sap, but not very efficiently. Certainly the main reason to plant red maple is because it is pretty. But if you plant one, think ahead; trees over 150 ft. tall and 6 ft. in diameter are known.

18. Red maple
19. Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
Location: South of the Environmental Studies Building

Identified by their round, slightly heart shaped leaves, nine Katsuras line the south face of the Environmental Studies Building. They were planted as ~10 ft. trees in 2004. In not many decades they will be shading the upper windows of the building; some Katsuras can attain heights of over 120 ft. (The tallest in Washington State is in Washington Park Arboretum, near the University. It is nearly 100 ft. tall). However, the Dean's office on the top floor may retain its view; the common height of a mature katsura is approximately 70 ft. Katsuras are prized for their leaves, which have a distinct bronze hue in spring, and in fall assume a highly decorative yellow-orange color. Some authorities also state that the leaves smell of sugar, fruit and/or berries, a description more frequently associated with wine than trees. As the species name indicates, katsuras are native to Japan (and, apparently, China); they were introduced into the United States in the 1860s.

19. Katsura
20. Quaking aspen (Populous tremuloides)
Location: South end of Ridgeway Dorm complex

Pride of the southern Rocky Mountains, this tree forms groves of tall, slender spires covered with smooth greenish-white bark, topped by a billowing expanse of leaves that tremble in response to the slightest breeze. They blanket entire mountain sides at middle elevations, and in the fall - when every tree in the grove simultaneously turns golden yellow - they implant an indelible memory. Excellent trout streams flow past their lower slopes. They are a reliable source of firewood. Beavers gnaw their trunks and drop them on your cabin, before you arrive in early summer. So much for personal nostalgia. The range of Populus tremuloides extends far beyond the southern Rocky Mountains - to Alaska, in fact, and much of the terrain in between. (At extreme latitudes the trees are much shorter, but they are upright, and they still tremble). The observation that an entire hillside turns yellow simultaneously is explained by the fact that up to hundreds of neighboring trees constitute a single organism; quaking aspens reproduce mainly by suckering, so each tree in the grove is connected to a single root system. This makes the quaking aspen (grove) one of the world's largest organisms. It is also one of the oldest; some root systems are thousands of years old. Quaking aspen is an important lumber tree (largely for pulp), and an excellent source of food for all sorts of creatures, from moose to voles. The "trembling" behavior of its leaves is attributable to the highly flattened shape of their supporting twigs. And so much for facts. In Cripple Creek. Colorado, at the turn of the 20th century it was common knowledge that the tree trembled because it had supplied the wood for the Crucifixion. Google verifies that this legend is not confined to the Colorado gold fields. Alas, there are no poplars in Palestine.

20. Quaking aspen