North Campus Tree Tour
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1. Madrona (Arbutus menziesii)
Location: West of Canada House

Informal poles of sailors repeatedly show that their greatest delight while traversing the San Juan Islands is the sight of the reddish, peel-barked madrona leaning gracefully over the rocky coastline. (All sailors are tree-lovers, of course). The WWU madrona leans gracefully over the Garden Street Bypass, west of Canada House. Canada House (more generally known as the Faculty Club, especially on Friday afternoons) was once the home of WWU presidents. Traffic problems required that High Street through the campus be closed during week-days, and so it became necessary to carve an alternative route - through the President's garden - from Garden Street to Highland Avenue, to serve hill-dwellers to the south of campus. Our presidents have since re-located to more splendid digs with less traffic noise. This madrona, the nearby hawthorn, and an effite white pine are remnants of the dismembered garden. Arbutus menziesii is a coastal tree with a natural range extending from southern British Columbia into central California. It is little planted elsewhere (not from want of trying; it simply does not thrive outside its native range). However, on a limited scale it has been grown successfully in Britain since the early 19th century. Its Latin name commemorates Archibald Menzies, Scottish physician and naturalist, who accompanied George Vancouver on his voyage of discovery in the Pacific Northwest. The species name for the Douglas fir also honors this early botanist. The largest madrona known is located in Humbolt County, California. It is 96 ft. tall and 36 ft. in circumference. An unusually pleasing madrona with striking coloration grows near the lighthouse in Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island. Perhaps fumes from the lime-making process account for its unique appearance. It is worth a special trip.

1. Madrona
2. Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Location: Old Presidential garden, north of Canada House

Depending on which botanist you ask, there are between 100 and 1100 species of hawthorns worldwide, and most of them are native to North America. Apparently a battle between "splitters" and "lumpers" has raged for some time. At the turn of the last century the splitters were ascendant; Jacobson relates that no less than 886 species of hawthorn were proposed and described between 1896 and 1910. Now, fortunately, the tendency is to recognize only a paltry 100 or so separate species, but allow them great variability. All of which will suggest that the species call on this tree (as well as its cousin, EH) is a wild guess. Hawthorns are described as shade-intolerant. They are a pioneer species, being among the first plants to re-populate defoliated ground. One theory for their great variability is that they evolved in isolation in widely separated patches of ground newly freed from ice during the last retreat of the continental glacier. Another is that, for some mysterious botanical reason, they form hybrids with reckless abandon. Whatever: they are hard to identify. Despite the profusion of native hawthorns, the two most common species of Crataegus encountered in North American gardens are English imports - this tree and EH, the English Midland hawthorn. These two are easy to distinguish - the haw (fruit) of monogyna contains only a single seed, whereas fruit of its cousin contain two or more. They appear to appeal to New World gardeners for reasons yet to be determined. But enough serious stuff about hawthorns. This species of Crataegus is the quintessential hedge plant (in England, and perhaps elsewhere). They thrive under repeated pruning, and they are well armed with inch-long thorns. A hawthorn hedgerow is thus an inexpensive, and - in the spring, when they blossom - beautiful substitute for a barbed-wire fence. Hawthorn also is a plant with great mystical significance, much of it malign. (A surprising amount also is erotic.) For a G-rated sample, see the English midland hawthorn.

2. Common hawthorn
3. Bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata)
Location: North of Music Building

This insignificant little tree - almost a bush - is perched on the wall marking the western edge of Music Plaza. It is the last of several planted there originally. All the others have died, which (except to extreme tree enthusiasts) is probably for the best; otherwise, there would be no way to enjoy the view across Bellingham Bay to the San Juan Islands. Insignificant thought it certainly is, this little tree has several interesting characteristics. For example, if you were somehow to return to WWU a century from now - and if this little tree had not succumbed to architectural progress - it would still be here, and it would still be insignificant! This is because the bristlecone pine is one of the slowest growing trees in the world. And at that advanced date the tree would still be an infant; bristlecone pines from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico are known to be over 2000 years old. A variant of our bristlecone pine, known as the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) holds the world's longevity record; specimens in eastern California, Nevada and Utah have been dated at more than 4800 years.

3. Bristlecone pine
4. Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora)
Location: Below Music Plaza

Two of these beautiful little trees are tucked away beneath the Music Building. Their twisted, blue-gray needles suggest that they are not the Japanese original, but rather one of its many cultivated varieties, probably 'Glauca'. If so, these particular trees will never overwhelm their surroundings; the largest in the state was only 33 ft. tall in 1989.

Pinus parviflora is native to Japan and neighboring islands, but has been in cultivation throughout Europe since the mid-1800s and North America a half-century later. It is highly prized by gardeners for its soft, bluish foliage, modest ultimate size, and "architectural" shape. Although a high-altitude tree in its native range, the Japanese white pine has uncommon tolerance for salt, hence does well in a coastal setting. Another of its common habitats is in a pot, on a table; cultivars of the Japanese white pine are a mainstay of many Bonzai gardens.

4. Japanese white pine
5. Serbian spruce (Picea omorika)
Location: Below Music Plaza, near stairs

If you are totally unfamiliar with spruces in general and uncertain about the identity of this one, reach out boldly and grasp a handful of needles with a firm handshake. If you immediately wish you hadn't, then this is a spruce, most likely Picea omorika.

The Serbian spruce is labled as "endangered" by Moore and White. Once widespread, it has been reduced in natural habitat to a small area along the Drina River, in what used to be Yugoslavia. It is unusually well designed by nature for life under harsh winter conditions; its slender shape and downward-pointing needles are effective at shedding snow, and its slender, upright form provides defense against raging winds.

Serbian spruce may be endangered in nature, but the whims of landscape gardeners have kept it alive and thriving in Europe and North America. It is popular not only for its graceful, upright form, but also for the fact that it is relatively resisitant to all the usual blights of urban life.

Mature specimens of Picea omorika top out at about 100 ft., with a maximum horizontal spread of only about 15 ft. According to a source quoted in Jacobson, a Balkan specimen is reported to be 164 ft. high. The largest in Washington State is only about 65 ft. tall. Ours are threatening.

5. Serbian spruce
6. White Ash (Fraxinus americana)
Location: Northwest of the Bird Sanctuary

On the extreme outskirts of the Bird Sanctuary grove stands this mature specimen of an important native North American tree. Its identifying characteristics are a compound leaf with five to nine ~1.5 in. leaflets, and deeply furrowed grayish bark forming a distinct diamond pattern. Trees in its natural range (eastern North America, from Nova Scotia to Florida) sometimes attain heights of more than 100 ft and live for hundreds of years. Ours seems to be prospering, after perhaps 80 years of life. The wood of Fraxinus americana is highly prized for sporting equipment because of its unusual resistance to shock. It is the primary material of baseball bats; Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and - yes - Barry Bonds all have wrapped their hands around implements made from white ash. Benvie, in his Encyclopedia of North American Trees, alludes to certain beneficial health properties of white ash. Apparently liquid from its leaves helps ease the discomfort of mosquito bites, and crushed ash leaves carried in the pocket are said to exude an odor that repels rattlesnakes. (However, when hiking in eastern Washington, you might still consider wearing high-topped boots.) Grant and Grant dismiss the white ash as of "no great garden merit", but other authorities praise its fall color display. The author finds its bark pattern peculiarly absorbing, almost hypnotic. Stare at it at your own risk.

6. White Ash
7. Snowbell tree (Styrax japonica)
Location: On either side of the exit from Parking Lot 6V

There is little to say about this little tree, other than it is very pretty. In early summer it bursts forth with a short-lived display of the clustered white flowers that give it its popular name. In the fall it turns a pleasing shade of yellow. In old age, even its bark is decorative - vaguely orange-shaded, with an attractive pattern of cracks and fissures. It was introduced from eastern Asia in the mid-19th century, and is widely planted in Europe and North America. It has many cultivars, differing in leaf color, flower color, and size. Styrax japonica makes few height demands - it usually tops out at about 40 ft., with an equal spread. The Washington State (Seattle) record is nearly 50 ft. According to one source this species tends to be a bit finicky about growing conditions, and may choose to die for no apparent reason.

7. Snowbell tree
8. Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)
Location: North of the Bird Sanctuary; near the street.

Our Coast redwood having succumbed to the elements, in its place we have substituted this little tree. It should be proof against anything that Bellingham weather is likely to throw at it, because it thrives along the eastern seaboard of North America, as far north as Nova Scotia. In its native range it can reach 100 ft. or more in height, and live for nearly 1000 years. Ours is perhaps four ft. tall at present (2012) and, unlike the Coast redwood it replaces, is unlikely ever to peer down on its near neighbors, our giant sequoia and sprawling plane tree ("sycamore"), trees GS and PTP. This is because it is slow growing and is unlikely to reach its full potential in this climate; however the largest in the state, in Tacoma, is gradually approaching 100 ft. Tsuga Canadensis apparently is scorned by loggers; its wood is weak, brittle and splintery. However, its inner bark is used for tanning. It seems that this tree has remarkably mutable DNA, as attested to by the fact that it spawns divergent phenotypes with remarkable abandon; Jacobson lists 28 named cultivars. At least one is golden in color and many are drooping; one, called Sargentii, is nothing more than an unattractive, sprawling heap of needles. This is a nice tree, but it is no substitute for the Coast redwood. It is to be hoped that another of the latter will be planted soon, somewhere where it has a fighting chance against a Bellingham winter.

8. Canadian Hemlock
9. Weeping birch (Betula pendula)
Location: Head of walk to Mathes and Nash

Also know as the European white birch and, as the lower photograph will justify, the warty birch, this common landscape tree is found throughout campus. As its name implies, its chief recognizable characteristic are an umbrella of sorrowfully drooping branches. The examples shown here are located near the entrances of Nash and Mathes Halls; presumably students returning from a hard day of study empathize with the sagging, weary aspect of these trees. Drooping and weary it may appear, but this species, in common with birch trees in general, have wood with a very high caloric content, and thus are highly prized for firewood. A near relative, Betula lenta (sweet birch), has been used in the Appalachians to brew beer. Betula pendula has many attractive qualities, which have made it the most frequently planted birch in North America. One authority warns, however, that in the Pacific Northwest it tends to provide a home for swarms of aphids, which exude quantities of a noxious fluid curiously described as "honey". Do not park your car beneath a weeping birch. There are many cultivars of Betula pendula, offering different tree forms, leaf shapes, and colors. What appears to be Betula pendula 'Crispa', the cutleaf weeping birch, is growing near the southeast corner of Parks Hall.

9. Weeping birch
10. Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
Location: East of Nash Hall

The mountain ash should not be confused with the true ash (Fraxinus), which it resembles only in that both have similarly complicated leaves. Genus Sorbus is widespread throughout northern Eurasia but resents heat and drought, so is not well represented in North America. However, mountain ash - an early European import - clearly feels at home in the Pacific Northwest, where it has naturalized and multiplied. Most specimens of mountain ash in this area are merely overgrown bushes, as is our example. Mountain ash is covered with white flowers in the spring, and in the fall with red berries (edible, to birds, and to humans fond of tart jelly). The name "mountain ash" derives from the presence of Sorbus aucuparia on the highest reaches of the mountains of Scotland. It should be noted that throughout England and much of northern Europe the mountain ash is much better known by another name - rowan. According to legend the rowan tree is imbued with formidable magical powers. Rowan wood has been associated with faeries, elves, Druids and their ilk throughout millennia of folk (mainly Celtic) mythology. The best magic wands are made from rowan wood, and no serious dowser would search for water with a forked twig made from anything else. A Finnish creation myth involves the highly improbable interaction of a rowan tree with Ukko, the God of Thunder; all the earth's plants were the result. Early farmers used the rowan to protect their livestock from malign supernatural influences. Twigs of rowan wood were used to keep the "unquiet dead" in their graves. And thus on, and on. So, maybe you'd like to rethink your initial impression of this insignificant little bush?

10. Mountain ash
11. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Location: South of Nash Hall

Similarities between this species and true chestnuts are few. True chestnuts have long, pointed, serrate leaves; horse-chestnut leaves are compound (five or more large ovate leaflets emerging from a single bud). The true chestnut has inconspicuous greenish-white flowers distributed in catkins; horse chestnut flowers are white, conspicuous and arranged on upright spikes. Horse chestnuts are vigorous and fast growing, planted for shade and ornamental value throughout much of North America (there are hundreds of horse chestnuts growing in Bellingham). Sadly, the true American chestnut (Castanea dentata), once the pride of eastern American forests and a source of a much-prized edible nut, since the 1930s has been reduced to the status of forlorn shoots emerging from rotting stumps by the voracious onslaught of Chestnut blight (Endothia parasitica). Only in the west, where Endothia has yet to arrive, is it possible to see chestnut trees in something approaching their former magnificence. The main similarity between horse chestnuts and true chestnuts is that they both produce large, brown nuts. However, whereas true chestnuts are edible and choice, the horse chestnut produces a fruit that only squirrels can appreciate. Other examples of Aesculus hippocastanum are scattered about the WWU campus; several particularly healthy individuals are located across Highland Drive from College Hall. Horse chestnuts are native to the Balkans. They were introduced into Western Europe as early as the 16th century and into North America in the 1740s. They are close relatives of the buckeyes, of which they are several native species. For instance, see the yellow buckeye.

11. Horse chestnut
12. European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
Location: Between Nash and Higginson Halls

Parallel rows of these trees line High Street between Higginson and Nash Halls. They resemble the common beech (Fagus sylvatica) in shape and texture of bark. Their leaves distinguish the two, however: beech leaves are only very slightly serrate, whereas the leaves of Carpinus betulus are doubly serrate, with deeply recessed veins. In the autumn the distinction becomes even more obvious: beech trees produce a spiky nut-like fruit, whereas hornbeams reproduce by means of chains of small nuts, each attached to wing-like bracts (modified leaves) that facilitate dispersal in the wind. The name hornbeam provides a clue to the nature of the wood of this species, which is native to a broad region of northern Europe and Asia Minor. The wood is extremely hard, dense, and - as firewood - is said to have a caloric value equivalent to coal. As a lumber tree it has been a bust, literally; attempting to mill it often results in broken tools. Formerly it was carefully fashioned into things like ax handles, ox yokes and wooden cog-wheels. Modern technology now allows it to be shaped into planks that are highly desired as decking, etc. European hornbeam also is called musclewood, or ironwood (one of several species so designated). The former designation refers to the appearance of a mature trunk; smooth, gray and rippling, rather like the limbs of a body-builder, but without the oil and suntan. "Ironwood" refers to the hardness and density of the wood, which is quite exceptional. Some authorities claim that ironwood will not float in water, but with respect to the European hornbeam this seems to be incorrect. "Ironwood" is a name applied to several other species, however, and at least one of these (Olneya tesota, the desert ironwood) definitely will not float.

12. European hornbeam
13. Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara)
Location: North of Nash Hall

Bellingham is fairly awash in deodar cedars - Bellis Fair mall is surrounded by them, they devour golf balls all along the periphery of the Raspberry Ridge golf course, and in parts of Edgemore they fairly blot out the sun. Thus it is a little surprising that this middling tree is almost our only example. (A larger specimen can be seen nearby; look southwest). Like other true cedars, Cedrus deodara has needles in packets, and carries its cones upright. It can be distinguished from other cedars at a distance by the regal, languid droop of its branches. Hemlocks shares this characteristic droop, but have much coarser, darker needles. It is, however, quite possible for the neophyte to mistake deodar cedar for a young larch (genus Larix), as the author can personally attest. Deodar cedar originated in the Himalayas, where it can attain truly impressive dimensions (to 250 ft. in height, with a trunk diameter of ~ 16 ft.), although local champions are less than half this size. Formerly wood from Cedrus deodara was used in India to build boats. Your mother's cedar chest probably was not made from deodar cedar; modern "cedar" chests seem to be constructed mainly from Chamaecyparis thyoides (Atlantic white cedar). Other objects offered commercially as "cedar" chests may be made of cherry, oak, or other woods. Several varieties of deodar cedar, differing mainly in the color of the needles, are in common cultivation.

13. Deodar cedar
14. English midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)
Location: 30 m. south of Alumni House

Immediately south of the Alumni House the visitor encounters this somewhat scruffy example of a cultivar of the common English Midland hawthorn. This particular plant produces a profusion of pink blooms in spring; the parent species has white blossoms. According to several authorities Crataegus displays a marked tendency to form hybrids, so the exact identity of any specific tree may be in question. Most trees identified as English Midland hawthorns in North America have pink flowers. The hawthorn often is a good choice for a backyard tree; it has a moderate maximum growth, produces an excellent floral display in spring, and in the fall its fruit (called "haws") are colorful, and much sought-after by the local bird population. In England, and elsewhere, Crataegus occasionally is planted in a dense, linear array and pruned to form an impenetrable hedgerow; some species bristle with a truly nasty arsenal of sharp, stout thorns. According to one myth, Jesus' crown of thorn was constructed from the branches of a hawthorn. However, the hawthorn is not entirely malevolent. In common with mountain ash and holly, it appears in many folk tales and incantations, often in a kindly light. It has been celebrated in prose and poetry. My favorite: The fair maid who, on the first of May Goes to the field at the break of Day And bathes in the dew of the Hawthorn Tree Will ever after handsome be

14. English midland hawthorn
15. Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Location: SW of the Alumni House

This interesting little tree is located at the extreme northern end of campus, near the Alumni House. Small though it certainly is today, it is only a baby. It won’t remain small forever; record specimens reach 200 ft. in height and nearly 10 ft. in diameter. Two factors account for this species' interest and popularity. First, it is a "living fossil'; to the western world it was first known from needle and twig imprints in rocks as old as late Mesozoic (~ 100 million years ago). During the early Tertiary (65-45 million years ago, a time of extended global warmth), forests of Metasequoia covered vast areas of the northern hemisphere; fossil remains are found as far north as Axel Hedberg Land, currently at 80 degrees north latitude. In modern times it was believed to be extinct, until it was discovered growing in central China in 1941. Introduced into North America by Dr. Ralph Cheney, a paleobotanist from U. C., Berkeley, the dawn redwood since has been planted in places of honor in gardens and parks throughout the continent. The aesthetic appeal of the dawn redwood lies in its foliage, which it loses every fall. Thus Metasequoia is one of a very short list of conifers that also are deciduous. In the spring its needles are a soft green color, and - according to some authorities - edible. (They taste like carrots, apparently). In the fall the needles assume a pleasing shade of red or orange, before falling in a heap to add purpose to the gardeners' day. A particularly striking example of Metasequoia may be seen near the SE corner of the County Courthouse, in downtown Bellingham.

15. Dawn redwood