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Value of Tree Tours on the Plymouth State University Campus

Last updated on January 26, 2023

I continue to interact with students at Plymouth State University by giving tree tours of our campus’ informal arboretum.

This week, W, Th, and F I had a chance to show students something remarkable about their campus and learn from them, which are two reasons I enjoyed my teaching position

Wednesday environmental science and policy majors joined me for their two-hour lab. I started by asking them to write about something they have already learned since the semester started in any capacity from any class or experience. My purpose, as I told them, was to have them engage in reflection- a key component of maximizing the benefits of their education. I was encouraged by what I read and will send the class a summary of their responses as a way for them to get to know their peers better.

Here are some of their varied responses:

“I learned how to take field notes and dress for the weather around here.”

“A suite can be a song with several different sections, often being in the same key.”

“…how to manage my time better and figure out how to … balance friends and school. “

“…how to live on my own.”

“…how to roll a kayak.”

“…bats are pollinators.”

“…how to identify minerals.”

“…how to stay organized and on top of things using canvas (PSU’s online learning platform).”

“…there are different types of bumblebees.”

“…dragonfly larvae are good Bio-Sentinels for monitoring mercury content in the ecosystem.” *

“…how to collect dragonfly larvae.” *

“…the different types of habitats that exist in streams.” *

*There were multiple, similar answers related to the last three items.

Next, I asked students to list every benefit of trees that came to mind. We then had each student share a new item from his/her list. I wanted them to realize collectively they knew a lot about the value of trees. What surprised me is some students mentioned that certain trees have political or cultural significance- like the Japanese giving the US cherry blossoms as a token of friendship. I had planned to share plenty of historical stories about different species of trees on our campus and I liked that already some students were thinking beyond the usual utilitarian connections.

Before heading outside, I gave them each an index card and asked them to make a sketch of some aspect- leaf or profile shape for examples, of the trees we would see. I reviewed our learning objectives including developing their observation skills. Some students took this directive to heart, refer to photos.

For two hours, we looked up close – touched, smelled and even tasted fruit of nineteen different trees- natives, ornamentals, and even invasives, of the documented 106 species that exist on the campus.

Back in the classroom, to close, I again asked them to reflect on their learning and write about whatever they found most interesting from the tree tour. Here are some of their responses:

“…didn’t realize how diverse the trees are.”

“…didn’t know that Plymouth was home to an informal arboretum.”

“We have such a wide variety of species in such a small area.”

“…learned bats can live in the folds of tree bark.”

“…didn’t know we had the largest leafed tree in North America” (Big-leaf Magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla).

“…learned that Alaska Cypress trees can help with Lyme disease.” (I shared that Calitropsis nootkatensis, native to coastal regions in the northwestern US and British Columbia, can ward off Lyme disease carried by ticks and other illnesses like West Nile virus carried by mosquitos,…/governor…/).

“…thought seeing the trees and being introduced to the tree data base was very cool and I will be looking more into it in the future.” (What guest presenter doesn’t want to hear about a student interested in following up on information shared.)

“…learned that PSU is a tree campus as well as a bee campus. The only college in NH with these titles.”

“…never noted the many different kinds of trees until today.”

“…learning about some of the medicinal values that some of the ordinary looking trees have.”

“…learned there are 5 needles per cluster on a Japanese White pine.”

From the students’ responses I met my goal, to prompt students to take notice of the amazing outdoor learning laboratory we have – largely thanks to our campus’ former landscaper, Steve Sweedler, who planted so many kinds of trees. My academic background is in the Earth Sciences, geology mostly, my main interest was rocks and so for over a decade I trapesed across campus never noticing the rich, living resource surrounding me. I tell students now I can’t walk across campus without taking note of some seasonal change in one tree or another.

I no longer take our trees for granted and I don’t want them to either. Each tour fuels my desire to put information on the trees and our informal arboretum on the campus’ website to reach more students and alumni.

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