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Tree Tours on the Campus Summer 2021, for the Plymouth Historical Society and Alumni Reunion Day

Last updated on December 20, 2022

I have offered two tree tours this summer on the Plymouth State University campus. The first was on June 16th for the Plymouth Historical Society. The second was for Alumni Reunion Day on July 30th. Participants on both tours were enjoyably engaging. Mary Anne Saul contributed her own historical perspective to the trees on our campus. Thanks to Steve Sweedler, the PSU horticulturist for over 30 years for creating the informal arboretum of 106 species on campus.

Two trees were in bloom for the first tour – the Tulip tree behind Mary Lyons Hall and the northern catalpa on the north western side of Silver, an out of the way path. There are photos of both below. The northern catalpa flower is described as being like a road with two yellow painted lines directing the pollinators into the flower.

Someone questioned whether the big leaf magnolia’s leaf was larger than the the heart shaped leaf of the northern catalpa- when the two are side by side, no comparison, see photo. The big leaf magnolia has the largest leaf and flower of any tree in North America and we have just one specimen up from the rotary next to Silver. You can see the red fleshy fruit now in August.

I continue to do research and reading about the trees on our campus and was delighted to find “The Spy in the Forest” article in the July/August 2021 Smithsonian Magazine. Andre Michaux, a botanist from France, was spying on the Spanish for Thomas Jefferson, hired by Clark, older brother of the Clark that would accompany Lewis on their expedition West a decade later. President George Washington supposedly knew nothing about this and wanted peace with Spain.

Michaux published his botanical work in French and didn’t lecture widely, so not many appreciate this accomplished botanist who “discovered” and described so many plants, some of which bare his name. He traveled thousands of miles over 11 years. Just considering the Carolina plants alone he named 24 genera and 188 species. Other botanists have honored him by naming plants after him.

Michaux was the first to formally describe the tulip tree and big leaf magnolia- both “type” specimens are in a museum in France.

Offering tree tours is one of the outreach activities that helps PSU qualify for our tree campus USA designation. Many activities were interrupted with Covid and even though I have since retired, I plan to continue to work with students and faculty on related, interdisciplinary projects.

Alumni Tour Checking Out The Big Leaf Magnolia near rotary

My former graduate student Tyler Simonds is now working on behalf of the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, which involves horticulture, programming, public art, maintenance and capital improvements, Tyler analyzed tree canopy cover for 6 cities in New England- an increasingly important issue related to climate change.


  1. “The Forgotten French Scientist Who Courted Thomas Jefferson- and Got Pulled Into Scandal,” Shaun Assel, Smithsonian, July 2021,
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