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Trees have roots in Mills history, debate continues

Jackie Kennedy

The future of Bryant’s Walk, the formerly eucalyptus-lined pathway that runs parallel to Kapiolani Road, was discussed by architects, Mills historians, professors, a student and other leaders in a tree planting discussion last Friday.

The Tasmanian Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees that once sandwiched Bryant’s Walk were removed from campus this summer- a decision made because the trees posed a threat to the ecosystem and health of Mills.

According to Karen Maggio, associate vice president of Campus Planning and Facilities, the replacement trees will be planted in the late summer or fall of 2009, after the Graduate School of Business is completed in the meadow adjacent to
Kapiolani Road. Construction crews have not yet broken ground for the project.

Although the group at Friday’s tree planting meeting discussed the potential of replanting a variety of trees-including eucalyptus for history’s sake-it was apparent that the days of the Tasmanian Blue Gum were over.

According to Maggio, eucalyptus “is perceived by many in the Botany world as a weed.”

When they were planted 100 years ago, Maggio said people “didn’t know how invasive eucalyptus trees were.”

Should the college decide to replant eucalyptus trees, Maggio said the less invasive Saligna Eucalyptus, more commonly known as the Sydney Eucalyptus, would be chosen.

Eucalyptus trees are not native to California and Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Susan Spiller said she perfers the idea of planting native trees in the area.

“My initial reaction is to see if we could find an indigenous plant, but I know that Mills history has this eucalyptus as a part of its iconography and culture and I respect that,” Spiller said. “But it is important that whatever plants we plant not lose their limbs so easily.”

To try to address many of the campus’s concerns, the group decided on a list of criteria for the tree candidates that will be replanted in the prized space.
The group decided that the chosen tree must be an evergreen, but the type of evergreen has not yet been decided. According to Spiller, evergreens are trees that never lose all of their leaves at one time.

The new trees must also be upright with a canopy that will not spread too far over the road or the Graduate School of Business building. Maggio said the chosen tree would preferably have a light bark that would reflect sun light. The various trees’ branch strength and root systems will also be taken into consideration. One thing for certain is that the new trees must be tall in order to maintain the commanding presence the eucalyptuses had.

In addition to these criteria, meeting attendees agreed that the college needs to decide if it wants to plant trees that acknowledge the iconic eucalyptus’ heritage at Mills, or trees that begin a new era.

Also, they need to decide whether to plant either native or non-native species. The usefulness of the new trees’ wood after it is cut down will also be considered.

According to Maggio, the wood of the eucalyptus trees removed over the summer will be used for college memorabilia, in part because it is too weak to make furniture, flooring, or anything else substantial.

Biology Professor Dr. Bruce Pavlik suggested the use of Bryant Walk as a historical journey. He proposed a pathway with one end showcasing native plants that pay homage to the days of the Ohlone, the native people of the Bay Area. The middle section of the walkway would consist of trees, most likely the eucalyptus that represent Mills’ history. These trees would then lead to others at the end of the pathway that would represent the future of ecology of Mills.

“Can the history of our thinking be shown in the transition of one species to another?” he asked. “Why just be one thing or another when you can tell a story?”

According to Campus Architect Karen Fiene, the trees will be bought from a nursery if they are locally grown. However, if the trees are not raised by local growers, they will instead be grown from seed on the Mills Campus, which, according to Maggio, is the same way Cyrus Mills cultivated the Blue Gum Eucalyptus.

Making a timely decision is imperative in case the trees must be grown by seed; even so, Maggio stressed the importance of a thorough decision-making process.
“We want to be sure we make the right decision,” she said. “Whatever we decide to do will be around for another hundred years.”