Campus ‘champion trees’ endure despite wear and tear

Posted on Nov 5 2013 - 9:29am by Logan Kirkland
champion tree

The Champion Tree outside of the Student Union is an icon on campus.
Photo by Aditya Khare I The Daily Mississippian

Champions come and go at The University of Mississippi, but there are some champions that are here to stay.

Oxford is home to three different champion trees: the northern catalpa, the flowering dogwood and the Osage orange tree.

Jeff McManus, director of landscape services, said a champion tree is determined by measuring the diameter of the trunk, the height of the tree and the diameter of the branches. Points are then awarded to the tree based on those measurements.

“These points are totaled up and it gives them the largest tree in the state,” McManus said.

McManus said the northern catalpa tree located by the Union has had some problems due to strong wind storms and heavy traffic from students between classes as well as children on gamedays, which caused fractures and cracks on the tree.

“Some of the big primary limbs on the trunk began to separate,” he said. “The area became really dirty, unfortunately, and it needed to be kept clean.”

McManus said once they noticed these separations on the tree, landscape services was very concerned and not sure if they should remove the limbs.

“How do we make this work to keep the catalpa tree?” he said. “We are trying to figure out the next step.”

McManus decided the best approach for the catalpa was not to remove the limbs because there would be nothing left.

Landscape services thought about drilling through the tree and putting anchor bolts into the limbs to keep them stable, but after talking to arborist contractors, they felt that the wood was too soft and this would not be a good long-term solution.

“The braces appeared to be the next-best option,” McManus said.

The braces take some of the weight off the trunk in order to slow down any more splitting. These can be adjusted and include a cradle to keep the branch from rubbing on the bark causing more wounding.

Dr. Marjorie Holland, biology professor, said the tree is still in good condition and is impressed with how landscaping is handling the tree.

“I think they’re doing a very good job at protecting it. It’s definitely healthy,” Holland said.

Holland teaches several botany classes and always looks to see what is blooming around campus, but she specifically looks forward to seeing the catalpa.

“I get very excited to see the catalpa bloom,” Holland said. “They are big flowers and you can see the parts that make that plant special.”

A.J. Pederson, a freshman undeclared major, said the Catalpa tree is a beautiful part of campus but that it tends to be overlooked by visitors and students.

“When you think about Ole Miss, you think about the Grove, the Walk of Champions and tailgating on Saturdays. I think it kind of goes unnoticed,” Pederson said. “I think it has a lot of significance and it shows some history of Ole Miss.”

According to McManus, landscape services has a tree maintenance program that observes the trees, making sure they are safe, especially in areas where people tend to be around more. This led to a fence being put up around the catalpa tree for protection.

“There’s this inner struggle that you have with maintaining a large, beautiful specimen tree and safety,” McManus said. “We felt it’s best if people were not in that area.”

McManus said the tree is significant to Ole Miss and its campus because of its beauty and the attachments people have made to it over the years.

“Things change in life and we always have to deal with change, but we always like those things that remind us of the days when we were going to school here,” he said.

Landscape services will continue monitoring the estimated 150-year-old northern catalpa tree quite often to observe the cracks to make sure they are not getting longer or wider.

“Right now it seems to be in pretty good shape,” McManus said. “We are trying to hold on to it for as long as we can.”


-Logan Kirkland