ATHENS, Ga. — Usually, visitors to the University of Georgia associate trips to the Athens campus with the hedges and ball fields, but UGA horticulture student Kendall Busher wants them to consider the trees.
Busher, a horticulture major in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is on a quest to introduce students and visitors to one of the university’s best-kept secrets, the UGA Campus Arboretum.
While it is not necessarily a well-known fact, UGA’s entire campus is an arboretum — think a zoo or a gallery for trees. Busher had no clue that the campus trees were special until she was asked to develop an online map and a virtual tour of 115 of the campus arboretum’s most unique and exemplary trees.
Busher is currently an intern in the UGA Office of Sustainability and a part of the campus arboretum committee. Kevin Kirsche, director of the UGA Office of Sustainability, believes that Busher’s work to help people appreciate the natural beauty around them will ultimately encourage more people to take better care of the UGA campus and the environment in general.
“Trees are a defining aspect of UGA’s beloved campus,” Kirsche said. “The designation of the UGA Campus Arboretum underscores UGA’s commitment to protect natural resources, and the interactive maps help us to better understand and appreciate these natural treasures.”
The UGA Campus Arboretum has been a part of the campus for many years, but Busher said that there was nothing but a brochure and a few signs signifying that the arboretum even existed.
After taking horticulture Associate Professor Tim Smalley’s “Woody Landscape Plant Identification and Use” class in spring 2019, Busher’s interest in trees and the arboretum began to grow. Smalley has introduced hundreds of UGA students to the trees on campus through the lab for the course, which involves weekly tree-identification walks around campus.
“Before I took that ID class, I felt like I was plant blind,” Busher said. “I was walking by everything, just a blur of green.”
Once she began to understand the meaning behind each tree, what its role in our environment is and what it was used for by indigenous people, it made Busher’s walks on campus much more meaningful and beautiful.
Smalley encouraged Busher to take the internship at the Office of Sustainability so she could create the tour, something that had been needed for years, he said.
She quickly went from not knowing the difference between two different varieties of maple trees to learning the variety and background of nearly every tree on campus.
Using geographic information system (GIS) technology and software called Storymap, Busher developed three different virtual walking tours, one for the northern, central and southern sides of campus. This tour allows participants to engage in an in-depth tour of trees on campus without having to wait for a physical guide.
Each part of the virtual tour has a picture of each featured tree and a short description of its use and history. The Office of Sustainability is also working on developing brochures that will be available on the website as downloadable PDFs.
It took Busher all of spring semester to develop and create the virtual walking tour, an undertaking she calls a “labor of love.” She is continuing to polish the website as she finds new pieces of information or needed tweaks.
“I really hope that, through this position, I am able to get people more interested in trees, especially the trees at UGA,” said Busher. “It truly is such a beautiful campus.”
To see the map on your computer or mobile device, visit sustainability.uga.edu/arboretum.
–Chad Cain, University of Georgia