Our Trees Ground Us: UF and Progress Energy Tree Planting Ceremony
Good morning, and welcome everyone. It sure is a nice change to see a crowd outside Tigert Hall with no one holding up protest signs!
In just a moment, we’ll plant that live oak, which was donated by Progress Energy. But, let me first note that before a university stood here, there stood trees. Old photographs, taken when we had just a handful of buildings, suggest that most were native longleaf pines. While the university’s growth spelled the end of that forest, it began another.
Today, we have 183 species of trees on campus – an arboreal splendor that defines the University of Florida as distinctly as our buildings’ Collegiate Gothic architecture.
Bluff oak … Florida red maple … flowering dogwood … Our trees include both natives and exotics, and many of them were planted by hand.
Few reveal the circumstances of those plantings, but we have some trees with pedigrees: The five live oaks honoring the victims of the 1990 student murders. The sycamore that people call the “moon tree” because it was grown from a seedling carried to the moon and back aboard Apollo 14. The “Tom Petty Tree” – a lime tree near Phelps Laboratory that is said to have been planted by Gainesville’s native rocker when he worked on the UF grounds crew.
We also still have a few of those granddaddy longleaf pines, including one estimated to be 227 years old when it was designated as the “University of Florida Bicentennial Tree” in 1976.
Our experience shows that while we humans can destroy our natural woodlands, we can also help to preserve, restore and create them. Indeed, that is exactly the purpose of Arbor Day, begun in Nebraska in 1872 to encourage settlers of the West to plant trees as windbreaks for fields, shade for homes and orchards for fruit.
Here on campus, we have all relished the shade of our trees during this spring’s drought. We love to stroll under them; we rush to snag the shadiest picnic tables at lunch; and we note with silent approval when their flowers or colors mark the passing of the seasons. Our trees ground us. They root our university in this place in the world.
J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, said, quote, “Other holidays repose upon the past – Arbor Day proposes for the future.” Those words, of course, precisely match our own purpose at this university. What better place to realize them than here by Tigert Hall, at what better moment than this beautiful spring morning?
I thank Progress Energy for being a valuable partner to UF, contributing $3.5 million to numerous university programs, including the endowment that created the UF Water Institute. Progress Energy has also been a part of our sustainability efforts, and I thank them for bringing us together for this Arbor Day tree planting. Thank you!