Effort underway to preserve a piece of ancient oak for campus, alums

On a campus known for its trees, the white oak on the rear lawn of Mead Hall was perhaps the most distinguished. Centuries old, it predated the university and perhaps Mead itself. Generations of graduates sat beneath its branches on commencement day. Drew’s history is written in its rings.

“This was a very prominent tree on campus,” said Director of Special Projects Mike Kopas, who is also a New Jersey certified tree expert. “That’s why we were alarmed last year when it only produced a minimal amount of foliage.”

As with people, age takes its toll on trees, making them more susceptible to the ill effects of environmental extremes, Kopas explained. “There have been several droughts in the last decade and it also suffered heavy defoliation from gypsy moths a few years ago. This put a heavy stress on the tree,” he said.

To help it regenerate, the university hired Bartlett Tree Experts last fall to perform “root invigoration”—a kind of first aid for trees. The soil was aerated and fertilized to promote root growth. Despite the effort, however, the oak did not bounce back. It produced no buds this spring and contractors began the process of removing it on April 13.

Even though it will no longer occupy the northeast corner of Mead lawn, this legacy oak—or at least a part of it—may still maintain a presence on campus. Its main trunk has been preserved and discussions are underway as to how it might be used.

“I’d like to put a cross section of the trunk in the new student center and mark the years and significant events in the university’s history on it,” said Kopas. “Alumni who visit the new UC would be able to find their graduation year there in the rings as well.”

Kopas is also exploring the possibility of turning some of it into benches, while Alumni House is looking at ways in which pieces of it might be shared with Drew alums. And while these plans remain to be determined, one thing is certain—without the oak’s canopy, this year’s commencement stands to be a lot sunnier. Graduates be warned: wear sunscreen.

###Posted: April 14, 2010