by Meredith Burke
Summer 2016 intern Meredith Burke is creating Matthaei-Nichols' programming for the upcoming University of Michigan Bicentennial celebration (January - December 2017). In this post, Meredith gives a preview of some of her work on the bicentennial project and what she's learned about trees.
Prior to this internship, you could say that my knowledge of trees was at a sprouting level. I could name a few trees, yes, but I really didn’t know what I was talking about. The only trees I could name and identify confidently were some maples and a couple of different kinds of pines (thanks to Canada and annual family trips to tree farms).
|Towering eastern white pines in|
the Arb. The esatern white pine
is one of the Grandmother Trees
(Photo: Meredith Burke).
Now, about two months into my summer experience at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum (MBGNA), I can happily identify twelve trees, tell you about their quirks and facts, and explain how they are rooted in U-M’s 200-year history.
As an intern, I am working with the communications and marketing team on MBGNA’s contribution to U-M’s bicentennial celebration. The project features twelve “Grandmother Trees” in the Arboretum and highlights events happening on campus around the time the respective trees were planted.
|A sample of a sign to accompany the sassafras, one of the Grandmother Trees in the Matthaei-Nichols bicentennial project.|
Each tree will be paired with an informational sign. The outdoor “Grandmother Tree” exhibit will be in Arb from April-December 2017.
|The three distinct shapes of the sassafras leaf. (Photo courtesy|
One of my personal favorites of the “Grandmother Trees” is sassafras. I love its name, and the three distinct shapes of its leaves just fascinate me! As a Michigan native, I particularly enjoy the mitten-shaped sassafras leaf. Through research, I learned that the oil of sassafras has been used to flavor candy, medicine, tobacco, and most notably, root beer! Unfortunately but fortunately, in 1960 the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) banned sassafras oil as a food and flavoring additive because it was found to be a carcinogen and also contained safrole, which can damage the liver.
I also learned that the year the featured “Grandmother” sassafras tree was planted (1872) was the same year a U-M alum founded “Arbor Day,” which has now become a global annual observance. This U-M alum, Julius Sterling Morton, went on to serve as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture (1893-97).
|The Grandmother tulip tree in Nichols Arboretum |
(Liriodendron tulipifera). This tree started life around 1850,
making it an estimated 167 years old. (Photo: Meredith Burke.)
I have thoroughly enjoyed deepening my appreciation for trees, learning about interesting events in the University’s history, and venturing through the Arb this summer. I hope you will be able to do the same with the “Grandmother Trees” next year!
Meredith Burke, from Dexter, Michigan, is a recent graduate in environmental studies at
|Meredith Burke poses with a |
mitten-shaped sassafras leaf.