Behind the STEM building, where there’s ample shade and irrigation, several saplings grow on a hillside, like the Ohio Buckeye with it’s symmetrical green foliage, the wild, spiky Alabama Longleaf Pine and a small barren spindly stick.
Although Clark is only one tree short of having the nation’s 50 state trees, the Hawaiian sapling already on campus isn’t thriving and may soon knock the total down to 48.
Lab technician Tim Carper of Clark’s Life Sciences division said the unfortunate young Koaia tree is close to death partially due to being vandalized last year. Carper said the Koaia serves as a stand in for the true Hawaiian state tree, the Candlenut, because the chances for the Candlenut’s survival in the Pacific Northwest climate are too low.
Carper said the Koaia was doing well last spring despite the climate until it was lopped in half during Summer.
“It was fine and then somebody decided to take it down,” he said. “It seems like you gotta have a fairly big tree before people just don’t wanna mess with them. That’s the problem; if you put out a little tree, any of these, if they’re too small people will just step on them and break them.”
While the Koaia sapling is nothing more than a bare stick with no leaves or buds, its companions are flourishing.
The one sapling missing is Idaho’s Western White Pine, which Carper said was ironic because it’s so prolific in this area.
“The nurseries are having a really hard time providing us with anything that will live,” he said, recalling the college’s previous White Pine which died three years ago.
Carper said the college is likely to obtain a permit from Gifford Pinchot National Forest to go harvest their own White Pine.
The other saplings on the hillside are Arkansas’ Loblolly Pine, Delaware’s American Holly, Georgia’s Live Oak, Minnesota’s Red Pine, Texas’s Hardy Pecan and New Hampshire’s Paper Birch.
A few states claim the same tree. Included in the collection are a White Oak, which belongs to Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland; and a Swamp Chestnut Oak, which belongs to Florida and South Carolina.
Gayla Shanahan, a groundskeeper at Clark for 10 years, said Clark is a 90-acre arboretum campus, which has also earned the title of a Tree Campus USA. The name, which Clark has retained for eight years, is awarded to colleges that care for trees and involve their students in tree management.
Much of the collective love for trees at Clark, Shanahan said, was ignited by late biology professor Anna Pechanec. “She would go around when nobody was around and plant trees,” Shanahan said. “Many of the older trees were planted by her.”
Although Carper said the idea officially began with the former grounds manager Skip Jimerson who retired three years ago, Shanahan said Pechanec gave the 50 state tree project a jump start.
As for the little Koaia stick, Carper said he’s researching and calling the National Arboretum, which shares a similar climate, to discover possible solutions and perhaps a different plant.