SEFS Grad Students Contribute “Tree Truths” to Art Exhibition

This summer, local artist Cheryl A. Richey is showcasing a selection of her abstract “tree spirit” paintings and charcoal drawings in the UW Tower’s Mezzanine Gallery. Her show, Arbor Intelligence, explores the subtle power and mystery of trees, and the exhibition includes 30 printed “tree truths” that capture a range of scientific facts and interpretations about trees and forests.

One of Cheryl's "tree spirit" paintings, Pyrophyte 2 (acrylic, collage, burned canvas)

One of Cheryl’s “tree spirit” paintings, Pyrophyte 2 (acrylic, collage, burned canvas)

Cheryl drew from several sources to create the “tree truths,” including Tree:  A Life Story, by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady. For 12 of them, though, she partnered with SEFS graduate students—including Sean Callahan, Sean Jeronimo, Caitlin Littlefield , Korena Mafune, Allison Rossman and Jorge Tomasevic—to produce “truths” from their own research and experiences!

Arbor Intelligence opens today, Tuesday, July 5, and will run through the end of September. The UW Tower is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it is accessible to anyone with a Husky card.

We encourage you to stop by and visit the exhibition this summer, and also to take a look through the “tree truths” that will appear with the show (with our graduate students listed in bold below next to the truths they provided!

Tree Truths

1. Trees are the “lungs” of the earth.
2. Trees often have lifelong – ‘best friend’ – relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. Without these fungi, woody plants may never have evolved on land.
3. Forests absorb more than 25 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.
4. Forests constantly replenish Earth’s supply of fresh water.
5. Forests influence weather patterns.
6. Trees are communal and share sun and water resources via their root systems.
7. Riparian forests are critically important to river ecology, which benefits fish and wildlife. 8. Chlorophyll and hemoglobin are similar in structure with only one atom difference between them: chlorophyll’s one magnesium atom enables plants to capture light, whereas hemoglobin’s one iron atom allows blood to capture oxygen.
9. Trees’ “dynamic spiral” growth pattern is similar to other patterns found in nature, like spiral galaxies and DNA coils.
10. Lodgepole pine cones can wait 50 years for fire to open the cones and release the seeds.
11. Mature Douglas-fir trees can tolerate fire because of their nonflammable, thick bark (up to 12 inches thick).
12. It can take 36 hours for water to move from roots to canopy in a mature Douglas-fir tree.
13. Needles contain little sap, which makes them more resistant to freezing.
14. When invaded by disease, a tree seals off the infected area to control its spread.
15. Because of its smaller surface area, a needle transpires less water than a broadleaf, so conifers do better than deciduous trees in sunny environments with long dry periods.
16. Some evergreens, like the monkey puzzle tree, keep their needles for up to 15 years. 17. Rainforests lift and transpire huge amounts of water every day, creating great rivers of mist that flow across the continent. This water condenses and falls as rain.
18. Bristlecone pine trees regularly keep their needles for 20 to 30 years, and occasionally as long as 45 years. (Sean Jeronimo)
19. Bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism in the world. One specimen is older than 4,800 years, and another is older than 5,000! (Sean Jeronimo)
20. The only living tissues of a tree are its foliage, buds and inner bark—which usually make up less than 1 percent of a tree’s biomass. (Sean Jeronimo)
21. The lodgepole pine spans an elevation range from sea level to higher than 10,000 feet, and ranges from swampy wetlands to the near-desert pumice plateau. (Sean Jeronimo) 22. Most trees are monoecious, meaning each individual bears both male and female reproductive organs. However, some tree species, such as Pacific yew, have separate male and female individuals. (Sean Jeronimo)
23. High above the forest floor, organic soils form on branches of Washington’s old-growth rainforests. These ‘canopy soils’ promote habitat for a wide array of unique organisms. It’s a whole new world that has barely been explored. (Korena Mafune)
24. The endangered marbled murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but the bird exclusively nests on mosses growing high in the canopy of coniferous trees near the coastline. (Sean Callahan)
25. About 80 percent of vegetative diversity in a forest lies in the “understory,” including saxifrages, grasses, biscuit roots and roses. These beautiful and unique plants complement the “overstory” structure and composition. (Allison Rossman)
26. Stick your nose into a black crevice between the red-orange bark plates of a big ponderosa pine. Smells like vanilla! (Caitlin Littlefield)
27. In autumn, deciduous trees respond to shorter days and cooler temperatures with colorful foliage caused by the breakdown of green chlorophyll in leaves. But with warmer temperatures and drought conditions lasting longer, some trees are dropping their leaves before they change color. (Caitlin Littlefield)
28. In a forest under attack by a pest or pathogen, you may actually count more trees—lots of young ones—than before the outbreak, because some species make a last-ditch effort to reproduce before death. (Caitlin Littlefield)
29. Dead trees are important for biodiversity. They are a source of food and shelter for insects, fungi, spiders, and many bird species, as well as small mammals, snakes, lizards, and bats. Dead trees are rich with life, and we should celebrate them, too! (Jorge Tomasevic)
30. Pyrophytes are plants, including trees (some species of pine, oak, eucalypts and giant sequoias) that have adapted to tolerate fire. In some species, fire aides them in competing with less fire-resistant plants for space and nutrients.

Painting © Cheryl A. Richey

SEFS Grad Students Help Judge “Big Tree Contest”

On Friday, September 26, two SEFS graduate students, Sean Jeronimo and Nichole Studevant, spent an afternoon serving as judges in the first-ever Waskowitz Big Tree Contest. Their job was to take measurements of six Douglas-firs around Burien, Wash., to determine which one was the biggest—and these weren’t just any trees, either. They were “Waskowitz Trees,” the fruits of a great tradition at Camp Waskowitz that started back in the 1960s.

Waskowitz Big Tree ContestLocated in North Bend, Wash., Camp Waskowitz was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930s. It was later renamed in honor of Fritz Waskowitz, a former University of Washington football player who as a pilot was shot down and killed during World War II. (Today, Camp Waskowitz is one of only two remaining CCC Camps in the country with all of the original buildings still standing.)

In 1947, Highline Public Schools—a district serving the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, Boulevard Park and White Center—started sending sixth-graders to spend a week at Camp Waskowitz, where they would learn about the outdoors, forestry and conservation. For many years, from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, the students would come home from camp with a Douglas-fir seedling to plant in their yards. Weyerhaeuser donated some of the trees from their nursery, while others were transplanted from along Interstate 90, and now thousands of those Waskowitz Trees are still thriving as part of the local urban forest.

The tree contest came about as a fun way to reconnect with former campers and determine which of those trees had, in fact, thrived the most!

Waskowitz Big Tree Contest

Kent Horton, left, with Sean Jeronimo and Nichole Studevent.

Kent Horton, president of the Waskowitz Foundation and one of the chief organizers, reached out to SEFS last spring to solicit help judging the finalists. He then spent the summer working with Barbara McMichael at the Highline Historical Society, which co-sponsored the contest, to collect submissions from campers who had either planted a Waskowitz Tree or who knew of one growing near them. The entry fee was $5, and submissions had to include specific information about the tree—location, who planted it and when, rough dimensions, and any other backstory or memories about why the tree was important. In turn, the owner of the winning tree, as well as the student or family who planted it, would each receive a $150 prize and a plaque to commemorate the achievement.

After the deadline on September 1, Horton says they were able to narrow the field from about 20 entries to the top six potential winners. That’s when he called in Jeronimo and Studevant—armed with Spencer® tapes, clinometers and laser rangefinders—to take more precise measurements and determine a grand-prize winner.

It took a couple hours for them to locate and size up all of the trees, some of which had been planted in tricky spots or wedged up against a house, but Jeronimo and Studevant were eventually able to declare a clear winner. Using the American Forests Big Tree Program measurement guidelines, they measured one Douglas-fir at 101.5 feet tall, with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 32.7 inches and crown spread of 51.1 feet.

Waskowitz Big Tree Contest

The winning tree, which had grown to 101.5 feet since it was planted in 1968!

Jeronimo and Studevant thoroughly enjoyed the judging, and their favorite part was getting to meet folks who had such a special attachment to their trees. “It was a lot of fun,” says Jeronimo, a second-year master’s student working with Professor Jerry Franklin. “We got to talk to some interesting residents, some of whom had planted the trees themselves, which was pretty neat.”

Horton also showed them one submission that came from a woman who had included a photo of herself next to the 3-foot-tall seedling, and then one of herself standing next to the mature tree today. Her entry didn’t make the cut as a finalist, but it was a powerful image of a lifelong relationship with the Waskowitz Tree. “It was great to see people who were really connected to their trees, and who had loved and protected them,” says Studevant, who is in her final quarter of the Master of Forest Resources program.

The woman who had planted the winner, as it happens, had a forestry background, and her tree—planted in 1968—had definitely made the most if its years. Now she can proudly claim to have the biggest Waskowitz Tree around, and thanks to Jeronimo and Studevant she has the official numbers to prove it!

Photos © Barbara McMichael.