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On March 17, UCF’s Arboretum honored the red maple as their tree of choice for 2016. The Arboretum celebrated Arbor Day with a tree tour and tree planting for students.

The leader of the tree tour was Dr. Patrick Bohlen, a UCF biology professor and the director of Landscape and Natural Resources on campus. The hour-long tour consisted of learning about more than 15 different tree species — there are 6,928 trees currently planted on campus, not including the thousands of trees in UCF’s 800 acres of natural land. After the tour was finished, over 40 students met at the pond near the Alumni Center to lend a helping hand in planting red maples.

“Red maples were chosen for several reasons,” Dr. Bohlen said. “For one, they do well in wet conditions, so they are a good tree to plant near ponds, where water availability will be high and they will be able to grow rapidly.  Also, red maples are not as sturdy as some trees, so if they were to experience limb breakage during severe storms, it would cause less risk if the trees are not near buildings or pedestrian walkways. Finally, red maples can produce beautiful fall colors and in the spring put on a showy flush of red flowers and fruits, so they contribute aesthetically as well.”

The goal of the celebration was to help students understand the importance of trees not only in the UCF community, which has been designated as a “Tree Campus USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation, but in every community.

"Arbor Day is important, for it allows us an opportunity to engage students in a hands-on learning experience where they can take ownership of planting campus trees,” said Jennifer Elliot, coordinator at the UCF Arboretum. “Students help better their environment, beautify the campus and learn the value of urban trees.”

But these trees go deeper than their roots. Weeping willows like the ones found near the CFE Arena are a key ingredient to making most of the country’s baby aspirin. And do you ever wonder what that small yellow fruit is hanging off the evergreen trees near the library? It’s loquat, a tart and juicy member of the citrus family that makes for a tasty snack.

“Most students don’t realize the part trees play in their lives,” said Bohlen. “Trees contribute to the beauty and aesthetics of the campus environment and they provide critically important shading, which increases comfort for visitors, students and staff in our hot subtropical environment. Trees provide many well-established ecosystem services because they reduce energy needs for cooling, reduce storm water runoff by intercepting rainfall, sequester carbon from the atmosphere and provide habitat for many types of animals.”

While having a green thumb isn’t for everyone, students participating seemed excited to jump in the dirt and dig up space for the red maples to flourish.

“I came to help plant trees today because I want to support the importance of environmental awareness,” said Cassie Underwood, an environmental studies major. “With so much going on around campus today, like student government elections, I hope people take notice. This is our home and it should be our number one priority to take care of it.”

This article was originally published March 21.

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Gina Avile is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.

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