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It’s a good day to plant a tree: Georgia Southern celebrates Arbor Day

Students plant a dogwood tree along Southern Drive during the 2023 Arbor Day celebration on the Statesboro Campus.
Students plant a dogwood tree along Southern Drive during the 2023 Arbor Day celebration on the Statesboro Campus.

Georgia Southern University’s campuses are a little greener after students, faculty and staff came together to celebrate Georgia’s Arbor Day by planting longleaf pine and dogwood trees on the Armstrong and Statesboro campuses, respectively. 

Organized by Sustain Southern in the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement, The Division of Facilities Services and student organization EcoAdvocates, the groups planted three longleaf pine trees near the Student Union on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah and in Statesboro, 10 dogwood trees were planted along Southern Drive leading to Sweetheart Circle. 

Shay Little, Ph.D., vice president for Student Affairs, said the Arbor Day celebrations are just one way that students can become more connected to sustainability on campus and the inclusive learning environment that the Division of Student Affairs aims to create. 

“I am proud to say that the mission of the division of Student Affairs is to cultivate an inclusive environment that fosters the holistic development of students through transformational engagement and intentional learning,” Little said. 

Arbor Day is celebrated and is marked by the planting of trees and emphasizes caring for them as a way to sustainably protect the planet’s natural resources. Each year, Georgia Southern students, faculty and staff gather at each campus and reflect on the importance of Arbor Day. 

“We have been designated a tree-friendly campus, and we’re recognized nationally because of this commitment and the work that we are doing here today,” said President Kyle Marrero during the Statesboro ceremony. 

The efforts by the University’s Landscape Services team and efforts such as Arbor Day provide an inviting environment on campus that will be enjoyed for many years, Marrero added. 

“Today is a part of the work that we do with Sustain Southern, and I am thankful for all of the groups and the plan that we’ve developed to make sure that we are good stewards of our environment now and in the future,” Marrero said. 

Vice President for Business and Finance Ron Stalnaker also lauded the efforts of the Landscape Services team. 

“I want to give a tremendous thank you to our grounds team for all the work that they’ve done to prepare us for this Arbor Day event, but not just for this event, but everything they do every single day to beautify all of our campuses,” said Stalnaker. 

At the Armstrong Campus in Savannah, Ken Gassiot, Ph.D., associate vice president of Student Affairs, shared a quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead about the importance of making a change in the world. 

“‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,’” Gassiot quoted. 

He then encouraged the students present to get involved inside and outside the classroom because it could make all the difference. 

“Whether you feel like your population of two and your ideas of three can make a difference in the world, it truly can,” he said. “When we choose to live in a sustainable world by planting trees and living in a more recyclable, sustainable way, it helps the things in our life and people become better.”

The newly planted trees add to the combined more than 250 species varieties that can be found on the campuses in Savannah and Statesboro. The most commonly found tree species in Statesboro is oak, while in Savannah, conifers, junipers and dogwood trees are most commonly found on the Armstrong Campus. 

In addition to a wide variety of species on Georgia Southern’s campuses, one can also find rare species and trees that have been on the campus grounds since before Georgia Southern existed. 

On the Armstrong and Statesboro Campuses, the oldest trees are oak trees which can be found on Sweetheart Circle and the lawn in front of Burnett Hall in Savannah. The Division of Facilities Services had to remove an oak tree on Sweetheart Circle in recent years and estimated it to be nearly 400 years old. 

The Armstrong Campus is home to one of the rarest tree species in the world: The Vietnamese Cypress. Only discovered as a species in Vietnam in 1999, it is considered critically endangered with less than 1,000 living in the wild. The Armstrong Arboretum is participating in an ex-situ conservation effort to preserve the species. The tree can be found in the conifer garden. 

The Mexican Oak is another less common tree species found on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah. Already sparsely found outside of Mexico, deforestation and agricultural efforts have depleted many of the species in its native country. Since its planting on campus in 2012, the tree has grown to be nearly 30 feet tall, which is considered exceptional since it’s growing outside its natural habitat. There are only a few reports of this type of tree living along the Atlantic Coast. 

The Statesboro Campus is home to the Herty Pines Nature Preserve, a wooded area just off Sweetheart Circle where a thicket of longleaf pine trees can be found. The preserve is named for Charles Herty, a researcher and pioneer in the turpentine industry who developed a sustainable method of turpentine collection in the early 1900s. The preserve is the original location of where Herty began his research developing this method, which extended the life of trees used in the turpentine industry. 

Planting trees in February allows them to better establish before the hot Georgia temperatures set in during the summer. This is why Georgia recognizes Arbor Day on the third Friday of every February instead of on the National Arbor Day celebration in April. Due to inclement weather, the Statesboro Campus moved its celebration to March. 


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