Like pieces gathered into a collection of art, the Slayton Arboretum has dozens of different trees in its collections. Hillsdale is home to many interesting trees, including three special tree collections: the witch hazel, the lilac, and the magnolia.
“I try really hard not to have a monoculture here to avoid the diseases,” said Angie Girdham, the campus horticulturist.
The witch hazel collection is perfect for the arboretum, because of its growing conditions. They require partial shade and can thrive in either wet or dry soil.
“With an arboretum, you have a lot of trees so you need something that can grow in harmony with other trees, and there are a lot varieties that are really beautiful,” Laurie Rosenberg, a horticulturist and program coordinator at Hillsdale College, said. “Witch hazels bloom like exploding fireworks.”
The witch hazels are not only special because of how they bloom, but when they begin to bloom as well.
“They bloom in the fall and early spring when other shrubs are not blooming. Witch hazels complement the lilac collection because lilacs bloom in late spring,” Rosenberg said.
The lilac collection is the biggest collection in the arboretum, but Hillsdale’s magnolia collection has many uncommon forms, such as the sweet bay magnolia. These trees stand three in a row alongside the pond in the arboretum.
“Sweet bay magnolias are really big trees and very mature so they are considered valuable. Kids love its big leaves,” Rosenberg said.
On the north side of the pond in the arboretum stands the bald cypress tree. These trees are not typically found in Michigan because they prefer swampy conditions.
“It’s not a super valuable or rare tree, but there aren’t any cypress swamps in Michigan, so this is valuable for here,” Rosenberg said. “This is about as far north as you would find this kind of tree.”
What makes these trees even more interesting is their roots. As the soil becomes more saturated with water, the roots struggle to get air. To compensate, the trees grow what Rosenburg calls “knees.”
“The roots that come out of the ground are called knees. They are just extensions of the roots,” Rosenberg said.
Oak trees are another type of large tree on campus, but they are owned by the city.
“The huge oak trees along Galloway drive are considered to be valuable because they’re very old. You can’t replace them, so they don’t want to expand the parking lot,” Rosenberg said.
These large oak trees are one of Hillsdale city forester Gary Statchowicz’s, favorite trees. As Hillsdale’s city forester, he has a passion for these trees and wants to keep them around.
“If the college wanted to take down the trees for the parking lot, I would say ‘no way,’’’ Stachowicz said.
Stachowicz explained that over the last 30 years, trees and vegetation have become more valuable. In the late 1970’s, Hillsdale adopted a city-wide tree ordinance, making it so if a person wanted to cut down a tree, they would have to pay for it. The cost of the tree would be determined by an evaluation of the tree’s size, species, location, and overall condition. The money would then go towards a tree fund to replace trees on major or side streets.
“We’d rather not lose our resources though,” Stachowicz said. “I don’t want people thinking they can just buy all these trees.”
Regardless of the complex equation that goes into the tree-evaluation process, trees are not cheap. Stachowicz gave this example: a burl tree that is 54 inches in diameter would be worth $37,000. There are three near the post office in town, and they are some of his favorite trees, along with the oaks on Galloway Drive.
Parking lot expansion is not the only thing threatening these oak trees, however. Lately, an increasing number of cases of oak wilt has been reported.
“There’s an invasive disease coming,” Girdham said. “Our city forester is going out of his way to preserve the oaks.”
Oak wilt is transmitted by beatles and can kill an oak tree in just one season. To prevent this from happening, the oak trees can only be pruned at certain times of the year.
East College Street is also home a unique tree: the gingko. These hardy trees were once thought to be extinct but were later found in China, preserved by Buddhist Monks.
“Gingko trees are a little bit unusual. They’re pretty popular now, and are known to be present from fossil records,” Rosenberg said. “They’re resistant to diseases and insects and don’t have any pests that have evolved with them.”
The gingkos on campus can be found in front of the Sage Center for the Arts, on the west side of the library, and across the street from Broadlawn. Girdham said Penny Arnn loves her gingko tree that lives across from Broadlawn.
The unusual rubber tree also has a home near the Roche Sports Complex.
“I planted it for a different variety,” Girdham said. “You can see the latex in the leaf when it’s torn. The only downside is it has no fall color.”
An interesting tree that Girdham planted is a hardy coffee tree.
“They get really wide, like over 100 feet wide,” Girdham said. “I planted it in hope that he’ll amount to something spectacular. They start off really scrawny.”
This spring, the witch hazel will bloom in fire-cracker fashion, the coffee tree will grow into something spectacular, and the knees of the bald cypress tree will expand for more air.
These trees, young and old, scrawny and large, colorful and bland, all contribute to the wonderful variety on campus.