Honoring an American basswood on Arbor Day

Tree is more than 100 years old

American Basswood in the Quad
The American basswood is one of 4,000 trees at Washington University in St. Louis, which has earned “Tree Campus USA” status annually since 2010. (Photo: Courtesy of Kent Theiling)

Washington University in St. Louis is home to more than 4,000 trees. But this Arbor Day, Kent Theiling, grounds and landscape design manager, would like to recognize one special tree: the American basswood in Brookings Quadrangle. With a 48-inch trunk diameter, the tree is an estimated 104 years old, almost as old as Brookings Hall.

“If these trees could talk, imagine the stories they could tell of history and special moments on Danforth Campus,” Theiling said. “Many of us walk by these trees often — sometimes every day — not realizing the significance and benefits they bring to our campus. After all, they are the likely the longest-lived of most of us on campus today.”

Here, Theiling shares some significant facts and history about the beloved basswood:

The American basswood has stood watch over some 100 Commencement ceremonies. (Photo: University Archives)

The American basswood has witnessed many significant events on campus.

  •  In 1947,  the tree was approximately 35 years old when Washington University enrolled a record number of 13,204 students, including many returning World War II veterans.
  • In 1978, the tree was approximately 66 years old when Washington University marked its 125th anniversary.
  • In 1992, the tree was approximately 79 years old when Washington University hosted it first presidential debate, on Oct. 2.
Sharon Stahl, then vice chancellor for students, welcomed students to campus in 2014. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Trees provide more than beauty; they deliver tangible economic benefits. Theiling estimates that in 2016 alone, the American basswood:

  • Intercepted 8,352 gallons of stormwater runoff
  • Conserved 182 kilowatt hours of electricity
  • Reduced atmospheric carbon by 399 pounds
A total of 286 trees were planted on the Danforth Campus in 2016. (Photo: Washington University)

Theiling encourages members of the Washington University community to plant a tree today. Theiling has been busy adding new trees to the university landscape. A total of 286 trees were planted on the Danforth Campus in 2016. This spring, 55 trees have been relocated from the east end project site to inner campus. Ultimately, 340 new trees, including native species of oak, maple, river birch, bald cypress, pond cypress, paw paw and others will be planted on the east end.