As the Quad Cherries Age and Die, the UW Faces the Challenge of Preserving a 'Magic' Space

Text by Tom Griffin
Photos by Kathy Sauber and Mary Levin

Late this month, just as they have for the last 34 years, 30 Japanese cherry trees will burst into bloom in the University's Liberal Arts Quadrangle-the "Quad."

It is a signature moment in the life of the University. The clouds of rosy pink blossoms will match the color of terra cotta panels on the Collegiate Gothic buildings surrounding them. For a week or two, the Quad will be a fairyland of color, and when the petals fall from the trees, a gentle snow will linger on the lawns and brick walkways.

For recent alumni and current students, these Yoshino cherries look like they have always belonged here. Yet, for its first 70 years, the Quad was an open field, crisscrossed with footpaths that often turned it into a mud flat.

The space was so vast and so bare that the campus ROTC units used it for their marching drills and reviews. Roughly the size of St. Mark's Plaza in Venice, the Quad was "a big space that didn't have anything particular to say," recalls Botany Professor Emeritus Richard Walker.

That barren feeling could return in a few years. The Quad's cherry trees are aging-two have already died and had to be replaced. Others show signs of decline. Yet the solution is cloudy: No one is sure how long they will survive, and what is the best way to replace them.

It's a fact of life that trees age and die. "Cherries are a pioneer species," says UW Arborist Paul Sisson. "They are not a long-lived species."

"We have to replace them eventually, every single one," adds UW Landscape Architect Bill Talley.

"They are all in decline," says UW Grounds Supervisor Bonnie Taylor, who was the lead gardener in the Quad for 10 years. "They are temperamental. All fruit trees are that way," she adds. Cherries don't handle overly wet conditions very well, she says, and the Quad often has wet, spongy soil.


Deep fissures and other damage to the bark shows signs of age.


The fruit of fungal growth indicates this aging cherry is under stress.

While the UW has a yearly maintenance schedule that includes spraying with fungicide and cleaning out dead wood and suckers, some trees still show signs of stress. A quick inspection will turn up fungal growth in the trunks of some cherries. Others have large cracks, where there may be damage to the tree's cambium, its highway for nutrients, Talley warns.

The life span of Prunus yedoensis is 60 to 100 years. Both Talley and Sisson think that the Quad's cherries are 50 to 60 years old, while Walker says they might even be slightly older. The UW doesn't have a solid date, because the Quad isn't the site of their original planting.

Editor's note, March 2006:
Cherry Trees on the Quad, a museum-quality framed photo print by Loyd Heath, can be purchased at Proceeds help support the many programs and activities of the UWAA, including the Cherry Tree Project.

Home / Current Issue / Archives / Talk Back / Advertising / Columns FAQ / Alumni Website / Search