UW News

March 10, 2005

Bloom time: Quad’s cherry trees go online

Nature may still dictate their delicate display, but the famous cherry trees on the Quad, in keeping with the times, have gone online.

A “Cherry Cam” — at http://www.uwnews.org/cherrycam — began last week to watch the 30 Yoshino cherry trees as they unleash their pale blossoming magic.

Cherry Cam is the brainchild of professor Dick Startz, who writes the “Economist’s Letters” column which often appears in the Herald of Everett, the Tacoma News-Tribune and other regional newspapers.

The column looks at current topics — from same-sex marriage to medical malpractice — through an economist’s lens. Startz, a UW faculty member since 1984, said he envisions the pieces as letters to his teenage daughters about the world they will inherit.

The upcoming column urges readers to check out the Quad’s spring arboreal display, but Startz wanted to give readers a way to check on the ephemeral blossoms before making the trip.

Hence Cherry Cam, which transmits the view out Startz’ office window in Savery Hall (it was set up by Ken Fine, the webmaster at the Office of News and Information).

But that begs the question: why cherry blossoms on the op-ed page? Startz says they illustrate a point. The trees, he explained, began public life in the Arboretum shortly before the World War II, rooted on land that was later needed for construction of the 520 bridge. With bulldozers headed for the cherries, a small group formed to find a new home despite warnings that the trees were too old to survive a transplant.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of cherry blossoms in the Quad.

Startz said the cherries illustrate the principle of “practical optimism,” since the nurserymen and landscape architects and University leaders who brought them to campus could not know whether their investment would pay dividends.

Startz said the blossoms illustrate another point, as well.

“Everyone seems to think that economics is about money and business,” he writes in his column. “Economists do study money and business, but we think they’re a means to an end, not an end in-and-of themselves. People’s end goals include things like feeding their families and having a having a comfortable home — and getting to enjoy cherry blossoms.”