Industry experts volunteer time to teach students, help save historic tree on campus

When a champion tree on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus was damaged in a storm last summer, faculty teamed up with an industry partner to turn the chance to save it into a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity for students. 

The more than 100-year-old Northern catalpa tree, just south of Karrmann Library, was designated as a Wisconsin Champion Tree in 2004, recognized as the largest in the state of that species. Known for its large leaves and trumpet-shaped white flowers in early summer, the Northern Catalpa is native to the Midwestern United States.

“It is really exciting to have such an amazing tree on campus,” said Dr. Donita Cartmill, professor and program coordinator for environmental horticulture. “It is located in a prominent location, and most in the area are aware of its presence.”

When a storm last summer damaged a large branch, putting the tree at risk, Cartmill consulted with others at UW-Platteville – including Andy Unrau, grounds supervisor, and made a temporary fix to slow further damage, before eventually consulting the Davey Tree Expert Company.

“They are really well respected in their field and have considerable arboricultural expertise with mature trees,” said Cartmill. “Eduardo Medina and his colleague traveled from the Chicago area to look at the catalpa and determine the extent of damage and offered advice. They really liked the tree and thought it was an excellent example of the species and worth saving.” 

Representatives from Davey Tree returned to campus on Oct. 12 to volunteer their time to do restorative pruning and cabling to the tree, while also educating students in arboriculture and pruning techniques. The arborists worked with environmental horticulture majors and students in Cartmill’s Woody Landscape Plants course.

“This was a great opportunity for the students to learn about the exciting field of arboriculture and interact with industry while they work to help a historic tree on our campus,” said Cartmill.