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Panvini, Botany Class Lead Belmont to Arboretum Status

What began as a botany class project has blossomed into an outdoor museum that puts Belmont on a regional map for its diverse landscaping. The University hosted a ceremony on Sunday for the Nashville Tree Foundation to designate Belmont as among eight new tree arboretums.

“Each of the properties has met the stringent requirements to be recognized an arboretum which include 75 or more named and labeled specimens or as few as 25 in unique, natural or wayside areas and a subsequent inspection by a professional forester,” said foundation President Pat Wallace.

The purpose of establishing arboretums is to increase environmental awareness, provide a learning experience, encourage the creation of arboretums and enhance the image of Nashville for visitors and travelers. Tree arboretums are considered prestigious because they signify a commitment of landowners to maintain and protect their landscape diversity, which is significant in the botanical community.

Belmont’s tree identification project began in 2006 with students in Associate Professor Darlene Panvini’s botany class identifying tree species and taking samples on the main quad. Since then, 45 students have worked on the project and cataloged trees on most of main campus. While engaged in this project, students learned about plant morphology, how to use a taxonomic key, techniques of drying and mounting specimens, and the ecological importance of herbaria.  They have covered most of main campus and this semester trekked to Hillside and Kennedy Hall.

“An important skill for students to learn is to take specimens of plants and preserve them in an herbaria, so I thought it would be good to document the trees on Belmont’s campus to teach them,” said Panvini, also chair of the biology department. “It was just a project to help students learn the technique and skills. As I kept doing the project, I realized we have a great diversity of trees. It wasn’t until fall of 2010, I started listing all of the species on a poster and realized we could have an arboretum.”

There are more than 48 species of trees and shrubs on the campus’ 75 acres, which Panvini said contribute to the aesthetic beauty of the campus. Students and landscaping staff have designated trees part of the arboretum with ground-stake markers listing their scientific name, family and common name. Click here to view the arboretum map.

The beautiful thing about this project is that it is a never ending project. The University may choose to plant new specimens and will have new landscape around construction areas,” Panvini said.

This semester, she also required her students to come up with a plan to promote the arboretum beyond the classroom. One group will host a convocation lecture and tour this fall. Another group is recording an arboretum audio tour that can be downloaded onto smart phones. Other students are writing booklets for children and adults with cultural, economic and scientific information about Belmont’s trees.

“I hope that students will continue to use technology and a wide range of resources to be able to use the arboretum as an educational tool,” she said. “This is not just a resource for biology classes. Any faculty member can use this resource on campus.”

Alumna Megan DeVries (’12) began documenting trees in 2010 and created a reflective brochure with Bible verses and prayers to correspond with several campus trees for an Eco Justice and Faith course taught by religion Professor Judy Skeen.

The arboretum status also benefits the community in that Belmont may be used as a teaching tool for grade school students’ lessons on trees and their biology and ecological importance. It also provides a resource to further help neighbors enjoy campus.

In addition to Belmont, tree arboretums are being added at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, Ensworth High School, The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Glen Leven Farm, Montgomery Bell Academy, Regency Park Condominiums, Sugartree Residential Development and Warner Parks.

Representatives from each of the sites, including Belmont Provost Thomas Burns, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Bryce Sullivan, Panvini and DeVries, received bronze plaques in the shape of a yellow popular leaf to recognize their official designation as arboretums during the Sunday ceremony in the Beaman Student Life Center.

In addition to designating arboretums, the Nashville Tree Foundation seeks to preserve and enhance Nashville’s urban forest by educating the public, planting trees in urban areas and identifying the oldest and biggest trees in Davidson County. Since its founding in 1986, the foundation has added more than 9,000 trees to the Nashville’s landscape, primarily planted by volunteers on the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year since 1998.