Speaking for the Trees

ASC student creates an interactive tour of beautiful campus trees

Trees can’t tell their stories in words, though their branches and leaves do speak to most of us. Fortunately, a new tour of the collection of trees at Agnes Scott College, called an arboretum, can tell the stories of more than 40 featured campus trees with the help of a website and QR codes.

The arboretum was updated by Kimberly Reeves ’12, a sociology/anthropology major with an environmental and sustainability studies minor who is now a graduate student at the University of Georgia. After winning a highly competitive grant from the National Wildlife Foundation, Reeves significantly expanded and updated a small arboretum brochure with 17 trees created at the college in 1995. She was greatly assisted in designing the arboretum with a committee of faculty and staff, including Tammy Roundy, a web developer at the college, and Jim Abbot, assistant professor of classics.

“In the beginning, the arboretum was supposed to be a pamphlet, like it was originally, but I went on a trip with my family and we started talking about QR codes and how cool they were and how you could update them easily. So when I got back, I suggested creating the arboretum guide digitally and everyone loved the idea,” Reeves said.

Reeves decided to create a website with accompanying QR codes (on plaques near the trees) that could be accessed on campus, guiding visitors to featured trees and then sharing historic, scientific and cultural information, as well as stories about the trees. In addition to having a sustainability-focused major, Reeves had been a student assistant and intern for all four of her years in the college’s Office of Sustainability and also with the Environmental Protection Agency and Fernbank Science Center, so she felt strongly that helping people better connect with trees and nature was an important project.

Unlike most arboretums, which focus mainly on the scientific names for trees and biological information, Reeves’s arboretum reflects the kind of interdisciplinary approach one would expect at a liberal arts college.   

“Most arboretums are strictly scientific. You go and you read about how you can identify the tree and how big it’s supposed to get. But trees mean something different to each individual. So my experience and feelings about a pecan tree are completely different than someone else’s,” Reeves said.

Her goal was to share information that would resonate with many types of people, not just outdoors or biology enthusiasts. For instance, some very prominent magnolia trees at the front of campus were planted in the 1940s by Christian W. Dieckmann, a professor of music, from seeds he had collected from a nearby street. Not many students or alumnae know the story, so it was a pleasure to relate that story as part of the tour, Reeves said.

Other entries discuss how trees inspire poetry or have spiritual significance. There are also audio recordings of alumnae, faculty and staff sharing what the tree means to them or relating a story.

“Having stories, and connecting personal stories with trees, helps people see the trees as more than just background while they walk,” Reeves said.