WVU’s paperbark maple tree crowned “State Champion”

MORGANTOWN — A paperbark maple tree on WVU’s Evansdale Campus was named a “State Champion.”

The 24-foot tree, which was transplanted behind the new Agricultural Sciences Building before the old building was torn down, was named the largest of its kind in the state.

It was nominated to the West Virginia Big Tree Program.

The program, which is administered by the West Virginia Division of Forestry, is an ongoing effort to locate, measure and record the largest trees in the state. According to Bob Hannah, who coordinates both the Urban Forestry and Big Tree Programs for the WVDOF, the program dates back to 1963 and serves a valuable purpose.

“The West Virginia Big Tree program provides several benefits: It engages the public, creates an interest in large trees and makes people aware of the many ecosystem services trees of all sizes provide within communities,” Hannah said in a press release from WVU. “The greatest significance of this particular tree is that it represents an entirely new species to be nominated to the program.”

The paperbark maple almost wasn’t added to the list, though. In fact, during the planning for the demolition of the old Agricultural Sciences Building, because of its tight location and large size, the tree was going to be removed.

But the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and Facilities Management collaborated to give the tree its new home.

Matt Jenks, then-director of plant and soil sciences, and Greg Dahle, associate professor of forest resources management, decided they couldn’t give up on the special tree.

“Not only would we be losing a beautiful tree, but we would lose something valuable on the educational side and miss the opportunity to introduce a mature, unique specimen to students,” Dahle said in the release.

Dahle worked with WVU Grounds and Labor on the effort to move the tree to its new location.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the WVU paperbark maple, scientifically known as Acer griseum, is a deciduous tree with slender branches. It is known for its copper and reddish/brown bark as well as its orange and red fall foliage color. The tree is originally from central China.

It likely gets its name from the large curls that peel from the bark on the trunk and limbs that remain on the tree instead of falling to the ground.

WVU’s paperbark maple was nominated for the West Virginia Big Tree Program by Daniel Robison, dean of the WVU Davis College.

“Recognizing special trees as ‘State Champions’ is not only fun and a source of pride, but also reminds us of our connections to nature, the beauty and inspiration that comes from trees, and of the passage of time and how trees can humble us,” Robison said.

The State Champion paperbark maple tree was entered into the state Division of Forestry’s database Aug. 15, and will appear online when the registry is updated next summer.

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