Fall foliage fans rejoice: Peak season has finally hit Butler University.
After a dry summer, the leaves were late to turn this autumn, but those yellows, reds, and oranges on the diverse collection of trees around campus should be visible for most of the rest of October.
“The change is a little late,” says Marcia Moore, the longtime assistant at Butler’s Friesner Herbarium. “You usually see that when you have summer drought. You need that regular rain in the summer for the sugars the trees are making for nourishment. When it’s dry, they’re protecting themselves and hold onto the leaves a little longer.”
The Herbarium tree walk concentrates on select trees on the main campus marked with nameplates displaying the tree’s English and Latin names, along with the species’ area of origin. An example, a flowering dogwood in front of Robertson Hall, is identified as dogwood, Cornus florida, eastern and central U.S.
To extend the walk, Moore recommends taking in the trees within the 15 acres of woods north of campus, which are popping with color as well. These woods can be accessed at 49th Street and Lake Drive or through Holcomb Gardens.
“It’s a good representation of an old-growth forest,” Moore says. “Some of the beech trees in the Butler woods are thought to be 200-300-years-old. They are probably original growth.”
Native species, mostly
Moore says most of the trees on campus are native to central Indiana and some are more than 100 years old. Some include the red oak in front of Atherton Hall, the sugar maple east of Robertson Hall, and the tulip poplar near Jordan Hall.
Indiana’s state tree, tulip poplars get their name from their leaves and flowers resembling tulips, and they are well-represented at Butler. Every fall, a handful of Indianapolis elementary schools contact Moore for guided tree tours and to collect leaves.
“They learn about the top native trees, their Latin names, and how to draw the leaves,” says Moore, who has welcomed local garden clubs and conservation groups for tree tours as well. “It’s always fun to have them. We want to speak to the community, get more involvement that way, and get more people coming to campus. It’s a resource not only for students and faculty here, but for the community at large. It’s a good feeling to know we’re reaching people.”
While gingko trees are not native to Indiana, Moore calls them noninvasive. Despite the smelly fruit that grows on some, the trees fit into the landscape well. They tend to rank high with the brilliance of their leaves—while they last.
“They’re not a problem tree. They’re very pretty,” Moore says. “After they turn that beautiful golden color for a couple weeks, they drop their leaves all at once. There’s no other tree that does that on campus.”
The color of the leaves are affected by sunlight and cold temperatures at night. The colder the night and the sunnier the day all dictates the brightness, according to Philip Villani, Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biology.
The science behind the changing leaves involves the lowering or halting of chlorophyll in the leaves, which makes way for chemicals like carotenoids in yellow and orange leaves. Anthocyanins for red leaves are formed by glucose left from the fading chlorophyll.
A taste of the tree walk
Tulip poplar near Jordan Hall
This large tree represents Butler and Indiana well. Its strong, distinctive bark makes it eye-catching even in the winter.
Osage orange behind Gallahue Hall
Despite its name, the Osage orange turns yellow-green in the fall, but the tree is producing its distinct and inedible fruit—nicknamed “monkey brains.”
Flowering dogwood in front of Robertson Hall
This dogwood has some of the reddest leaves on campus.
Every tree on Butler’s campus—including those on the tree walk—have circular tags on them courtesy of the Department of Biology. Villani says the numbered tags are part of an inventory of campus trees, fueled by an Indiana Academy of Science grant. There’s more than 2,000 from 109 different species.
While tagging, Villani measured every tree’s diameter at chest height and noted the global positioning of each. This database is utilized for multiple sections of Botany, Natural World, and Ecology and Evolution courses.
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