Happy New Year for Trees

Unexpectedly, I had a bit of a tree day today and it was a lovely day for it.

First, I have learned on good authority (from not one, but two reasonably reliable sources) that this is a pistachio tree:

Full Fall Glory_Dec2013

Second, in attempting to confirm this I sought out Rice’s wonderful arborist, Neville Mann, and I came upon him in the very act of planting a new tree out by the RMC courtyard:


Actually, Neville (in the green shirt) dug the hole and some kids were filling it in. It turns out that today is a Jewish holiday, Tu b’Shevat, a sort of Arbor day type of thing also called “New Year for Trees,” and the Hillel students were helping out in celebration of the day. It’s a bur oak, like the other new trees in that area, and it’s really in quite a prominent spot.


As I looked through the files I’ve scanned over the years, I was moderately surprised to find that there is a tremendous amount of material in there about trees. It was a matter of great concern from the very beginning of the Institute, even before we settled on our current location. Here’s an 1892 receipt for rental of a horse and buggy used to take a trip to look for trees to plant on the original downtown site. (They chose elms, by the way):


Here’s a kid in a campus oak, circa 1917:

Guy in Tree c1917

And here’s General Pershing with the pecan sapling he famously helped plant in  front of the Administration Building in 1919 (note Tony Martino down in the hole):

Pershing Day with Tony Martino

Finally, here’s a 1923 memo to the Board from Mr. Cohn, Rice’s long serving Business Manager, about a major effort to plant new trees on campus. Stop and think about this for a minute. These decisions were really visionary and have had extraordinarily long lasting and beneficial consequences. These trees are one of our greatest glories.

Trees 1926Trees 1926 2

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12 Responses to Happy New Year for Trees

  1. effegee says:

    You’ll want to give that new bur oak a wide berth in 15-20 years when it starts to produce acorns. The bur oak acorn is impressively massive, +/- the size of a golf ball with a lot more cap than hull. We have one in our yard which was started from an acorn gathered by Ruby South (’19) Lowry at Westminster Manor in Austin during her final decade. It bore acorns for the first time during legendary 2012 acorn deluge. Impossible to walk under the tree after the acorns started falling!

  2. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    Planting rows of trees along the esplanades of Sunset and of Rice:
    That would have been on private city property, would it not?
    Would Rice Institute do that without permission, and perhaps some help from the city?
    Was Rice in the City limits at that time?

  3. Barney L. McCoy says:

    Gee, until today I thought we had a burr oak growing in our front yard, because that is what it says on our receipt and on our information sheet. Also, there are two burr oaks growing in front of the Idleson Library Bldg. After a little research, I learned that “bur” is not only acceptable, but also used on the Nat’l Forest Service informational website. After the elm in the front yard blew over in a windstorm, we chose to replace it with a bur/burr oak because: In this climate and soil, they grow 2-3 feet per year; They are drought and oak wilt resistant; they use water more efficiently than most other trees; the very large leaves and acorns are easy to rake up; and the life span is 200-400 years.
    Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

  4. almadenmike says:

    The tree that produces commercial pistachio nuts, Pistacia vera, is native to the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s a desert tree and while it can tolerate some irrigation, it does poorly in areas of high humidity.

    I suspect the tree pictured above is the related “Chinese Pistache” (Pistacia chinensis), which is more adaptable and widely planted … and is even a “Superstar” in Texas: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/cemap/pistache/pistache.html .

  5. J H says:

    I have looked and wondered about it, is the “Pershing Tree’ still there?

  6. Pingback: Tu B’Shevat, 1964 | Rice History Corner

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