The university's urban forest

A view from the branches of the university's deodar cedar, the largest specimen in the state.
A view from the branches of the university's deodar cedar, the largest specimen in the state. Photo: Landscape Services

For the third consecutive year, the Arbor Day Foundation has recognized The University of Texas at Austin for its dedication to managing campus trees and encouraging the surrounding community to foster healthy urban forests.

The university was one of the first three campuses in the nation to become a Tree Campus USA in the program's inaugural year in 2008.

Larry Maginnis, urban forester and assistant manager in Landscape Services, is the guiding force behind the award-winning forestry program.  His team of arborists and student volunteers catalogue, plant, maintain and protect almost 4,900 trees on the main campus.

According to Maginnis, the trees have an estimated dollar value of almost $25 million and their value continues to increase. Many of the older trees are irreplaceable and "as old as the buildings or even older," he said.

The university
The university's 58-foot deodar cedar on the Littlefied House lawn. Photo: Larry Maginnis

One such tree is the 58-foot-tall deodar cedar on the lawn of the historic Littlefield House at the southwest corner of 24th Street and Whitis Avenue.  Native to the western Himalayas and the only one of its kind in Austin, the tree has been part of the campus since 1893, when Major George W. Littlefield had it imported and planted next to his home.

Maginnis submitted the iconic tree to the Texas Forest Service's Texas Big Tree Registry, which recently recognized the cedar as the largest known specimen of its kind in the state. The registry encourages public appreciation of trees in much the same way that Tree Campus USA aims to engage students, the future stewards of our trees and environment.

"This tree is just tremendous," said Jim Carse, Texas Forest Service forester in Austin in a news release. "Its girth really makes the difference when you compare it to other trees of the same species." Carse officially measured the tree in February. Trees are compared using an index that combines trunk circumference in inches with total height in feet, plus one-quarter of the average crown spread in feet.

Although it is not native to the area, the cedar has adapted well to the climate and to being in the limelight.

"It is probably one of the most photographed trees on campus," Maginnis said, adding that, "Although we have pruned it twice since my tenure here, it doesn't really receive any additional attention."

For this remarkable cedar and the rest of the campus' urban forest, "there's this interface between people and nature that we have to keep in balance," Maginnis said.  The Tree Campus USA designation and Texas Forest Service recognition demonstrate that the university is a leader in achieving that balance.