The Tree of Life—Grace McCartha

The tree of life. The tree of knowledge. The Christmas tree. The evolutionary tree. The world tree. Trees have been important and popular symbols in cultures both ancient and modern across the world. The tree of life metaphor existed in ancient Persian, Egyptian, Chinese, Norse, and North American societies, to name a few. In Egypt, the Acacia tree (Acacia sp.) was considered the tree of life, enclosing life and death within it. Trees have also been important symbols in many religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islamism, and Judaism. In Buddhism, the Bo tree (Ficus religiosa) was the tree under which Buddha was enlightened and today, many shrines are built under it. In the story of Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge of good and evil is an important symbol in Christianity, Islamism, and Judaism. Even Charles Darwin used the tree of life metaphor when explaining the phylogenetic tree that connects all organisms through common descent.

Why do trees hold such importance for us? For countless reasons! They provide a sense of refuge and stability but they also add beauty to our environment. More practically, trees improve landscaping and increase property value. They also provide resources like food, oxygen, and wood and can provide shelter, shade, and habitat for many animals and even other plants. Trees take up carbon dioxide (helping to combat climate change) and the help reduce runoff and slow soil erosion.

Over this past year and last summer, I have been the Arbor Fellow at Furman University, working to expand and publicize the George G. Willis Jr. Arboretum on campus by labeling trees and creating a web map of tree locations. An arboretum is a collection of labeled trees made available to the public for educational purposes. They help to preserve trees, provide beautiful green spaces, and increase appreciation for trees. Furman’s arboretum has been accredited since 2014 and strives to include mostly native species. So far, there are over 80 tree species labeled and over 273 individually labeled trees. The labels include information like common and scientific names, family, and where the species is native to. The online map shows tree locations and includes label information, along with descriptions of the species’ importance and its identifying features. There are paths around the lake, by the Shi Center, by the North Village creek, in the woods by Younts, and by the Plyler science building for people to enjoy the arboretum. Furman is fortunate to have as many trees on campus as we do and by expanding Furman’s arboretum, we can foster people’s appreciation and respect for trees and nature.

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