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More than 350 tree species on campus cataloged by professor in new book

Rod Searcey Bracewell

Professor Emeritus Ronald Bracewell poses with a red mulberry tree planted in the outer northeast island of the Main Quad. The tree is one of 350 species profiled in his book Trees of Stanford and Environs.

Bracewell book

A wealth of historical and arboreal lessons fill Trees of Stanford and Environs, written by Ronald Bracewell, professor emeritus of electrical engineering.

BY MICHAEL PEÑA

In honor of Arbor Month, the Stanford Historical Society debuted a 300-page book in March that catalogs the more than 350 species of trees on campus—from the knobby red mulberry in the Main Quad to the Tasmanian blue gums planted by Leland Stanford himself.

The Farm's founding father originally planted more than 700 blue gums along what was formally known as Governor's Lane. A few of the drought-resistant trees still stand, on Panama Street near Campus Drive West. Such historical and arboreal lessons fill Trees of Stanford and Environs, written by Ronald Bracewell, professor emeritus of electrical engineering. The book is available at the Stanford Bookstore for $21.95.

As for the red mulberry? The Main Quad's Morus rubra was planted in the outer northeast island "circa 1890," and so fond is he of its size and setting that Bracewell snuggled up to the tree for a portrait that appears on the book's back cover. In an entry on the white mulberries around campus, he weaves in a mini treatise on how mulberries are essential for growing silkworms—and hence, harvesting silk.

"One silkworm produces about 1/2 mile of incredibly strong microfilament that is routinely reeled from the cocoon without a break," he states on page 179. "Vast sums were invested to no account to introduce silk production into Britain, and in Virginia mulberry planting was at one time required by law."

But before discounting Bracewell's work simply as dry and data-heavy, consider the observations halfway down page 245: "Foliage varies from year to year: usually green, sometimes sparse and other times dense, always juvenile." Further on, "A rare ambulatory variety, this tree has trouble putting down roots. It is generally found only at Stanford, although intermittent sightings in remote locations have been reported."

He is describing none other than the mascot of the university marching band, "The Tree."

"He didn't really wait until the autumn of his career to do this. He came with this interest in trees," said Karen Bartholomew, the book's editor and a member of the historical society's publications committee. "The campus is such a beautiful place. Its horticulture is rich and diverse, and that's part of what makes it so wonderful."

Members of the community may remember when Bracewell publicly mourned the demise of a 100-foot-tall, century-old eucalyptus south of Varian Laboratory that succumbed to fungus in 2002. He also intervened on behalf of some avocado trees behind Building 1 that were threatened by construction in 1979. Bracewell has led many campus tree walks over the years, and in the late 1970s, he taught an undergraduate seminar dubbed I Dig Trees.

His leafy fascination dates back to grade school in his native Australia, when he first began studying trees. Later in his youth, he was surrounded by them while tending hives for a beekeeper friend in the hills west of Sydney. Bracewell—a mathematician, physicist and radio astronomer—came to Stanford in 1955 and taught classes until 1991.

The professor emeritus said an appreciation for trees provides a backdrop for evaluating environmental and ecological issues. For instance, although the eucalyptus is roundly scorned as a non-native tree in California, Bracewell learned during his research that monarch butterflies flock to them in other parts of the state during their annual migration from Canada to Mexico.

"If you go down to Monterey and you look at the branches, they're just covered," he said. "I have a strong feeling that if people try to become acquainted with their trees, it would enhance their life."

Bracewell said Leland Stanford wanted to plant trees on campus grounds from all around the world. Most of them were selected by Frederick Law Olmsted, father of American landscape architecture, designer of New York's Central Park and Stanford's founding campus planner. Thomas H. Douglas, the university's first landscape supervisor, tended to the tens of thousands of tree seedlings, leveled the Main Quad and planted the eight inner islands.

In the preface, Bracewell thanks a number of pivotal figures off campus and on, including Herb Fong, university manager for Facilities Operations; University Archivist Maggie Kimball; and officers from the Stanford Historical Society. Former university president and longtime colleague Donald Kennedy penned the book's foreword, at Bracewell's request.

"Trees of Stanford and Environs is very much more than an identification guide," Kennedy wrote. "It is a remarkable storehouse of information on the systematics and general biology of the trees described."

Trees of Stanford and Environs also is being sold at the Cantor Arts Center bookshop and off campus at the Stanford Bookstore branch at University Avenue and High Street in Palo Alto. University librarian John Rawlings has uploaded text from Bracewell's book and is adding his own entries on shrubs and vines at http://trees.stanford.edu.