Spring 2018
Photography by Jayme Halbritter

Branching out


Visitors to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus often comment on its peaceful, park-like feel—a marked contrast to the busy urban cityscape of the Minneapolis campus just a few miles away. 

It’s something Jared Rubinstein noticed right away when he entered the U’s graduate program in applied plant sciences at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences in 2015. A native of Seattle, he also noticed an unusually high number of tree species on the St. Paul campus compared with what he saw on city streets.

That’s partly because the campus serves as a living laboratory for undergraduate and graduate students studying horticulture, forestry, and related fields. Through the years, faculty members and landscape managers have planted various species of trees to use for teaching and research.

“As someone who moved here and had to learn about all these trees that were new to me, it made me think about whether there was a way for people coming to campus to learn more about the tree world,” he says.

From this seed of an idea came a project that grew far beyond what Rubinstein expected: Campus Trees. Starting in July 2017, Rubinstein and fellow grad student Emily Ellingson labeled about 80 tree species on campus—most of them next to sidewalks or in other highly visible areas—with bright green signs identifying each tree and describing, in simple language, what makes it unique or interesting. The sign next to a hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalis) outside the St. Paul Student Center, for example, notes that the tree’s edible berry-like fruit has a surprisingly high protein content.

Each sign also has a QR code that visitors can scan with a smartphone, which takes them to a website with photos and detailed information about the tree.

Rubinstein says his interest in educating the public was inspired partly by a job managing the Department of Horticulture’s Display and Trial Garden on the St. Paul campus, which is open to the public. A grant from the U’s Institute on the Environment funded the materials for Campus Trees, and fellowship support allowed him the time and space to immerse himself in the project. 

“I don’t think I’d be able to get a graduate degree without this,” he says of the Reid Landscape-Horticulture Fellowship and other U of M graduate support. “It means I can feel OK about spending a chunk of my life learning and contributing to the University without going deep into debt.”

Rubinstein hopes that long after he graduates this spring and moves to Boston for a job with the Arnold Arboretum, the signs on campus will help various groups—from U of M students to neighborhood residents and community garden clubs—learn to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the trees on the St. Paul campus.

Amy Sitze is a contributing editor for Legacy magazine.

What trees are these?

Learn about some of the trees on the U's St. Paul campus