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UCC’s iconic tree collection receives international recognition

23 Nov 2020
Portugal Laurel (Prunus lusitanica), UCC Arboretum. (Image: Tomas Tyner/UCC Open Arboretum Project)

The iconic tree lined campus at University College Cork (UCC) has joined some of the leading arboreta in the world after being accredited by a prestigious global accrediting programme.

To foster best practice the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Programme examines the conservation, maintenance, educational outreach and scientific collaborations of arboreta across the world. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, the Oxford Botanic Garden at the University of Oxford and the Arboretum De Paris are among the arboreta accredited globally by ArbNet, now the 2,500 trees across 42 acres at UCC join this notable list.

“This is an announcement that has been more than 150 years in the making” said Dr Eoin Lettice, UCC. “It is a testament to the generations of UCC staff and students that have expanded our understanding of the natural world using these trees as tools for research, teaching and learning. They are not just beautiful things to look at. The trees on campus are a living laboratory that are in use today for teaching and research in a variety of disciplines across the institution”.

The UCC Arboretum dates from the foundation of the university as Queen’s College Cork in 1845, and makes a significant contribution to UCC’s globally recognised Green Campus. 120 different species are represented in the collection. These species range from native Irish and British trees to American, Asian, Australian and European specimens. Some of the highlights of the collection include a pair of c. 150 year old Giant Redwoods; an Irish champion Wing Nut tree (native to the Caucasus) and a collection of mature pines (including Scots, Monteray and Bhutan pines).

The accreditation recognises the excellent management and care for the trees in the collection, as well as the links to the academic life of the university. The arboretum is a teaching and outreach tool, as well as something that attracts visitors to the campus. These multiple functions of the arboretum are explored as part of the UCC Open Arboretum Project, funded by UCC Green Campus and coordinated by Dr Eoin Lettice and Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich of UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES).

Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich, who uses the UCC Arboretum for teaching said  “the UCC Arboretum is a powerful teaching tool and a living classroom. We explore the power of plants as chemical factories for drug production. From the Irish Yew (Taxus baccata) for the anticancer drug paclitaxel to Salix babylonica (weeping willow) as a source of the pro-drug for aspirin, to Ginkgo biloba whose actives have a long history of use in terms of circulatory problems, students gain an appreciation of the importance of plants in medicine and how not all drugs can be synthesised in a test tube in a laboratory environment. By bringing the learning to the outdoor classroom the students can gain an appreciation of how such beautiful sessile specimens play a key role in the survival of the human species”.

UCC Head Gardener, Jack Murphy welcomed the announcement: “It is testament to the wonderful tree collection we are lucky to have on the university campus and to the work that has gone into the preservation of the trees down through the years by past gardeners to the present-day gardeners of the University. We are very proud and excited for the trees on campus to be now recognised as an arboretum and for all who pass through the campus to enjoy the wonderful trees be it for learning or pleasure”.

Barrie Curley, UCC Estates Manager, highlighted the tremendous contribution the Grounds Team at UCC make toward university life, saying “The Grounds Team have put a Tree Management Plan in place, and work tirelessly to enhance and maintain this highly valued resource for us all. As the current custodians, we will strive to enrich UCC’s arboretum, in the knowledge it provides environmental, educational and aesthetic benefits to all”.

Dr Darren Reidy, Interim Sustainability Officer at UCC, noted that UCC’s urban campus is home to well over 2500 trees that play an important role enhancing the environs of Cork City. “This accreditation demonstrates UCC’s commitment to environmental protection and the role we can play in biodiversity conservation and climate resilience. Using the arboretum as a learning and engagement tool we can help equip future global citizens with the knowledge and skills to actively contribute to urban sustainability”.

As part of Cork Discovers, Drs Lettice and Doyle Prestwich have produced a new short tour of some highlights of the UCC Arboretum collection. Watch the tour here.

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

An Scoil Eolaíochtaí Bitheolaíocha, Domhaneolaíocha agus Comhshaoil

University College Cork, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, Ireland T23 N73K

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