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How UC Davis Is Growing a Tree Canopy for Tomorrow’s Climate

by Brenda Dawson

The cooling shade of UC Davis’ mature, leafy trees impressed Nurjannah Wiryadimejo enough to help the now-graduating senior choose to become an Aggie. “When I first came to Davis, what struck me was how beautiful the cork oaks are. I’d never seen such beautiful tree-lined streets like the ones by the Memorial Union,” she said. “But now I’ve realized that a lot of the trees on campus aren’t well suited for the future climate, when there will be more heat and extreme weather events,” said the environmental science and management major.

In fact, a majority of the 20,000 trees on campus may be vulnerable to climate change and unsuitable to grow here by the end of the century — according to campus climate models and a tree assessment included in the UC Davis Living Landscape Adaptation Plan. Wiryadimejo is part of a team of UC Davis students, employees, planners, researchers, landscapers and community volunteers who are working to help adapt the campus tree canopy for the next 100 years. They’re literally growing new knowledge from seed and using the campus as a living lab in a process that just might help our region find new favorite trees in climate-ready options that have rarely been grown here before.

Until recently, if you wanted to know what type of tree to plant, your best bet might be to find a century-old tree that’s thriving nearby — and plant another one just like it. But as our climate changes, old bets are off. “How a tree grew in the past is no longer a good predictor of its future success,” said Emily Griswold, senior staff horticulturalist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden for more than 20 years. So finding trees that would be considered climate-ready for our region is a task in itself — and one that Griswold recognized her team might be particularly well suited for.

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Friday, July 14, 2023