Two young Swamp White Oaks have replaced the two European Copper Beech trees on Main Quad between Washington Hall and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The Oaks, chosen for their stately appearance and resilience to environmental factors, join an arboretum on Notre Dame’s main quad.
The decision to remove the two European Beeches was not taken lightly. After years of working to try to save the trees- efforts that included frequent trimming and wiring of branches together, the decision was made to replace them.
When brought down, it was discovered that the trees were between 75 and 80 years old, planted in about 1940. Although this was expected by Notre Dame’s arborists, it dispels a common misconception that the trees had been there since the beginning of the university.
According to Pat McCauslin, Superintendent of Landscaping Services, the main factor that attributed to the demise of the Beeches was the location of the steam tunnels that run from east to west across Main Quad. The tunnels just to the south had a particularly significant influence of the trees because of the physiology of Beeches.
“The Beech trees have a wide spreading root system and as the tree grew the roots came closer and closer to the heat from the tunnels, the tunnels can raise the soil temperature quite a bit.” Said McCauslin, “Over time this took a toll on the health of the trees as seen from dying limbs that we continuously trimmed out and the eventual death of the tree to the east.”
When deciding on replacement trees, the tunnels were an important consideration. Swamp White Oaks were selected not only because of their strong and stately appearance to frame the Main Building and their beautiful fall color, but also for their different root structure which won’t spread out nearly as much as the Beech. To further help protect the trees, the two replacement trees were planted further north on the quad, maximizing their distance from the steam tunnel.
Swamp White Oaks, a native tree to Indiana, have a long life span relative to most other plant species, living up to 350 years. They also have a rapid growth rate, which means that the 15 foot tall trees on main quad today will quickly grow and will likely reach 60-80 feet tall at maturity, creating their own Notre Dame legacy in the process.