Botanists put Campbell under the microscope

Like the Crepe Myrtle that blooms in the front yard or the morning glories that wind around the fence, most people call plants by one common name. But the Crepe Myrtle, or Lagerstroemia, is a genus of around 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, and the Morning Glory has a dozen varieties. Campbell University professors Christopher Havran and Stan Beard are collaborating on a project to document every variety of tree on the Campbell campus. They know that the scientific classification of plants is a key to understanding the diversity of life around us and how to protect it from negative forces such as climate change, habitat destruction and invasive species.

“Diversity is decreasing at an alarming rate,” said Havran. “The first step in preventing the future loss of biodiversity is to understand the diversity of organisms. We can’t save plants unless we know what they are.”

The professors not only intend to identify trees, but to explain their cultural significance to the campus. “If the tree was planted in memory of a certain individual or event, we will document it for history and longevity, establishing the campus as an arboretum. This is our opportunity to link the bio world in terms of plants with the cultural history of Campbell University,” Havran said.

“And we hope to answer the students when they ask, ‘What tree is this?’”, Beard interjected.

The two professors, Havran who came to Campbell in 2008, and Beard, who retired from the university after 31 years of teaching environmental and plant biology, have a love of botany.

“It was my vocation when I was teaching,” said Beard. “Now it is my avocation.”

Plants have beneficial properties such as food, fiber, shelter, medicine and others that haven’t even been explored, the two maintain.

“Without plants there would be no animals,” Beard said. “You ought not to destroy a plant unless you can replace it.”

It is the professors’ intent to create a walking guide of the campus by academic year’s end that provides labels for specific trees with their Latin and common names and the date and occasion the trees were planted.

“We want to establish a resource for our students and the community, to stamp out a condition called ‘plant blindness, a phrase coined to describe people’s inability to see the diversity of plants in their own environment and their importance to society,” Havran said. “We want to open up their eyes to the world around them.”

Upon completion of the project, Havran and Beard hope to register the arboretum with a national environmental organization such as the American Public Gardens Association (APGA).

“We hope a seed of curiosity will be planted that will cause individuals to want to know the names of trees, as well as other plants on campus,” saidHavran.

Dr. Christopher Havran received a Bachelor of Science from Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania and Master of Science from the University of Louisiana. He earned a Ph.D. in environmental and plant biology from Ohio University.

Dr. Stan Beard received a Bachelor of Science from Furman University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Botany from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Photo Copy: Drs. Christopher Havran and Stan Beard collaborate on a project to classify every variety of tree on the Campbell campus.