Branching out

May 18, 2018
Jared Rubenstein stands next to a tree identified through his Campus Trees project.

Jared Rubinstein noticed the park-like feel of the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul when he entered the U’s graduate program in applied plant sciences in 2015. A native of Seattle, he also noticed an unusually high number of tree species on campus. That’s partly because the campus serves as a living laboratory for undergraduate and graduate students studying horticulture, forestry, and related fields. 

“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.

Rubenstein's curiosity was the seed for his Campus Trees project. 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. 

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 graduated this spring, and hopes that long after he 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.