Gazebo Gazette

University of Southern Mississippi (USM) students grabbed shovels and embraced nature as they planted new trees on the Gulf Park Campus in celebration of Earth Day in Long Beach, Miss. Danielle Cotton, botany Professor in the School of Coastal Resilience, took her class outside Monday to briefly demonstrate proper plant and tree care.

USM collaborated with Rotolo Consultants Inc. and the Physical Plant to have six donated trees, including four live oaks, one sweet bay magnolia, and one tulip poplar.

Groups of students planted the trees on the west side of the Science Building.

“Most of the attendees were my botany students and therefore I gave a lesson about how both the sweet bay and tulip popular are in the magnolia family of trees and about particular attributes of that family,” said Cotton. “It was a wonderful opportunity, being Earth Day, for students to observe tree plantings and to understand the how and why of proper tree planting.”

Cotton explained the importance of the diameter and depth around the tree once placed in the ground along with proper topsoil and watering techniques. Cotton gave tips on the best time to plant a tree and the excitement of connecting with nature.

“Make sure your hole is two to three times as wide as the root ball and only as deep as the root ball itself including how to break up the roots if they are too compact in the pot before planting in the ground. It is important to backfill your hole with your newly planted tree with ‘good dirt’ or topsoil,” explained Cotton.

Jacob Higdon, Regional Manager of Rotolo Consultants, was beaming with excitement interacting with students and sharing his passion for the outdoors.

“As good stewards of our Mother Earth, blessed are those who plant trees under shade they will never sit,” exclaimed Higdon.

Hannah McDuffie, Graduate Research Assistant and President of Women in STEM, expressed the symbolism of Earth Day.

“The Earth Day planting event signified the commitment of faculty, staff, and students to leave our Gulf Park Campus better than we found it,” said McDuffie. “Not only do these trees aid in beautifying the campus, but they also serve a research purpose in supporting the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail in assessing how these species of trees as well as the organisms that rely on them respond to climate change.”

Dr. Jennifer Walker, Associate Dean for Coastal Resilience and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, explained how Earth Day is a reminder to protect the environment for future generations.  The trees are a symbol of that protection.

“Trees provide the oxygen that we breathe, provide habitat for wildlife, and provide shade to cool our local environments,” said Walker. “Trees are a promise for the future as they grow to improve the environment for our local and USM community. We hope that through this experience our students will also see the value in protecting our Earth.”