UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND celebrates Arbor Day, with help from Dr. Seuss

Event also highlights UND’s continuing recognition as a Tree Campus Higher Education institution

woman speaking ta podium
Karla Mongeon-Stewart, vice president for finance and operations, speaks at the 2023 Arbor Day event. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today

UND’s vibrant and diverse tree cover got a little bit more so in the early afternoon on May 16, when President Andrew Armacost and other University administrators planted two new trees commemorating Arbor Day, and UND’s commitment to a healthy tree canopy.

Karla Mongeon-Stewart, vice president of finance and operations, welcomed more than 20 people to the event, which happened to be the 151st anniversary of Arbor Day. She said the day reminded her of spending time with her children watching the animated film adaptation of the 1971 Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax.”

The children’s story relates the attempts of the Lorax (who speaks for the trees, “for the trees have no tongues,” as Seuss puts it) to dissuade the Once-ler, a business magnate character, from cutting down the Truffula trees. Fibers from the trees are made into a fabric called “Thneed” (sold in the tale for $3.98). Despite the Lorax’s warnings and protestations, the Once-ler builds a business cutting down the trees and selling the fabric, till they are all gone and he ends up living alone in exile, pondering the Lorax’s parting message, engraved in stone: “UNLESS.”

At a portable stage set up on a grassy area just south of the Chester Fritz Library, Mongeon-Stewart recited lyrics of a song from the film, which encapsulate the meaning of Arbor Day:

“You can’t reap what you don’t sow,

Plant a seed inside the Earth,

Just one way to know it’s worth,

Let’s celebrate the world’s rebirth,

We say: Let it grow.”

Mongeon-Stewart then handed things off to campus arborist Jared Johnson, who said UND is now in its third year of being recognized with the Tree Campus Higher Education designation by the Arbor Day Foundation. The program was created in 2008 and provides universities with a guide to foster campus forests and create opportunities for student engagement through tree-related service projects.

man speaking at podium outdoors
Campus Arborist Jared Johnson speaks at the 2023 Arbor Day event. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today

The two trees planted last Tuesday were a Fire King Musclewood (a tree native to Wisconsin) and a Debbie’s Gold Apricot tree. Of the latter, Johnson said he has seen them around town, with a particularly impressive specimen standing just across the Point Bridge in East Grand Forks.

“There’s one blooming right now probably 20 feet across, and I’ve seen it in past years just cover the sidewalk with edible apricots,” Johnson said.

It should also be noted that far more than two trees will be planted across campus this summer. Before the event got started, Johnson told UND Today he has several more saplings waiting to be sown into the ground at locations across the University.

people planting a tree
Campus arborist Jared Johnson, right, watches as Provost Eric Link, President Andrew Armacost and Karla Mongeon-Stewart, vice president for finance and operations, plant an apricot tree. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today

Before pitching in with a shovel and rake, Armacost thanked everyone for attending the event and offered praise and thanks for the crews from UND Facilities Management, who work to keep the campus beautiful.

And, Armacost said, trees serve as a metaphor for what happens in a university.

“Trees are about growth, about life, about connectedness, and I can’t think of a better way to represent our university with what it means to plant a tree, and see it grow and thrive.”

Mongeon-Stewart then joined Armacost, Johnson and Provost Eric Link, along with other UND staff and event attendees, in planting the two trees — and thus fulfilling the impetus of the song lyrics from “The Lorax,” quoted by Mongeon-Stewart at the beginning of the event.

As for the Once-ler in Seuss’ tale, he finally manages to puzzle out the meaning of the Lorax’s cryptic “UNLESS:”

“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”