Mason Keeps It Green, Saves Rare Tree

Posted: February 18, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

Rubber tree pre-removal
The rubber tree before pruning and removal, above and below.

Mason’s Facilities Management team has come to the rescue once again. After recently saving the lives of 17 trees located in a construction zone outside of the Performing Arts Building, Facilities saved yet another tree — a 12-foot-tall rubber tree.

In preparation for the construction of the swing space building — a multipurpose building that will be home for functions displaced by construction and renovation — on the Fairfax Campus, Mason’s greenhouse had to be demolished. All plants, including the rubber tree, needed to be removed.

“This tree is a survivor,” says Monica Marcelli, lab and research specialist for the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “It was originally in a pot that was much too small for a tree of its size, and because its roots are so strong, it broke right through the pot and continued growing.”

Rubber trees generally grow indoors unless they are in tropical climates. Even though many buildings around the campus offered ample space, most were not bright enough for the sun-loving plant. Others had good lighting, but insufficient space to allow the tree to continue growing.

Rubber tree in the greenhouse

The tree’s future looked grim, and planning was under way to simply cut it down. But Archie Nesbitt, Mason’s head landscaper and grounds supervisor, suggested Research I as a possible location. The building has great lighting, sufficient space and, most important, convenient access.

Several crews were involved in the process of removing the tree from the greenhouse. Workers strategically trimmed most of the top growth, making several large cuts to establish a basic framework for future growth.

rubber tree after it was pruned
The rubber tree after pruning, showing how it had grown through its pot.

The trimmed foliage is being planted separately with the hope of cultivating even more trees.

Once the tree was pruned, workers could easily maneuver the tree out of the greenhouse and transport it across campus to its new location. The tree now stands in the foyer of Research I outside the first floor conference room.

A plaque will soon be in place, stating the tree’s common name (rubber tree), its scientific name (Ficus elastica) and a brief statement about its history.

Because the tree will experience some transplant shock, the window blinds will be closed for up to a week. When new buds begin to grow, the lighting will be slowly increased.

“It’ll take some time to grow back into the beautiful tree it once was,” Marcelli says. “We don’t know exactly how long it will take, but at least the timing is good. With spring right around the corner, it will get some much-needed TLC with warmer weather and ample sunlight.”

As for the other plants formerly in the greenhouse, they were moved to a temporary location in one of the remaining buildings of Patriot Village. Facilities Management is currently developing plans to build a new greenhouse.

rubber tree in Research I
The tree in its new home in Research I.
Photos courtesy of Archie Nesbitt

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