The life cycle of trees: beautiful young, deadly with age

In front of Colburn Hall, there are two laurels of approximately 30 years in age. Will they be uprooted as well?

Poet Joyce Kilmer once said, “I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” but he didn’t have to think about what happens when trees outgrow their welcome on a college campus.

The landscaping department at the University of Central Florida (UCF) is removing the aging laurel oaks in favor of installing younger live oaks, this week.

“We didn’t want to do it before graduation, but we need to solve this problem as soon as we can,” says Director of Landscape and Natural Resources, Patrick Bohlen.

What happens to these trees when they become too old to stand up straight, when their limbs start falling off, endangering the lives of those who seek refuge from the hot Florida sun underneath their shade?

Why, they’re put in nursing homes, of course, in the form of mulch, so that other trees may flourish in their stead.

Compared with live oaks, laurels like the one seen alongside Garage A, tend to grow upward; their branches bunching up near the top. The new live oaks will grow outward. Their limbs are likely to touch the ground as they age.

After the hurricanes of 2004, the length of the football field at Winter Park High was piled up with trees as a precautionary measure.

Laurels aren’t particularly tolerant of high wind speeds. These are the trees budgeted for removal as per ideals for UCF’s “campus enhancement.” When a hurricane hits Florida, as one is want to do at least two to three times each year, parts of these trees become deadly projectiles; they are picked up with wind speeds of up to 75-150 mph.

“There was an incident on campus last year, when a part of a tree fell on a woman during a storm,” says Bohlen. “She didn’t come to us about it, but there was an eyewitness.”

Another woman and her 3-year-old son were hit by a tree when it split and one half fell on the roof of her SUV in Winter Park, last Friday.

Compared with live oaks, the trees being removed only live for about half a century, then they begin to break apart. The trees coming in, on the other hand, live for hundreds of years.

If left alone, laurels naturally take care of themselves, as the book entitled “Florida Plants and Shrubs” suggests. The Spanish moss that grows on them may not cause too much harm as oaks are a hardy species, unlike other more vulnerable flora.

Laurels have shorter, wider leaves than live oaks. The new trees to be planted around campus will have longer, more narrow leaves than the ones seen here.

“They provide a lot of shade and aesthetic value,” says Lindsay Archambault, academic services coordinator at UCF, who brought this matter to the attention of the staff of the “Central Florida Future.”

“But now there’s this big open, empty space,” says Archambault.

Landscape Director, Alaina Bernard says the trees will be replaced rather quickly, that the new trees will have a longer lifespan and they will be much more wind resistant than their taller counterparts were.

There isn’t much of a visible difference between the two species. With live oaks, you see shorter, rounder leaves, and they only grow to about 60 inches. Laurel oaks grow up to 100 inches and have longer, more slender leaves. Both need a lot of sun and room to grow.

Both of which are veritable resources, in the heart of Orlando, Fla.

The project is taking place between the spring and summer semesters so as not to disturb students or faculty during the renovation.

A couple of new live oaks were planted behind the Education Complex on campus, sometime last week.

Graduating in December, student Mark Gushiken who is studying political science, with a prelaw minor says, “You know what UCF should spend our money on… hammocks! We should have hammocks around campus for students to use in between classes.”

“I thought we were in a budget crisis here,” says Archambault, “And I know these trees, as big as they are, aren’t cheap.”

The price of the project is relatively cheaper than it costs to construct a new building, Bohlen says.

“We have money set aside for campus enhancement; we can’t spend it on anything else.”

Students can expect to see a posting in the campus news blurb by Monday. There will also be an e-mail sent out by the landscaping department, which describes the process from the staff’s point of view.

(Published in the print version of UCF’s “Central Florida Future” newspaper.) 

Lining the walkway from the Student Union toward Howard Phillips Hall are laurel oaks.

Previously published in print: “Central Florida Future” student paper in May 2012.


  1. Hello, i feel that i saw you visited my website so i got here to “go back the choose”.I’m attempting to to find issues to enhance my website!I assume its good enough to make use of a few of your ideas!!


    • Yay!

      Thanks, Sarah! I was a little miffed the week I didn’t find it anywhere in the print version of the paper. 😦

      I’ll update this one!



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