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Georgia Southern leads preservation efforts for a nearly endangered tree species

Mexican Oak tree on Armstrong Campus in Savannah doens’t have many relatives in this part of the world. However, it grows with an “accelerated” rate, and flowered for the first time last year.

Philip Schretter, the superintendent of grounds operations for Georgia Southern University Armstrong Campus in Savannah, oversees many “only one of” species of plants. However, there’s one that quite literally towers the others.

The Mexican oaks are a quickly-disappearing species of trees, and are sparse on this side of the southern border. In Mexico, many of the oaks are being torn down for agriculture and other deforestation efforts.

“This is coming from the cloud forest in southern Mexico, so it’s a prime location for growing coffee,” Schretter said. “And so it’s important to have repositories for that germplasm in other places. We have a lot of plants like that on campus where they are endangered in their native habitats.”

Since its planting in 2012, the plant has grown into a 30-foot-tall tree. Schretter said this rapid growth is exceptional, especially because it’s also growing outside of its natural habitat. There are only a few reports of this type of tree living along the Atlantic Coast, but they aren’t growing nearly as fast, according to Schretter.

The tree’s story has been gaining notoriety through online stories and publications within the horticulture community, including a recent article for the International Oak Society.

It’s not just the story that’s getting out. The success of the Armstrong Campus tree may very well spread to other parts of the United States. The tree flowered and fruited for the first time last year, which will allow the University to collect its acorns and share them with other universities in areas suitable for the Mexican oak.

“We’ll propagate our own, but we’ll also share them with other places,” Schretter said. “And I hate having just one of anything on campus because if it dies, you don’t have any more. So we will plant some other ones on campus when we do get some acorns.”

The Mexican oak tree can be found on the eastern side of the Student Union on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah, and is next to Compass Plaza.


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