By Precious Davis
Located right at the entrance to the Lamar Dodd School of Art is a beautiful grassland, which looks like a tree garden. However, its purpose is unknown to many students. This park is known as Lily Branch, named after the creek flowing through it. But this area has a shady secret hiding in plain sight; the secret is its extensive quantity of Ulmus Parvifolio, more commonly known as Chinese Elm.
Chinese Elm is a species of tree native to Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan. Chinese Elm can reach 50 to 82 feet high and has a cinnamon colored bark. Although these trees are stunning to look at, they are potentially dangerous. It is thought that these trees may be an invasive species, however, this has not been scientifically proven.
An invasive species is a plant, animal or pathogen that is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, harm. Benjamin Liverman, project manager for the Office of University Architects and space management coordinator for the Office of Space Management, addresses this growing concern. He believes Lily Branch could be “ground zero” for studying the trees.
Initially, the Lamar Dodd School of Art was a parking lot, and the area that is now Lily Branch was essentially wilderness. It was full of the identified invasive species Ligustrum Sinense, or Chinese Privet, which is known for being a “problem” plant in other areas on UGA’s campus. Chinese Elm and Chinese Privet are two different species of the same origin but not in competition. This means they can grow together without one disturbing the other, just as native trees to southeast would do. At Lily Branch today, the Chinese Privet is no longer an issue. It was all cleared out during the building’s construction in order to bring attention to the creek that was hidden beneath it.
This leaves the Chinese Elm. They are fully grown trees that have been there for years. Aside from the few native trees there such as the water oaks, pecan tree, box elder and locust, the vast majority of trees are Chinese Elm. “Certain symbiotic relationships that can occur in an ecosystem…all disappear when you get rid of every species but one,” Liverman says. Chinese Elm trees aren’t contributing food sources for native animals, and therefore minimize the diversity or animal life in Lily Branch.
The probability of them being an invasive species comes from the way they reproduce. The seeds are dispersed by the wind and animals and carried downstream through the water. Invasive plants tend to grow where there is not much competition and lots of light. If you were to take a walk around the Lamar Dodd building and look at any low growing grassy area, you may see a small plant sprouting from the ground that looks different from the rest. It is highly likely that plant is Chinese Elm sapling. They tend to have spiky looking leaves and a dark reddish stem. They are vigorously rooted and compete aggressively for water, therefore hard to weed, and can take over an area easily. Some preventative measures were put into place to keep this from happening.
Athens-Clarke County recently noted on its tree species list that Chinese Elm are “showing signs of possible invasiveness,” and urges planters to limit planting until further notice. Lily Branch is not the most familiar part of UGA or even East Campus for that matter, so it is important to bring attention to this. There aren’t currently any provisions in place to combat the issue at Lily Branch. Liverman believes, “The more people like this area, and the more people use this area, the more people will want to improve it.”
When asked about what she would want to see Lily Branch used as, junior art major Iris Andres from Athens says, “The area will benefit from site specific work like things that can withstand the weather would be an interesting element.” One idea is to make that location a demonstration area for sculptures and other art works. Emily Brown, a senior photography major from Richmond Hill, thinks Lily Branch should be made into a recreational area. “Putting benches out there and clearing it out a bit would get people over there,” Brown says.
Lily Branch is admired because it is a beautiful and peaceful place. However, the Chinese Elms that dwell inside may pose a threat to the surrounding area. Student involvement is the primary resource for conserving the native plants that are there and bring recognition to this issue. There are many ideas for making use of the area but there are students who like it just the way it is. What the future holds for Lily Branch is uncertain, but if you have any ideas or plans for using the space you are strongly encouraged and welcome to do it. If not, just take a walk through whenever you’re on east campus; it’s a nice place to hang out.