With today’s focus on going green and the recent Toomer’s Corner oak trees tragedy, flora, also known as plants and trees, has taken a step forward into the Auburn Spotlight. Recently, experiencing a flux in awareness, Auburn’s Department of Horticulture enjoys well-deserved attention.
“Horticulture is the art and science of plants and covers a very broad spectrum of careers,” Student Services Coordinator, Brian Brown, said.
Among the Department’s recent, notable achievements, Tree Campus USA has re-certified the University for 2010. This foundation, in partnership with The Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota, focuses on college campuses in the effort to promote the growth of plants and trees. Their mission statement is to help college campuses, “Strive to engage their student body as well as their broader community to establish and sustain healthy community forests for the benefit of current and future residents.” This national accreditation program was first acquired by Auburn University in 2009. Auburn was one of the first schools to have the accreditation therefore, “It is a really big honor,” Brown said.
The Department also has a hand in Auburn’s best kept secret, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum. The stretch of land houses around 891 of Auburn’s trees. This includes the historic Founder’s Tree standing tall for over 150 years. The Arboretum is maintained and managed by the College of Math and Science. It is, however, vital to the success of Horticulture students. The Department uses the land as an educational tool for students and workspace for graduates. "So many people use the Arboretum throughout the year as an educational component,” Horticulture Professor, Gary Keever, said. "Trees, I think, are an overlooked and undervalued asset. People tend to take them for granted.”
In most recent news, the Department is working tirelessly on a team, with many other departments, to the Toomer’s Corner oaks. Keever has a history working with trees and is knee-deep in the effort to save them. Tips and assistance have poured in from across the nation. Most recently, our own Forestry graduate student, Nicholas Martin, valued the trees at $20,000 in his Master’s thesis project. “You can not put a true dollar value on the Toomer's oaks,” Keever said. “They have been a part of Auburn University for 130 years, impacting generations of Auburn students and fans; these trees are not $20,000 trees. Their value is immeasurable.”
Despite their great work and accomplishments, the Department is rather small with approximately 169 undergraduate and 40 graduate students. The undergraduate program has four graduation tracks: fruit and vegetable production, nursery and green house management, pre-landscape architecture design and, the largest program, maintenance.
The career possibilities post-graduation are very promising for those with a degree in horticulture. Approximately 20 percent of those holding Auburn Horticulture degrees are entrepreneurs having established their own business. “This is one of the few majors you can do this with. If you want to go into maintenance, all you need is lawn mower and a weed eater and you’re ready,” Brown laughed. A large number of students pursue careers in design after graduation. Biding and estimating is also popular, as well as sales.
Most students involved in the major truly love it. “It’s not like work; it’s fun. I love flowers and being outside,” sophomore, Megan McNair, said. The joy of the field comes from how unique it is. “We have a lot of fun. Today we are climbing trees on the President’s lawn. How many programs let you do that? It’s a very hands-on program,” Brown said.
Overall the program is incredibly successful and rewarding. For anyone who likes to be outside and get creative, this is a perfect match.