High Point University Arboretum and Gardens

August 21, 2012 – High Point University, NC
(written by Robert E. Lyons, photographs by Dottie Miles)

High Point University (HPU) is a small liberal arts college not too far from Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina.  Although I had never visited the HPU campus, I sure had no idea about its plant collections.  So, when Jon Roethling, a friend and fellow plantsman, told me of the University’s plans to develop their campus into a first class arboretum and garden complex, my interest was more than piqued!

Our group met Jon just inside the gated entry to HPU where he was ready to showcase all the newest developments on this rapidly growing campus. At first, it was challenging to see through the obvious avalanche of new construction, such as brand new buildings, larger than life water features, and impressive landscape structures.  Yet, Jon skillfully blended them all with expert discourse related to the new and existing plant materials, all intertwined with kudos to the HPU President, Nido Qubein, and his wife for their vision.

Within Jon’s 2-year tenure as a direct report to the Director of Facilities, he has overseen over 320 acres of campus property and its plants. He reviews new plant choice specifications with other HPU personnel with an eye towards diversity, uniqueness and even fragrance.  No common plant palette under Jon’s watch.  Students, staff, and faculty will be fortunate to enjoy the likes of Edgeworthia, hardy palms, and gardenias on their way to work and class.

High Point University does not have an undergraduate program in horticulture.  However, Jon wants to engage students as much as possible in the understanding of the campus plantings, as well as instill an interest and appreciation for plants, regardless of their major. I’m positive that the campus’ first LEED certified building (School of Education) and designation as a Tree Campus USA will only strengthen his attempt to make an impact on all HPU students.  Of course, one of Jon’s biggest challenges is directly related to the audience he serves…specifically, how to actually schedule the needed planting, landscape repairs, and plant maintenance without interfering with the busy activities found anywhere, anytime, throughout HPU.  Jon uses GIS to map the plant collections, he has labeled them for identification, and has integrated this information within the public information kiosks found within the student center.

At the end of the day, we contemplated all that Jon has done and agreed that High Point University would soon be a public horticulture force to be reckoned with thanks to his efforts.  Well done!

Don’t Sweat It!

Our final destination, Joshua Tree National Park, is located a few hours east of Los Angeles in the California high desert, where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts meet.  After miraculously escaping most of L.A.’s notoriously nightmarish traffic, we found ourselves on Twentynine Palms Highway, which traversed the north border of the Park and connected the eclectic desert towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms.  We geared up for a morning departure from our hotel, but before we even boarded our van we were struck by the austere beauty of the barren mountains before us.  The contrast of their running peaks against the cloudless blue sky was razor sharp..  And while the morning temperature was comfortably warm, we knew it was headed for at least 100° F and the low relative humidity would all but eliminate any sensation of sweating!

Bronze art meets blue sky at the Oasis Visitor Center

Marnie enjoyed the cool interpretive signs

Once through the Park entrance, we were blown away by the fascinating ecosystem rolled out before us.  Many of the surrounding boulders were smooth and sculpted, as evidenced by one in particular called “Skull Rock,” aptly named for its noticeable “eye sockets” that stared with frigid determination amidst the desert heat.  When venturing out of the van, we stuck to prescribed trails but were not disappointed by our discoveries, being constantly vigilant for anything sharp, prickly, or spiny.  This was particularly true while hiking within the Cholla Cactus Garden of Opuntia bigelovii, sometimes called “jumping chollas” for the plant’s ability to break off in pieces when touched (ouch!), stick to you for a while, then drop to the ground and root at a distance from the original plant.  A great feature for asexual colonization, but at the painful expense of the vector.  Fortunately, none of us assisted the cholla in its spreading pursuit that day!

Cholla Garden Vista

Many plants were weathering the heat nicely, like the Missouri or Buffalo gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima), an herbaceous, native perennial.  This plant has an enormous tuber, which facilitates survival under extreme drought. Apparently, the fruit is edible only when harvested young, as it gets increasingly bitter with age.  The Joshua tree itself (Yucca brevifolia) occurred as sparsely distributed individuals or in dense populations, depending upon your location.  Some appeared to be holding on for dear life, while others were statuesque, well branched, and stately.

Buffalo Gourd

Buffalo Gourd

We continued to trek the easier trails, such as the Barker Dam loop that led to a grand pool of water – a great surprise amidst the desiccated landscape and simply a beautiful sight.  We drove to Keys View, exited the van, and walked up to the overlook to witness a sweeping vista.  The signage indicated the relative location of the infamous San Andreas Fault, the city of Palm Springs, and a snow covered Mt. San Jacinto in the distance.

Barker Dam

So literally and figuratively, don’t sweat it when visiting Joshua Tree National Park.   Enjoy and appreciate the extremes!

8 intrepid travellers, a few Joshua Trees, and a not-so-small pile of rocks

Photos by the Class of 2011