Celebrating Arbor Day, Tree Campus Healthcare award

April 27, 2022
Participants relax in a Weed Out Stress program at the MUSC Urban Farm. Photo by Sarah Pack

Each spring, Charleston’s gardens come alive with the colorful blooms of azaleas, flowering dogwoods, southern magnolias, cherry trees and crepe myrtles gracing yards, parks and urban areas. On MUSC’s 198-year-old historical campus, trees are especially celebrated as part of a natural healing environment that does more than provide shade.

This spring, MUSC was named among 31 facilities across the United States that received the 2021 Tree Campus Healthcare recognition by the National Arbor Foundation. The honor is a re-designation, as MUSC first received this award among the project’s inaugural winners in 2019. The campus joins other like medical institutions and hospitals including the Cleveland Clinic, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital in receiving this honor.

This year’s award is especially poignant as Charleston and communities across America celebrate the 150th anniversary of National Arbor Day, a holiday that celebrates nature with the planting of trees, on Friday, April 29.

Recent studies have shown the positive impact of trees and the healing power of nature for both the workforce and patients, especially within health care environments. These benefits are linked to improvements in an individual’s overall health. Spending time around trees and green spaces is shown to offer numerous benefits from reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and boosting the immune system to improving mood. For patients, it can aid in recovery after illness or surgery, increase energy levels and improve sleep, according to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus Healthcare program.

MUSC Grounds arborist Andrew Hargett, second left, guides campus volunteers in planting a tree.
MUSC arborist Andrew Hargett, second left, leads volunteers in planting a tree on campus in celebration of Arbor Day 2021. Photo Provided

More than a decade ago, MUSC’s campus hosted about 68 species of trees. Today, there are more than 160 varieties of trees across the 94-acre campus thanks to steadfast efforts by the MUSC Grounds Department as well as the strategic vision and support of the MUSC Arboretum, which was established in 2010. Its mission is to create and maintain an optimal place for healing and education that invigorates, teaches and inspires through nature. Through the Arboretum, MUSC also won and has continued to maintain the National Arbor Foundation’s Tree Campus USA designation since 2012.

According to Robin Smith, Grounds Department manager, tree species diversification is important to the overall health of plants, trees, shrubs and flowers throughout campus. It also helps to keep the balance between beneficial insects and bad insects.

MUSC’s Grounds Department assistant manager Andrew Hargett joined MUSC in 2019 and is part of the team that manages campus tree projects, landscape planning and maintenance. As a certified arborist and landscape architect, he has more than 25 years of residential, commercial and industrial experience in the field and has been critical in helping to maintain the campus’ tree certifications.

“It’s been a long and hard effort to get to where we are today, but we’ve been happy with the transformation and progress,” said Hargett.

Tree Campus Healthcare was established as part of a recognition program by the Arbor Day Foundation for healthcare campuses that prioritize green space and invest in their community forest areas.

Institutions awarded this designation must meet five program standards – form an advisory committee; develop a tree care plan; participate in a community forestry project; sponsor a celebration event or education campaign, and establish a commitment to financial investment in tree projects, education events and community outreach.

Meeting criteria for both Tree Campus designations has provided significant improvements around the downtown Charleston location. One project resulted in the creation of a user-friendly Tree Campus Tree Plotter app. Employees, students and visitors walking around campus can look up and locate specific tree varieties using this app. Information including the tree species, photo, diameter and height, age and care policy is featured.

Another was the creation of a comprehensive campus tree care plan. With ongoing building projects around MUSC and constant disruption to the grounds and landscapes, the preparation of a formal tree care policy was critical. The policy provides specific guidelines in the removal and relocation of trees as well as protections and guidance for contractors with shared city projects such as the Charleston Medical District Greenway space.

In addition to this, the MUSC Arboretum supports dedicating and memorializing trees, gardens and other tribute objects through gifts to honor a person or milestone. The project is among many that help to support and fund Arboretum landscape projects and programs.

“We’ve had plans and an institutional commitment to do this right. President Cole and MUSC leadership have been huge advocates for tree campus certification and our work in maintaining the campus as a natural healing place and urban forest for everyone to benefit and enjoy,” Smith said.

For more information about trees, visit the MUSC Arboretum webpage.

For information about activities celebrating the 150th anniversary, visit the National Arbor Day website.

2022 MUSC Arbor Day activities – Friday, April 29

  • Flying of MUSC Tree Campus Healthcare and Tree Campus USA flags by MUSC Public Safety – MUSC ART and Horseshoe locations
  • Arbor Day tree planting: 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Register here.
  • Arbor Day activities at the MUSC Urban Farm: 10 a.m.