Historic Background for New Black Walnut Tree at ABAC Health Sciences Building

Staff Report From Tifton CEO

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Roaring winds and heavy rains from Hurricane Michael last October took a toll on the landscape at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. 

ABAC Grounds Superintendent Brad Barbee and his crew members spent weeks putting the campus back into the pristine shape that characterizes one of the most picturesque campuses in the state.  Most trees and plants survived but a legendary black walnut tree in front of the Health Sciences Building became a victim of the unforgiving force of the monumental hurricane. 

“That particular tree’s origin on the campus was said to be the work of Dr. Vernon Yow, professor of forestry and former Dean of Men at ABAC,” said Dr. Doug Waid, professor emeritus of wildlife and forestry at ABAC, said.  “The black walnut he planted stood outside what was once the women’s dormitory, later renamed Creswell Hall.” 

When Creswell Hall was razed in 2005 to make way for the Health Sciences Building, the tree barely survived the impact of the heavy construction equipment.  In fact, Wanda Golden, the former head of the nursing program, went to great lengths to make certain that Barbee and his team kept the tree alive.

“Against all odds, Brad and the ABAC personnel were able to revitalize the tree, and its fruit provided new trees to beautify the campus,” Waid said.  “It continued as a living record for those who shared and cared.”

Waid and other faculty and staff members nurtured seedlings from the tree after Barbee’s team saved the historic black walnut.  Some of the seedlings made their way off campus through Horticulture Club plant sales or the Wildlife Club’s annual Beast Feast.  Others were presented to faculty members as retirement gifts. 

“The intrinsic value of the wood and the meat of the nuts makes the black walnut really special,” Waid said.  “The shell of the nut is so hard that it was once ground up and added to the rubber of tires in the early days of the automotive industry to make them more durable. 

“Because of the unusual physical properties of the tree, it was commonly planted around homes, barns, and out buildings as a natural lightning rod.”

Even though the original black walnut didn’t make through the natural disaster of Hurricane Michael, Waid knew there was a seedling just waiting to start a new generation.  On a recent spring morning, that fresh start came to life when Barbee put shovel to dirt in front of the Health Sciences Building. 

“Hurricane Michael got the original but we’re hoping this seedling has a long life,” Barbee said.  “We’re going to do our best to take care of it.”

Golden was on hand for the planting along with Dr. Jaibun Earp, Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences; Kip Hall, an assistant professor of forest resources; Barbee; and one of his grounds crew members, Timothy Nelson, an ABAC graduate who takes great pride in maintaining the landscape on the front of the ABAC campus. 

Nursing students stood in the background as Golden and Earp dug out small bits of soil before Barbee took over to deepen the hole with his shovel.  He then placed the seedling carefully in the space and packed the soil around it. 

A new generation of the historic black walnut tree was underway, and the planting is available on the front campus circle at ABAC for all to see.