Southern Miss hosted its annual Arbor Day on Friday, Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. The event took place at the university’s edible orchard, which was the main focus of the ceremony. This event began with an introduction by Chris Crenshaw, Ph.D., associate vice president for facilities planning and management.
“Several years ago the university created a special task force called the Tree Management Taskforce that was designed to help us plant native trees throughout campus,” Crenshaw said. “As a result of this committee, the university has won an award every year called the Tree Campus USA award.”
Malcolm Guidry, Ph.D., an arborist who assisted with the remediation of the Friendship Oak on Southern Miss’ Gulf Park campus, then gave a short speech to the event’s attendees.
“Today is about the establishment of an edible landscape, a fruit orchard if you will, a unique movement on college campuses today,” Guidry said. “Thank you, Loren Erickson, for making this unique idea part of the green infrastructure of this campus.”
After Guidry’s short talk, five new trees were planted in the orchard with help from students from the Dubard School for Language Disorders.
According to Southern Miss’ landscape superintendent and master arborist Loren Erickson, the idea for the edible orchard began in 2015 when just a few trees were planted. The orchard, located just south of the Payne Center, now includes a total of 40 trees and plants, such as apple, plum, avocado and orange trees and many different berry bushes.
Erickson said he wanted to create an educational and attractive place on campus for people to experience freshly grown fruits.
“In my opinion, people really don’t know where their food comes from,” Erickson said. “I wanted to bring back all of the plants that used to grow in Mississippi that people grew out of necessity. It’s also a nice, relaxing location on campus. I thought it would be a nice place for people to meet and walk through, and this orchard is as good as many large universities. It’s also all organic.”
Erickson said that the orchard is for anyone on campus to enjoy and that they made sure to plant enough trees to cater to the whole university.
“Anybody that walks by a tree that has ripe fruit has the right to pick it,” Erickson said. “We encourage that. We only ask that you only pick it if it’s ripe, and we ask that you share. This isn’t an orchard to harvest necessarily, but we ask that people just sample. If there’s something they’ve never seen growing on a tree, like a peach for example, and they get a chance to eat it, that would be great.”
Erickson said that many of the fruits will ripen in May, June and July. There will also eventually be tags on each plant with the details for that specific fruit.
photo courtesy Southern Miss Physical Plant