Discovering the Redwood Tree Behind Neilson Library

The redwood tree behind Neilson Library is a prominent but under appreciated landmark on Smith campus.

Photo courtesy of Jen Zhu ’18 | The redwood tree behind Neilson Library is a prominent but under appreciated landmark on Smith campus.


Mariel Bell ’16
Contributing Writer

When playing the game “What Kind of Tree Would I Be,” I would ordinarily say willow, but I have had a change of heart. Now I want to be a redwood tree. This may sound a bit strange since the chances of seeing a full-grown redwood tree in my home state is slim to none. However, that is not the case on this campus.

Not to be confused with giant sequoia — the ones you imagine when you think of the redwood forests of Northern California — we have a different genus of sequoia: the Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Unlike its fellow sequoia sisters, it is unique to China and slightly smaller in stature.

Some of us not enrolled in an education class with Al Rudnitsky, whose assignments includes scavenger hunts and finding little-known treasures on campus, are oblivious to the fact that we have a massive redwood tree towering behind Neilson Library. Most of us are aware, however, of the library renovations that are currently being discussed and planned. According to the director of the botanic garden, Michael Marcotrigiano, “The architects have been put on notice that this tree is one that must be protected at all costs. Fortunately, the old part of Neilson — where the tree is — will not be torn down, but the tree will need lots of protection when the other ends of the building are removed. We are equally concerned about the large oaks in front of Neilson, but again, it’s too early to tell what is up since they have not yet proposed an entry point for construction vehicles.”

Early sketches of plans are soon to come, but they will not break ground on the renovations for some time. So we may not need to take a page from the book of gutsy activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a thousand-year-old redwood tree named Luna for two years in Humboldt County, Calif., but I would not take it off the table just yet.

In the meantime, sitting or standing under this tree should be on the bucket list of every Smith student. I cannot think of a better experience before graduating than one that symbolizes a long life, attaining lofty dreams and surpassing limits.

The temperature is noticeably cooler under its immense trunk of red-brown bark that feels like coconut husk. No splinters. Just weathered, soft strands of bark. The short, narrow needles create several layers of thick bundles on its widespread branches that appear to reach the stars. Behind the tree is a plaque that “commends those who had the vision and foresight to preserve it.”

If the protection of the dawn redwood is ever in question, you may just see me living in a tree.

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