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Title: Nature, Gardens, and Georgetown

Chapter 1. Why?                                             book homepage

Chapter 1, figures. Please, click on images to enlarge them.

This little book is primarily about nature at and near Georgetown University (GU) and its past and current gardens. I write from the viewpoint of a field biologist who has worked in GU’s Department of Biology since 1975. This publication is my attempt to complement previous books about GU, none of which has emphasized nature. I concentrate on the “Georgetown University Area” (“GU Area”), defined as the Main and Medical Campuses and adjacent blocks of residences, Glover Archbold Park (part of the national park Rock Creek Park), and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (COCNHP).1 The GU Area is a biologically-rich place which may contain over 12,000 organism species, most of which are beneficial to Humans. Glover Archbold Park is contiguous with the western edges of the Campuses, and the COCNHP is near the south part of Main Campus. Centuries ago, the land of the Campuses and residential areas most likely closely resembled Glover Archbold Park before European Settlers arrived (based on photographs of once wooded areas of the Campuses from the late 1800s).2 Today, one could describe the Campuses as a highly artificial urban “savanna” with occasional trees (including many alien species and cultivars) dispersed among a complex of artificial buttes, caverns, and cliffs; roads; parking lots; and other structures. What happened to the streams, trees, and wildlife over the years? What gardens did GU have, and who gardened in them? When did landscape changes occur? Who was involved? What is the current status of wildlife on and near the Campuses? This book addresses these questions

Further, it may enrich your life and even convince you to slow down a little and enjoy nature more. Take time to smell the sweet fragrances of the woods of early spring (as mentioned in GU’s Alma Mater, Chapter 4), GU’s Black Locusts and irises of May, roses of June, Southern Magnolias of July and August 3, and rains and leaf falls in autumn. It seems that too many of us GU people become more and more busy with each passing day, and take less and less time to appreciate the natural world around us. Too many people might be considered to be computer, house, TV, video-game, or other kinds of “potatoes,” mentally and physically far removed from nature’s wonders.

With regard to enjoying nature, take Southern Magnolias as an example. I’ve known their flowers from my childhood days in Tampa, Florida. Later, I observed two small planted trees of this species in a garden in Lawrence, Kansas while I was a graduate student there in the 1960s and 1970s. In summer, the Florida trees burst forth with huge, sweet, lemon-scented, waxy, cream-colored flowers. To my disappointment, the Kansas trees grew slowly and never flowered during the 7 years that I lived in Kansas; perhaps the cold winters and summer droughts stunted them. In contrast to the Kansas trees, a small Southern Magnolia in my yard in Maryland grew about 20 feet and produced scores of flowers in 7 years.

Each Southern Magnolia blooming season is priceless to me, and I try to enjoy many of the intoxicating flowers each summer. I consider the fragrance to be a major sensual perk of being in the overly expensive, increasingly congested Washington, D.C., Area. Yet, I rarely see anyone else “going to heaven with closed eyes” smelling the rich lemony aromas of these Magnolias (figures 1.1–1.4). Perhaps people who hurry down sidewalks near this species catch a whiff of the flowers. I once taught forest ecology in the summer and put one Magnolia flower in our classroom. It filled the room with its sweet scent, and students immediately recognized the fragrance when they came to class. Local nature, such as these flowers, helps to make up for my soaring property taxes and local bad-air days and molasses-in-January traffic flow. I’ll meet you at the Southern Magnolias, ya’ll!

Ruth: Or The Influences of Nature4

He told of the Magnolia, spread
High as a cloud, high over head!

(William Wordsworth (1770–1850, 1799)

In order to flesh out this book, I wanted to journey back in time in a time machine to see the GU Area of the past to look at its nature and gardens in great detail, photograph them, and witness interactions that past people had with them. I even wanted to imagine myself as part of past pleasant experiences. This desire led me to create simulated, plausible past occurrences, and the book became a hybrid of fact and fiction. To separate them clearly, I indicate what is fictitious in footnotes. The dates of main GU events and the biological notes are correct to the best of my knowledge. The conversations are obviously fictitious except for those in which I am a participant. I’ve tried to reconstruct contemporary conversations as well as I can, often aided by notes that I took on the days of or near the days of the events.

This book also pays homage to biodiversity, which is greatly needed during this dangerous time for Earth’s myriad battered species. As conservationists and others know, our Earth is witnessing major anthropogenic assaults on its life, some of which are resulting in daily species extinctions. Following ornithologists, some other authors, and many U.S. postage stamps, I chose to pay respect to our fellow species by using a more classical style of referring to them — capitalizing species common names as I also do in my biological dictionary.5 People generally pay respect to just a single individual of one well-known species with capitalization, e.g., Charles Robert Darwin and Bishop John Carroll. Therefore, it certainly seems highly appropriate and desirable to me that one should capitalize the name of an entire species, e.g., the Monarch Butterfly.

You can find images of many of the subjects of this book in the Biodiversity Database of the Washington, D.C., Area (BDWA).6 These images should add to your understanding and appreciation of nature, gardens, and Georgetown University.

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1Gail Spilsbury’s wonderful book describes many things about Rock Creek Park ; however, her book almost totally ignores Glover Archbold Park which is a “finger park” of Rock Creek Park.

Spilsbury, Gail. 2003. Rock Creek Park. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. 83 pp.

2O’Neill, Paul R. and Paul K. Williams. 2003. Georgetown University. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC. 128 pp.

3The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is native to North Carolina through central Florida west through eastern Texas. It is a highly favored garden tree, and people have planted it throughout the world where the climate is suitable for it.

Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala, technical coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America. Agriculture Handbook 654. Volume 2. Hardwoods. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC. 877 pp. (2 August 2004).

The United States Philatelic Service has commemorated this species and many other species mentioned in this book on many artistic postage stamps. For example, the Service featured the Southern Magnolia on its 5-cent, Mississippi Statehood stamp of 1967; its 20-cent Mississippi state-flower and state-bird stamp of 1982; a 32-cent stamp by itself of 1998; and a 37-cent stamp with the painting Giant Magnolias on Blue Velvet Cloth by Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904) of 2004. These are all commemorative stamps used for first-class mail.

4Morley, John. 1894. The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. MacMillan and Co., London, U.K. 928 pp.

5Barrows, E. M. 2001. Animal Behavior Desk Reference. A Dictionary of Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution. Second Edition. CRC Press LCC, Boca Raton, FL. 922 pp.

At times, the capitalization is a little complicated. For example, if a common proper name refers to an entire taxonomic unit, e.g., all species of magnolias, the common name is “Magnolias.” If the common name refers to part of the taxonomic group, e.g., just the magnolias on GU’s Main Campus, it’s obviously not the whole taxonomic unit, so I write it as “magnolias.”

6Barrows, E. M. and D. S. Kjar. 2005. Biodiversity Database of the Washington, D.C., Area (BDWA). Website. (10 February 2006).

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(updated 2006 09 16)

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