It was an old and dying oak, belonging to his grandfather, that inspired soil science doctoral student David Ruppert to grow oaks from acorns. What started as a 175-acorn-trial in the University of Maryland’s Greenhouse in 2006, has today become a large-scale seedling operation, providing over 700 seedlings to individual citizens, the City of Greenbelt, the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chapter of the Isaak Walton League, and more.
The Great Oaks of Maryland project, Ruppert says, is not really about oaks. “It is about providing the irreplaceable and diminishing ecosystem services of native trees in our landscape.” 600 oak species exist on earth, and there is no better tree to plant than an oak to maximize diversity among insects and songbirds. Great Oaks of Maryland takes this knowledge, and with the help of over 30 volunteers, grows seedlings and provides community education that enables citizens to sustainably manage urban forests.
Right now is high time for oaks and hickories in the landscape. “There are plenty of large trees one can find, but young trees beyond the seedling stage are uncommon,” points out Ruppert. “We have about 50 years before the oaken canopy will be in steep decline.” In some communities, such as Catonsville- Maryland the decline of oak trees has already begun, and in many recently created communities, foodweb-productive trees like oaks have been left out. “We need to worry about this problem today because sustainable forestry takes years to plan,” concludes Ruppert.
FROM GREAT OAKS TO GREAT PRAIRIE
Due to hard work and outstanding support from teachers and colleagues, Ruppert was recently appointed to an assistant professorship at Texas A & M University- Kingville, where he will teach soil science courses, conduct research, and mentor students. “There are few oaks in South Texas, but plenty of citrus, cotton, sorghum, rangeland and coastal marsh,” says Ruppert. “It is going to be great to get to know mollisols and vertisols up close in the context of a university with well established relationships with farmers, ranchers and conservationists.”
As for the Great Oaks project, Ruppert is leaving it in the hands of a very talented team of undergraduates, who, with the support of Dick Weismiller, will advance the program further. The next step for the team will be to secure funding for Great Oaks to pay its own way at the UMD Research Greenhouse Complex. While in South Texas, Ruppert will be promoting a different kind of sustainability issue. “When I arrive in summer, I’ll transform the project to ‘The Great Prairie.”