UT graduate student develops tree nursery, will donate thousands of seedlings to Bastrop

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UT students Alison Wyllie and Shelly Bergel remove weeds from seedlings at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Saturday. The seedlings are slated to be delivered to areas affected by last year’s fires in Bastrop County.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

With Tuesday marking the one-year anniversary of the most destructive fire in Texas history that reduced more than 30,000 acres of Bastrop County to ashes and more than 1,500 homes to mere memories, a UT graduate student is working to restore life to the affected landscape.

UT molecular biology graduate student Vlad Codrea has spent the last year developing and maintaining a tree nursery at UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with the goal of delivering thousands of native tree seedlings for Bastrop residents and park officials to plant. Codrea hopes this massive effort will help restore natural areas that were devastated in last year’s fire.

“[The seedlings] will be given out to landowners whose land had been burned by the fires as well as planted across Bastrop State Park,” Codrea said.

Codrea said he plans to distribute the 70,000 seedlings growing at the Wildflower Center to Bastrop residents and park officials in October.

UT’s Green Fee Committee funds the majority of Codrea’s tree nursery, the first of its kind at UT, with a $54,000 grant distributed over three years. A part of the Office of Sustainability, the committee allocates the funds it receives from the $5-a-year “Green Fee” that each student pays as part of student fees.

Karen Blaney, Green Fee Committee program coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, said the project’s originality and long-term positive effects motivated the committee to award the grant.

“In terms of far-reaching impacts, it is up there,” Blaney said. “There is hope for the tree nursery even after he gets his degree and moves on.”

Codrea received the grant before the fires took place, with the intention of creating a student-run tree nursery at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, but moved to the Wildflower Center and integrated his efforts with theirs after seeing first-hand how destructive the Bastrop fire had been to native plant species in the Lost Pines region.

“After the fires, we knew we had a great responsibility and opportunity to help with the reforestation and restoration project of the Lost Pines,” Codrea said.

Since receiving the grant, Codrea has worked with the Wildflower Center to build a suitable greenhouse for the nursery and hosts student and community volunteers every Saturday. 

Microbiology graduate student Jeremy Henderson helped tend to the seedlings for the first time at last Saturday’s volunteer event.

“By replanting the trees, I think it is a reminder that not only is there a community available to help them nearby, but it also helps them heal those wounds of loss,” Henderson said.

Saralee Tiede, spokesperson for the Wildflower Center, said the nursery is the most extensive project a student has ever conducted in conjunction with the center.  

As for the use of the Green Fee funds on the nursery, Blaney said the nursery is a very visible example of the Green Fee at work and its benefit to the University and community.

“Every single year, students come and wonder what UT is doing for the surrounding community,” Blaney said. “The tree nursery is a really good answer for one way that UT can contribute to the region.”

Blaney hopes the free and public nursery that often hosts student volunteers will spur student interest in conservation and sustainability issues.  

“Not many people get to grow a tree,” Blaney said. “Who knows what it will spark in somebody?” 

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: Seeds donated to Bastrop