Failing to save diseased tree, University works to heal South Mall soil


Visitors pass by Tree No. 618 on the South Mall on Sunday afternoon. Events such as Holi, which are traditionally held on the South Mall, have recently been relocated due to concerns about the health of this and other nearby trees.


Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Despite University efforts to improve its health, a tree on the South Mall will be removed after contracting two different diseases within the last year.

Jim Carse, assistant manager of Urban Forestry, said he first noticed that Tree No. 618 — the third tree on the right when facing the Texas Capitol — had issues in January 2013. The tree had contracted hypoxylon, a fungal disease. In addition, soil testing results from the base of the tree came back positive for phytophthora, a root rot.

“The fungus is ever present in the tree … but it only activates when the tree is under stress, usually due to low moisture levels in the tree,” Carse said. “Because of the drought for the past three to four years and because a lot of the compaction and site issues that have been happening over the past few decades, that tree was the first to succumb to some of the issues.”

The University has spent approximately $3,500 on efforts to save the tree, according to Carse. While this tree won’t be able to be completely saved, Carse said the University has taken proactive efforts on the rest of the lawn.

“We’re more looking to the site as a whole now,” Carse said. “We started to take some different approaches to the South Mall, such as adding mulch [and] doing some other maintenance to improve the soil quality to take better care of the turf.”

For many years, the turf of the lawn has been replaced in the spring leading up to the annual commencement ceremony, but it won’t be replaced this year, according to Carse, who Carse said this practice is detrimental to the trees because the work disturbs the soil and tree roots.

In order to let the ground heal, Carse said he and his team have been working with the Office of Student Affairs to keep larger events off the South Mall, allowing them to replace the grass less often — though commencement will still be on the lawn. Events such as Holi — the Hindu festival of colors celebrating the arrival of spring — had to relocate to the LBJ Lawn.

“We were notified from the University to our organization that South Mall was off limits,” said Abhi Sreerama, Holi festival chair and UT alumnus.

Even though large events are not being scheduled on the lawn, Carse said students are still welcome to use the lawn daily,

“It’s not off limits for informal day-to-day use,” Carse said. “It’s the students’ area, [and] it’s for them to use, and we don’t want to take that away. We’re trying to work with groups to find alternate locations that can suit their event just as well [but] without the iconic view.”

Carse has worked with the Dean of Students office to educate people about the issues the lawn is facing and why it’s necessary to let the ground heal.

“We’re not making that decision of ‘you can or cannot use this space,’ but we’re trying to support our community,” said Sara Lestrange, communications manager for Office of the Dean of Students. “We’re part of a team — the University — trying to make sure the space continues to thrive.”