What are tall and green and vital to society, yet rarely ever really noticed? Trees.

As a Tree Campus USA member through the National Arbor Day Foundation, University of the Cumberlands is working to change that.

The University’s Tree Program Committee recently hosted an Arbor Day celebration on campus, during which time the campus and community were welcome to hear more about the benefits of trees and watch as a native Red Buckeye tree was planted on Cumberlands’ campus in honor of Mr. Raymond M. Sutton, Jr., a local businessman, gardener and plant collector.

To date, Cumberlands has planted 20 native species of trees on campus, with a yearly goal of planting 10 native trees.

“This is a way we can reflect an appreciation of our history, as many native tree species are economically and culturally significant in Appalachia,” said Dr. Sarah Ash, a biology professor at Cumberlands. “It is also a tool to increase appreciation for native species.”

“Too many exotic species have been introduced into regions where they don’t belong, which always ends up being a detriment to other, native species,” said Dr. Todd Yetter, also a biology professor. “As a note, we are not cutting down any already-planted exotic trees; rather, when the exotics die, they will be replaced with native species.” 

Possibly because trees seem so commonplace, the understanding of their ecological significance is often lost. The National Arbor Day Foundation’s website sheds light on the impact trees have.

According to the site, trees not only clean air and water (which is crucial to maintaining the health of all forms of life), they also slow climate change, ease poverty and hunger (via fruit trees, for example) and prevent species loss. Besides that, and in addition to simply looking beautiful, trees absorb so much carbon dioxide that, if all available spaces along U.S. streets had trees planted in them, the country could save up to four billion dollars in current energy costs, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Cumberlands staff planted a tree dedicated to Mr. Raymond M. Sutton, Jr. on the lawn of Cumberlands’ Correll Science Complex during the Arbor Day celebration.

Mr. Sutton’s family has lived in the Williamsburg area for four generations. He attended Cumberland College before completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Kentucky. Additionally, he is a member of the Magnolia Society International and the American Hydrangea Society, and has been an avid plant collector for the past 30 years. Mr. Sutton is married to Sandra Moore Sutton; they have a daughter Laura (Lexington), a son Raymond (Chip) Sutton, III (Louisville), and three grandchildren.