Fungal infection spells death for campus oak


Maya Valluru

The oak tree behind the library was cut down because of root fungus. The newly cleared land near the Quad where the 40-year-old oak tree used to stand will be transformed into a seating area.

by Maya Valluru, Asst. News Editor

On Monday, April 4, students and faculty returned from spring break to see that the oak tree in the Quad next to the kiosk had been cut down. The approximately 40 year old tree was deemed in distress almost 10 years ago, but curing it from a pervasive fungal infection proved impossible.

According to facilities manager Mike Bassoni, a certified arborist stated that the tree could not be salvaged from the fungus that had been growing on its roots. The particular fungus that damaged the oak is a common threat to trees throughout California.

“[The fungus] can lay dormant in the soil for decades before being triggered by specific environmental conditions,” he said. “Once it attacks a tree, it is virtually unstoppable. For the safety of the Harker community, we were forced to take the tree down.”

A colony of formica ants were seen swarming outside the freshly cut logs for a few days since the tree had been cut down. This kind of ant is named for the formic acid in its body, giving it a very distinct smell when squashed.

According to biology teacher Dr. Kate Schafer, the ants have been living in the trunk for the several years.

“[The formica ants] are interesting in that they like to make their nests in dead and decaying wood. How long have they been here? I wouldn’t even know how guess that. It could have been many, many years.”

Four other oak trees on campus, including the Black Oak that once stood near Mr. Williamson’s office and those behind Nichols, have been removed from the ground and boxed. These trees will be replanted in the same area that the original large oak once stood. New campus construction plans include bringing around 190 new trees to the quad.

Chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine shares his thoughts on these measures. While he supports the replanting of the oaks, he dislikes the cutting down of the cottonwood trees near the parking lot due to other building plans.

“I like that they saved a couple of the oaks trees that they’ve dug up and behind Nichols,” he said. “We’ve had a lost of transitions in building different things in this campus. We got these beautiful cottonwood trees near the parking lot; they’re all gone. They’re building this parking lot and they’re all going to be ripped up. So, our hope that they do future planning of planting trees for the long term future of the school, and only plant trees where they have trees.”

The area in the Quad that has now been cleared and will soon be planted with other healthy oaks will be transformed into a place for students to convene.

“We are going to take the area behind the library and develop it into more of a seating area for students; they will have a quiet space to study, read and interact with others, but actually it is going to improve upon the existing area,” Bassoni said.

Some students who enjoyed the shade of their wooden neighbor noted that the parting of the tree was not very eventful.

“I haven’t been under that tree very often, but I guess it was more or less pleasant there,” Raymond Banke (9) said.  “I think it was an oak tree, if I am not mistaken, but I’m not a big fan of oak trees because I’m allergic to them, and they don’t seem very aesthetically pleasing.”

Others, however, expressed a deep sentiment towards the tree, mentioning that it was a played a large role in the heritage of the community. Freshman Prameela Kottapalli shared her thoughts.

“My friends and I sat around this tree on the first day of school and we called it ‘Trina’,” Prameela Kottapalli (9) said. “Now that it’s gone, it fills my heart with nostalgia and little bit of sadness—but then I realize that all good things must end. It’s like the circle of life.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on May 4, 2016.