Mike Oxendine, center, indroduces one of several habitat trees on the Southern Oregon University campus to members of Friday's botanical tour. [Photo by Denise Baratta]

SOU's botanical tour goes digital

She may look stately and benign, but in its life-or-death struggle for elbow room, the juglans nigra (a.k.a. black walnut tree) that sits in front of Southern Oregon University’s Plunkett Center wields a secret weapon deployed just below the surface.

It secretes toxic chemicals through its roots to poison the plants around it, eliminating competition before it has a chance to thrive.

Inquiring minds may decipher the tree’s plant-less halo by consulting either Google or, for a more nuanced version of this particular black oak’s history, SOU landscape services supervisor and resident arborist Mike Oxendine.

But for those who would rather tour SOU’s impressive tree collection at their own pace or just check out a select few of the 107 trees on the university’s botanical tour, there’s now a way to do that.

The school introduced a web-based iteration of its botanical tour during a launch party in front of the Plunkett Center Friday. The digital tour began as a capstone project by former environmental science student Daniel Collay.

The web-based tour includes GPS coordinates for each tree on the tour, as well as a sort of tree biography that includes the scientific name, common name, native region and some “interesting info” about each.

The launch party included speeches by Oxendine, Collay, SOU President Linda Schott and donors Barry and Katherine Thalden, who were presented with a rare Japanese umbrella pine that will be planted near The Farm at SOU and eventually added to the tour.

Collay said the idea for the tour grew out of a brainstorming session he and Oxendine had two years ago. The two spent a day driving around campus identifying individual species of trees, eventually concluding that about 300 species existed on the 175-acre campus. Later, they teamed up to design the signs that now mark every tree on the tour, which takes about an hour and a half to complete on foot.

“I learned how to fabricate the signs, I learned how to weld, I learned how to install the signs into the ground,” said Collay, who graduated from SOU with a degree in environmental science and policy and now works for Medford Parks and Recreation. “I drove around campus most of spring term and installed signs on my time away from class, and had a really awesome capstone opportunity where I was able to use my knowledge that I built in the classroom and bring it into a very practical real-world experience that will have a lasting impact at SOU.”

Schott thanked Collay for his contribution to the school and said the teamwork involved is what SOU is all about.

“It’s a great example of how everyone on this campus is a learner and how we all learn together,” Schott said. “So in a traditional sense, you wouldn’t define (Oxendine) and his staff as faculty, and yet they played a major role in the education of this student. So I think that also ties in really nicely with the thinking that we’re doing going forward, about how we are a learning community and we all learn together.

“It reflects the scale of our campus-wide arboretum. With 107 of our trees identified, researched and GPS-marked for self-guided viewing, the SOU botanical tour is now the largest for any university in Oregon and we think maybe even in the nation.”

The online tour can be found at

— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

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