The flowering of the magnolia tree on Lehman Lawn has long been synonymous with springtime at Barnard.
Standing by the corner of the Diana Center, the tree is beloved by generations of Barnard’s alumnae, faculty and staff. So beloved, in fact, that during the construction of the Diana Center, many members of the community reached out to express concern about its well-being. Understanding the tree’s special place on campus, the College worked hard to ensure its survival during construction by hiring a specialized company with expertise in arboriculture and enlisting Barnard’s own groundskeeping crew for diligent day-to-day care.
Groundskeeper Ray Torres recalls that the tree was already over 15 feet tall when he first arrived on campus in 1977. Although the precise age of Barnard’s tree is unknown, magnolias can live for 100 years with proper care. With over 210 species, the magnolia is one of the oldest and most diverse tree families on record, said Professor Hilary Callahan of the Biological Sciences department, whose students study the tree’s growth and characteristics in her “Plant Evolution and Diversity” course.
Barnard's magnolia tree inspires memories for many in the community. Religion professor Jack Hawley will forever associate the blooming tree with the memory of Professor Barbara Stoler Miller ’62, a longtime member of the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies faculty who passed away in April of 1993. In his eulogy of Miller, Professor Hawley spoke about the tree and its significance:
“On Monday the 19th of April it was in full bloom, and the day was so splendid that for the first time since I began teaching I yielded to my students’ pleas and we took our section of “Introduction to Religions of the East” outside. We sat in a circle under the great pink tree and talked about how to see Hindu images . . . We were one circle, down below, and the magnolia made another as it arched toward the sky. I learned just after class that Barbara had passed away early that brilliant morning. And somehow I could never see the magnolia without thinking of her.”
Kellyx Nelson '92, one of Professor Miller’s students, holds this memory as well. Upon seeing a photograph of the tree in an alumnae newsletter, Nelson shared this recollection:
“When I first heard that McIntosh was being redone, I was thrilled about the project but concerned that "Barbara's tree" might be removed. When I visited last fall, I was relieved that it was still there and I could visit with her for a brief moment.”
Please share your own magnolia memories with us on Barnard’s Facebook page.
Barnard’s magnolia tree is a living piece of the College's history and harbinger of spring. When it blooms each spring, its shade provides a place for discussion and reflection. To celebrate the tree, limited edition Magnolia Tree shirts are available at the Barnard Store.
-Claire Austin-Kulat ’14