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Doug Ewing in UW Facilities Blog on repurposing fallen campus oak tree

Friday, May 7, 2021 - 15:45 to Saturday, August 7, 2021 - 15:45

Doug Ewing, interim manager of the UW Life Sciences Greenhouse, was featured in the UW Facilities Blog for his work in repurposing the wood and bark from a treasured campus cork oak tree that had fallen after a snowstorm. 

When the HUB was remodeled over a decade ago, great care was taken to preserve a cork oak tree that stood outside the building’s southwest corner. It’s rare for such a tree to grow so well in this climate, and judging by its height, it was at least 60 years old. So it was with much sadness when UW Facilities grounds crew members discovered the tree laying on its side, a victim of February’s heavy snowstorm. 

While many of us think of wine stoppers, bulletin boards, flooring and perhaps sandals when we think of cork, this natural resource is relished by many other professional crafts people. 

Doug Ewing is one of those people. Ewing, a horticulturalist, botanist and interim manager of the UW Life Sciences Greenhouse, will be sculpting and piecing together pieces of the fallen tree to mount on wire walls in the greenhouse. He’ll then use them to “plant” some of the UW’s orchids, ferns, air plants, succulents and other tropical species that are awaiting transfer from a temporary greenhouse facility in Redmond to the nearly-completed greenhouse in the Life Sciences Complex.

If you ever stepped foot in the old UW Botany Greenhouse before it was taken down, you’ve undoubtedly seen Ewing’s work. When the same cork oak tree outside the HUB lost some branches in a windstorm about 25 years ago, Ewing collected and used them to create plant displays.  

“Doug is an artist with cork oak bark and chisels away at it to make cool things,” says Sara Shores, an urban forest specialist with UW Facilities.

Shores is referring to how Ewing uses wood and bark to display tropical plants such as orchids just as they would be seen in nature, growing on the sides of trees.

The UW’s collection of orchids includes about 2,000 species and Ewing believes it’s one of the largest and best teaching collections in the world. Many plants in the collection were grown from seed by Ewing. He says that orchids are air-rooters and as cork is porous, it’s easy for orchids to cling to the bark. They grow naturally on the trunks and branches of other trees.

“Every plant has a story and I like to tell the story when I’m holding the live, living plant in my hands while telling that story to students. It resonates more with them when they learn this way,” Ewing says. “When you can tell the story behind a plant, that’s when it becomes a powerful thing.”

Read the full article in the UW Facilities Blog.


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