MUSC to grow into urban forest

Nathan Dubosh, a grounds supervisor at MUSC, was pruning trees recently near Bee Street and Courtenay Drive in downtown Charleston.

Trees, like medicine, can help people feel better, says Medical University of South Carolina arborist Nate Dubosh.

And over the next year, the university will create an urban forest on the downtown campus by planting diverse, native tree species.

The university chose today, which is Arbor Day, to kick off its plans to become an arboretum. By Arbor Day 2013, it hopes to become the fifth South Carolina campus to be designated a Tree Campus USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation. The others are: Clemson University, Furman University and the University of South Carolina’s Columbia and Upstate campuses. The city of Charleston also has been designated a Tree City USA community.

“Trees promote health, get people outside and provide shade,” Dubosh said. Some studies even indicate that the presence of trees encourages people to get more exercise, he said.

The university has launched other “green” efforts as well, moves university leaders say promote health and learning opportunities for patients, employees, students and the community.

In the fall, it will dedicate a medicinal garden near the new James E. Clyburn Research Center. And already vegetables are growing in a nearby urban garden, which will be used for nutrition and healthy cooking demonstrations, and other health-related educational opportunities.

Jerry Reeves, former dean of the College of Medicine, said the arboretum effort will help turn the urban campus into a park, “but a park that has an educational role.”

That will help patients as they heal, Reeves said. “It’s important that they are not looking at all these harsh things,” he said. “We like to think we’re innovative in our health care. Now, we’re innovative in horticulture.”

The university also has started preparing the ground for a medicinal garden, said Susan Hoffius, curator of the university’s Waring Historical Library. Staffers will begin planting in June, and the garden will be dedicated in the fall, she said.

The garden will include healing plants identified in the 1863 book, “Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests,” which was written by F.P. Porcher, an MUSC alumnus, Hoffius said.

During the Civil War, a blockade prevented medicines from Europe from reaching the South, she said. The surgeon general of the Confederate States of America, Samuel Preston Moore, commissioned Porcher to write the book. Moore also was an MUSC alumnus.

The garden will have plaques by each plant giving people information about its healing properties, Hoffius said.

Some of the plants in the book were subsequently determined to be of no medicinal value, she said. And the plaques will include that information. But others, such as foxglove, also known as digitalis, continues to be used for heart ailments, she said.

The university also has created an urban garden, where it will grow vegetables and other plants, said Susan Johnson, employee wellness coordinator.

“The idea was to create a demonstration garden, a living classroom,” she said.

It’s not a community garden, where different people get a plot in which they can plant, she said. Instead it will be used to demonstrate the importance of having access to healthy, organic food, she said. “It will be very hands-on.”

The school will build a small pavilion near the garden, she said. That space will be used for cooking and other demonstrations.

And many people from the campus community can get involved in tending the garden, she said. “A lot of people never have the opportunity to put their hands in the dirt.”