Turning over a new leaf: atrium trees replaced by new plantings

Leah Carrier

Strolling through the atrium one Wednesday afternoon, I spied an unusual sight: science teacher Daniela Muñoz equipped with a long, collapsible gardening hose, watering plants. 

Before the pandemic, I regrettably never paid much notice to the Ficus trees living in the atrium. For a while, I even entertained the notion that they were fake plants. So, it was a shock to return to the building to find them gone, replaced by an assortment of ferns and other smaller greenery. Intrigued by this surprising transformation, I decided to investigate.

It all began eleven years ago, when Wilson’s renovated campus opened. The modern, spacious atrium was complete with five large planters and a glass roof, perfect for letting in natural sunlight. 

“[The Ficus trees] were probably not the most appropriate thing to plant 11 years ago when [Wilson opened] its modernized campus,” said Alex Wilson, the school’s Director of Academic Development.

With minimal upkeep and no routine watering system, Muñoz suspects that the trees’ roots grew to reach an underground spring somewhere below the school, as the planters themselves have no base. 

“Honestly, they were incredibly resilient things,” Muñoz said with a laugh.

Nevertheless, the first tree to meet its demise fell a couple years ago. And then, during the pandemic, two more collapsed. 

It appears that the trees, quite literally, missed the presence of thousands of kids entering the building every day, replenishing the essential supply of CO2.

“I feel like there’s a sort of metaphor in this,” Wilson lamented. “I think the plants died from just sheer sadness.”

And so, it became evident that the atrium was in dire need of some new shrubbery to occupy the empty planters. They’re now inhabited by an assortment of different ferns and foliage.

Wilson’s Greenhouse Club, run by Muñoz and science teacher Dani Moore, has taken the opportunity to establish more consistent efforts to take better care of their trees. Moore and Muñoz have trained a group of students to take over weekly watering duties and other maintenance tasks like monitoring for fungal diseases. •