A Whimsical, Possibly Magical Tree

My first spring at Swarthmore, I was awed by the beauty of the ornamental cherry trees that transition seamlessly from bare branches to clouds of delicate pink or white blossoms. Trees in Vermont (where I grew up) generally turn from brown branches to green (or gold) in early spring rather than pink! I am fascinated by these trees that flower before growing their leaves. See how this magnolia tree is blooming without having any leaves on its branches!?!

Image shows a close up image of magnolia tree branches from which white magnolia blossoms are blooming.

Living at Swarthmore, where our campus is the Scott Arboretum, has been such a treat. I have learned about new trees, gotten to know more about trees I already loved, and benefited from the happiness that being around so many plants brings me. Here are five of my favorite individual trees around campus and why they stand out to me.


The cherry trees behind Mary Lyon are very dear to me, not only because they grow outside my favorite dorm, but because they are so wavy and beautiful. Their pale pink blossoms complement the dorm’s soft yellow. On spring weekends, you will find my friends and me studying, reading, dozing, and chatting beneath these trees.



This maple tree is one of many trees that grow on the opposite side of a street from where my hall mates and I walk. I never noticed this tree any more than the other trees until one day in November when we came past it and it was colored in this gradient from green to reddish-orange. For an autumn moment, this maple tree offered the progression of fall colors within its branches!


Whimsical, Possibly Magical Tree. I have tried repeatedly to photograph this tree throughout the last two years. This image is the closest I have come to capturing what I find so remarkable about it. At night when illuminated from the side by a floodlight over the athletic fields, this tree takes on a character that makes me believe it must be magical in some way. Its branches have a fantastical depth to them and that long branch sticking out halfway up on the left looks, to me at least, a bit more like a wiry old ear hair than a branch… Could this tree be alive? The way the edges of its foliage are tinged coppery-gold strengthens my hunch that if I were to venture beneath its bows, I just might stumble upon a portal to another world.


This magnolia tree beneath Sharples is one of my favorite trees on campus because it is exactly the same shape all year. Whether its branches are bare, filled with green leaves, or laden with white blossoms, it maintains exactly the same profile. I have never noticed another tree that does this. Magnolia trees also stand out to me on campus because (as I mentioned before) they blossom before growing leaves. It is a wonder to see a tree filled entirely by white blossoms without a leaf in sight!


The cherry tree outside Martin Hall never disappoints as the perfect study, hang out, and lunch spot in the spring.

The cherry trees behind Mary Lyon turn the back side of a dorm into a cherished afternoon gathering spot,

an inconspicuous maple tree is acknowledged when it finds new colors — echoing how each student at Swarthmore is supported in and recognized for their learning, effort and growth,

a landmark on my walk home inspires a fantastic curiosity,

the constancy of a magnolia draws a smile on my face each morning,

and the cherry tree outside Martin never fails to spread joy.

Perhaps each of these trees is whimsical, possibly magical in its own way…

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