University landscaping creates ecosystem throughout campus


Jennifer McLaughlin, Sustainability Specialist (She/her)

Roses are red, violets are blue, but did you know that campus landscaping is green, too?

While April is host to Earth Day and National Garden Month, South Dakota State University’s Facilities and Services looks at the sustainability of our landscaping year-round.

In fact, since 2009, SDSU has been recognized as a “Tree Campus USA.” This national organization recognizes universities that establish and maintain a healthy tree community. This is also SDSU’s third year to be recognized as a “Bee Campus USA,” which recognizes universities that establish and maintain quality pollinator habitats.

Trees are critical to a healthy ecosystem. They provide habitat for animals, offer shade on hot summer days and pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Throughout the one square mile of SDSU’s campus, you will find around 3,000 trees. Some are only a few years old, while others are as old as the university!

Diversity of tree species is equally as important to the number of trees, as it minimizes the risk should a disease spread through the area. With this in mind, SDSU Facilities and Services strategically plants a wide array of tree species and currently has approximately 85 different species planted.    

It’s not just trees that add to the campus landscaping ecosystem, though. Look across campus and you are bound to spot a native or pollinator plant. These plants are chosen for their longevity and positive benefit as wildlife habitat. Both maintain a functional ecosystem by offering food resources or habitat to insects, birds or mammals.

You’ll notice, too, that campus landscaping is covered with a thick layer of mulch, created from campus trees that had to be cut down. Not only does the mulch help reduce weeds and minimize water needs, but it also adds nutrients back to the soil as it slowly decomposes.

Furthermore, campus landscaping includes four bioswales and bioretention areas. Some of these areas look like general landscaping on the outside, but underneath they provide a natural way to remove pollutants from rainwater prior to entering storm sewer systems. Other areas appear as sunken turf and allow rainwater to collect, slow down and infiltrate to a certain extent.

The benefits of these stormwater best-management practices include: trapping coarse litter from entering waterways, slowing water velocity, reducing overall flow volumes and rates to storm sewer systems, creating unique ecosystems for plant and animal life and removing particulate pollution from the storm sewer system.

With multiple bioswales, seven acres of garden beds and around 3,000 trees on campus, SDSU finds sustainable landscaping a benefit not only to our campus, but the surrounding ecosystem.  We hope as spring comes around and flowers are in bloom, you can enjoy it, too.