The AUB community and administration has made a powerful statement of their commitment to the environment and preserving the greenery on campus by declaring the University grounds as a permanent botanic garden. The ceremony centered on West Hall, included a panel discussion, a display of live plant specimens, posters, illustrations, drawings, and photographs by faculty and students, followed by a night-time tour of some of AUB’s most significant trees.
Three years ago, a group of faculty, staff, alumni, and friends started working together within a committee to transform AUB campus into an Arboretum and Botanic Garden. The AUBotanic committee was formed to enrich the campus flora and tackle the increased stress on plants caused by decreased water availability, poor water quality, and increased building density. There are more than 2,500 botanic gardens in 165 countries around the world, but the Arab world is the area with the fewest per head of population. With this initiative, AUB is joining leading universities in the world that have engaged in similar initiatives to promote native plants and sustainability.
The ceremony was held during a week where 39 historic trees on University campus were lit in celebration. These are trees that were planted by presidents, faculty, and administrators on University campus. Banners were hanging on some tree specimens, telling the fascinating story of the trees, who planted it, and when. Founding Chair of AUBotanic and Professor of Landscape Horticulture, Dr. Salma NashabeTalhouk, said at the ceremony that the botanic garden initiative will be a historic milestone that will reflect in the future AUB’s environmental sense of commitment.
“Starting today, we will manage the campus so that every person that visits AUB will have a chance to learn about plants and their importance to our wellbeing,” said Talhouk. “We hope that our initiative will not only shape the future of the campus but also our students’. AUB campus is where bright young people spend the majority of their formative lives. The AUB botanic garden will serve as an excellent opportunity to sensitize our students to seek a more sustainable world.”
Serving Nature and Man
President Fadlo Khuri spoke of the beauty of the AUB campus and its prime location in time and space. “In this remarkable cultural landmark that is AUB, with its great heritage for the children of the Mediterranean and beyond, I think that it is very appropriate that it become a real botanic haven for thought and contemplation,” he said.
“This is a unique reflection point for us. We are undertaking a new campus masterplan in alignment with our campus academic strategic plan. We want to reinforce the remarkable heritage and nature of this magnificent campus by building our academic mission – our vitality for our student, faculty, and staff – in a way that is consonant with nature and to do that we need to understand the nature that we are privileged to live in.”
Director of the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Dr. Tony Miller, focused in his address on how botanic gardens serve man and nature and added that the innovation in AUB’s decision to convert its campus to a botanic garden, particularly important and appropriate in the center of a bustling capital. Dr. Miller had worked on similar projects in the Gulf States and Kabul.
Members of AUBotanic committee and academics, Drs. Nayla Al-Akl, Yaser Abunnasr, and Maria Abunnasr addressed the issue of providing the botanic garden with ecosystems services and discussed AUB’s position and future role as a model botanic garden. Director of SMEC and member of AUBotanic planning sub-committee, Dr. Tamer Amin, spoke about formal and informal learning opportunities that will result from this project for the community both within and outside AUB. Dr. Jala Makhzoumi spoke on how to match the botanic garden within the context of the overall landscape of the university.
The green setting of AUB was recognized earlier this year in photographer Guillaume de Laubier and French literature specialist Jean Serroy’s book “The Most Beautiful Universities in the World”. On its 150th year, AUB renews its vow to support the sustainability and prosperity of a campus that has not failed to charm its visitors over the years.