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Buckeye roots grow deep AT UO.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

There are buckeyes in Eugene. And we're not talking about Ohio State University alumni, although there are some of those around, too.

We're talking about real buckeyes, the nutlike seeds that grow on the trees of the same name.

And they are - gasp! - on the University of Oregon campus.

"They're called buckeyes because it looks like the eye of a buck," said Phil Carroll, a UO groundskeeper, as he examined the golf ball-size dark brown nut he'd just scooped off the ground below the buckeye tree in front of the UO's Lillis Business Complex on East 13th Avenue. The nut does indeed look like the ogling eye of a deer.

The UO football team's upcoming rematch with Ohio State in the Rose Bowl - 52 years after the top-ranked Buckeyes beat the underdog Ducks, 10-7, in the Jan. 1, 1958, game - got Carroll, a tree nut and former president of the Eugene Tree Foundation, to thinking earlier this month about the history of the buckeye tree on campus.

One of Carroll's thoughts was this: "Wait a minute, Oregon lost that game. Why did (Ohio State) give us a tree?"

According to an article in the Oregon Daily Emerald on April 14, 1958 - the day after the tree was planted by UO football coach Len Casanova and some of his players from that year's Rose Bowl team - the now-60-foot-tall buckeye tree was a gift sent by Ohio Gov. William O'Neill.

A photo that ran on the front page of the Emerald shows Casanova with a shovel, dumping dirt around the buckeye sapling being held by quarterback Jack Crabtree, as a couple of other players and a UO cheerleader look on. But another image of the planting - in front of what was then Commonwealth Hall - in the UO's Special Collections & University Archives, includes a caption that says the tree was a gift from Ohio State president Novice Gail Fawcett, who "was so impressed with the way UO played that he sent the buckeye tree anyway." The caption also says that UO president O. Meredith Wilson bet a Douglas fir tree on the game.

Carroll, fascinated by the buckeye tree's history, unearthed these facts with the help of others on the UO grounds crew after the UO football team beat Oregon State on Dec. 3, thus earning the Rose Bowl bid and the rematch with Ohio State.

Carroll even contacted Ohio State to inquire about the fate of the Douglas fir tree sent to the Buckeye State. Is it still on the Ohio State campus more than five decades later?

If so, no one can find it.

Carroll spoke with Ohio State's public relations department, and exchanged e-mails with Stephen Volkmann, an Ohio State landscape architecture professor.

"They said they were looking, but that's been two weeks now," Carroll said on Tuesday.

Eugene tree expert Whitey Lueck has a theory.

"If they sent (a Douglas fir) from the west side of the Cascades, it probably didn't survive," Lueck said. A Douglas fir sapling from Eastern Oregon might be hardy enough to withstand Ohio's harsh winters and foreign soil conditions, but not one from Western Oregon, he said.

Carroll said the UO tree atlas, a listing of trees on campus, lists the buckeye tree as of the species Aesculus octandra, also known as the yellow buckeye, native to southeastern Ohio and so-called for its yellow leaves in the spring and summer. Ohio's state tree, designated in 1953, is Aesculus glabra, or the Ohio buckeye.

Buckeye trees are often confused with Aesculus hippocastanum, or the horsechestnut tree, a native of southeastern Europe. Horsechestnuts grow brown nuts similar to buckeyes.

There are a few other buckeye trees in Eugene, but they're California buckeyes, some of which grow in parts of Southern Oregon, Lueck said.

And European horsechestnut trees line Jefferson Street in Eugene between Seventh and 10th avenues. Those trees, thought to have been planted during World War I, are part of the Eugene Tree Foundation's Legacy Tree Program that Carroll helped start after moving here from Pennsylvania in 2001. The program is "a way to tell stories about Eugene over the years," Carroll said.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; A "tree nut" on the University of Oregon campus finds out about the history of a gift from Ohio State
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 26, 2009
Words:693
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