Beloved 'Sweetheart Tree' outside Chemistry Building to be replaced for safety

Any student who has taken a tour of the Indiana University Bloomington campus has at least heard of the "Sweetheart Tree" growing in the Chemistry Building courtyard. Many have carved their initials in the tree alongside their sweetheart's initials. But the beloved tree had to be removed recently because its declining health raised safety issues.

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Intitals of sweethearts carved into the tree in the Chemistry Building courtyard. Photo by Chris Meyer, IU Communcations

The American Beech tree has stood outside the Chemistry Building at least since it was constructed in 1931 and possibly longer. When subsequent expansions to the building were made in 1964 and 1986, architects built around the historic tree instead of removing it. Unfortunately, these conditions and years of carving into the bark may have contributed to the deterioration of the tree.

Mike Girvin, IU Landscape Services manager, and IU's team of three full-time arborists are dedicated to protecting trees on campus. But some trees just can't be saved, and protecting people takes priority.

"The number one reason we take down a tree is that that tree would be a primary hazard. And we actually use a whole protocol for taking down those trees," Girvin said in a Voices from the IU Bicentennial blog post. "They do an inspection report; they bore inside the tree. We do a lot of different things. We'll certainly try to save a tree. … we try to do everything we can to preserve."

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The American beech tree towers over the Chemistry Building. Photo by Chris Meyer, IU Communications

Although popular campus lore states that the Dunn family mandated the tree be protected as a condition for the sale of their family farm to become the new home for the IU Bloomington campus, there is in fact no stipulation of the sort in the actual deed to the land.

Removal of the tree from its home outside the Chemistry Building required it to be cut into many smaller pieces. IU experts are carefully examining the condition of the wood to see how much, if any, can be preserved. If sections of the trunk can be salvaged, they will try to determine the tree's age. No definite plans for using the tree's wood can be made until its condition is assessed.

A new American Beech will be planted in the tree's place after reconditioning of the soil and other building maintenance occurs.