The royal rubber tree, which grows in the grass next to Atlas, is at death’s door. Tree professor John Neighbour suspects it’s lonely.
The tree, a Eucommia ulmoides, was planted five years ago by the Dutch king Willem-Alexander. It is part of a worldwide network of UniversiTREES, which symbolizes ‘Wageningen’s bond with its alumni and other relations around the world’, according to the sign next to the tree.
The species originated in China, explains Neighbour, and now the tree is putting down roots in Dutch soil. ‘So it’s basically an exotic plant, and it stands there on its own. That means a big risk of loneliness. This is an increasing problem for international trees on campus, one that has unfortunately received too little attention to date.’
The King and Queen’s working visit two weeks ago was a missed opportunity
The Eucommia was chosen at the time for its climate-proof qualities, allowing it to thrive in the fluctuating hydrological conditions of the land surrounding Atlas. Then there was the fact that WUR has an extensive Chinese community, which it was thought would make the tree feel at home on campus.
But the result has been rather disappointing. The tree’s decline has not escaped the notice of the Executive Board either. Not surprising really given that their offices in Atlas look out on the royal tree. As a solution to the problem, departing rector magnificus Arthur Mol is considering further internationalization of the tree population on campus and more money for maintenance.
When asked to comment, Professor Neighbour applauds Mol’s plan but also points to the need for sufficient love and attention. ‘The King and Queen’s working visit to our region two weeks ago was a missed opportunity in that regard. Even a brief stop at the rubber tree would have done a world of good. A pity.’