This archway is dedicated to James Ross McCain, second president of Agnes Scott College. Look through the east window. It frames a large and beautiful American beech (Fagus grandifolia). The trunk and branches of this tree support a leafy crown, exposed to sunlight that provides needed energy. They also transport and store water and nutrients.
Distinguish between crown shape and branching structure. Shape differs from species to species and from individual to individual. This slow-growing, shade-tolerant tree has the symmetrical, oval crown and spreading branches that are typical of the beech family. Notice also that its dense crown has altered the shape of its younger neighbor to the south, a winged elm (Ulmus alata). This elm is bending southward over the lawn toward the available sunlight — we call this “phototropism.”
So shape differs, but tree structure is constant. In fact, we humans have long used the branching structure of trees to visualize relationships — not only among families, but also among languages, species, and even the liberal arts. In their essay “ReVisioning Trees,” Bonnie DeVarco and Eileen Clegg call the tree “history’s most enduring symbol.” It “demonstrates beautifully how our visual representations are shaped by human perception. We use shapes to visualize knowledge. These visualizations, in turn, shape the way we perceive the world.”