West College Theme Houses Here along West College Avenue are three “theme houses,” where the student residents explore focused topics such as public health or dance, while enjoying themed activities beyond the classroom. Shading these homes is a magnificent grove of white oaks (Quercus alba).

White oak is a regal tree: stately and well-proportioned; elegant in its strips of light gray bark; its leaves pink when they emerge, then dark green, then purple-red in the fall; a long-lived tree adapted to many sites, soils, and climates; its finished wood both beautiful and durable.

Though appealing, this clustering of white oaks does have at least one drawback: a pest or disease that is successful against one tree could easily move on to the rest. Every monoculture shares this weakness; diverse ecosystems are simply more resilient. Think of the infamous Irish Potato Famine in the 1800s. One in eight people starved in Ireland and a million left the country. Why? In part because every Irish potato was identical genetically to the others, making them all susceptible to the same disease.

pine forest The pine plantations of the rural South, with their row upon row of identical-age trees, are quite different from natural forests. It’s the difference between simple and complex, sterile and rich, vulnerable and hardy. For obvious reasons, however, future residents of these theme houses are unlikely to see a truly diverse forest here on West College Avenue, with its profusion of plant and animal species, multilayered canopy, standing dead trees, and rotting logs on the ground.