If ideas were as visible as Cleveland Hall’s Ficus elastica, WSU would be a jungle.
The India rubber tree, to use its common name, began as a potted plant when the College of Education’s Pullman building was dedicated in 1962. It now fills three stories of stairwell and, no doubt, has taken root in the memories of many students and employees.
“It really is unique on campus,” said Charles Cody, plant growth facilities manager for biological sciences. “For that matter, I can’t think of any other building I’ve been in, besides conservatories, that have 40-foot plants in them that are 45 years old.”
The tree sits on the ground floor, and extends up through the first floor to the ceiling of the second. Cody began taking care of it in 1987 at the request of Bob Harder, then associate dean of the college. He knew that Cody would be visiting Cleveland Hall to tend an assortment of plants that were to be kept there while a new greenhouse was completed at Abelson Hall.
It was George Brain who initially nurtured the stairwell plant. Brain was dean of the College of Education from 1965 to 1983.
“He watered it and babied it along,” recalled Harder, now director emeritus of international programs.
The tree owes its size to proper irrigation and fertilization, as well as excellent light that comes through the massive south-facing windows. Its glossy leaves occasionally reach out to touch people on the stairs.
When Cody trims it, he has to make sure no one is sitting at the café tables below, because the cut stems drip gobs of gooey fluid. Despite that sticky characteristic, the plant is not a real rubber tree. It is a member of the mulberry family, Cody said. True rubber plants (Hevea brasiliensis) are in the same botanical family as poinsettias.
The greenhouse plants moved to Cleveland Hall in 1987 have become permanent residents, thriving in the bright hallways. They remain part of the biological sciences collection. All are properly labeled and available to botany and horticulture students who need samples.
As for the Ficus elastica, Cody said it would grow all the way to the ceiling of the third (and top) floor if the College of Education decides — for a second time — to extend the metal pipe that supports it.