The 35 students and staff who planted 80 trees around Mesa Court earlier this year did more than ensure shade for generations of Anteaters to come. They also validated UC Irvine’s designation as a Tree Campus USA.

Launched in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota, the title honors colleges and universities nationwide committed to healthy urban forestry. UC Irvine has earned it three years running now.

Freshman Tania Lizbet Garcia, who lives in Mesa Court, was among those who fanned out across the greenbelt with shovels and water buckets. She said she appreciates the more than 24,000 trees that beautify the campus.

“I grew up in Los Angeles in a neighborhood where there aren’t many trees or anything green,” Garcia said, carefully tilling the soil – as instructed – to avoid covering the root ball of the Chinese elm she was planting. “So I would do anything to help places like UC Irvine save their amazing, natural environments.”

The goal of such projects in student housing areas is to reduce the warming effect of asphalt parking lots and concentrated islands of human activity, said UC Irvine’s Matthew Deines, an associate planner in Environmental Planning & Sustainability. Resident comfort is also enhanced by planting deciduous trees near buildings; summer leaves provide shade, while bare winter limbs allow more sunlight penetration.

Tree planting and other student service/learning efforts are among the Tree Campus USA qualifications. Others include convening a tree advisory committee, developing a campus tree care plan, and organizing an Arbor Day observance.

The Shadetree Partnership is one of the unique programs at UC Irvine. It plants small trees on public land, where they’re carefully tended and then donated to worthy sites. The Irvine Ranch Water District operates a Shadetree nursery on campus.

All this attention to trees does not go unnoticed by students, faculty and staff, who spend countless hours studying, lounging and even sleeping under leafy canopies. There are more than 53 varieties of trees and shrubs in Aldrich Park alone.

And UC Irvine is not finished yet. The planting of the 500th tree in student housing will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday, April 26, at Middle Earth – with Thomas Parham, vice chancellor of student affairs, wielding the shovel.