The University’s Central campus is home to more than 7,000 plants. It is, after all, part of Tree Town, better known as Ann Arbor.
One tree stands apart from all those: the Tappan Oak.
Jane Immonen, a University forestry specialist, said the Tappan Oak is considered to likely be the oldest on campus. It is also the tallest. While admitting that there’s no way to gauge a tree’s age without cutting it down, Immonen said the tree is probably about 300 years old.
The tree is located on the west side of the Hatcher Graduate Library. It has provided a source of tradition and controversy since its ceremonial transplant in the spring of 1858. It was placed there to honor the University’s first official president, Henry Tappan.
At first, the tree planting was meant to foster a tradition in which each graduate would transplant a sapling around the Tappan Oak. Many of those trees were removed in 1883 to make room for the new library. The custom was ended in 1961 because of growing class sizes.
In 2001, seniors resurrected the tradition by planting a single tree to commemorate their graduating class.
In 1902, the Tappan Oak became the meeting spot for Michiguama, the senior honor society that has only recently changed its name to Order of Angell. Michigamua came under fire in the last two decades because its rituals involved the appropriation of Native American imagery and artifacts. The name Michigamua was meant to sound like a fake Indian tribe.
The Michigamua initiation process was outlined in a poem written by former Michiguama members called “Ode to the Tappan Oak.”
The rites included having new members paint their faces red, donning stereotypical Native American garb and passing around what was referred to as a “peace pipe” while circling the Tappan Oak.
With the society having denounced and abandoned those rituals, the tree is more likely to be used as a shady spot to study than the setting for the rituals of secret societies.