The origins of Stanford’s “Tree” mascot

Michael Tao/Staff
Michael Tao/File
Michael Tao/Staff

Complete with ogling blue eyes, scarlet fish lips and tentacle-like leaf appendages, today’s Stanford mascot looks like a constipated squid struggling with dinner (note the frenetic footwork of the Cardinal peeking from the its underparts). The Tree, crowned with a tacky lei of fake roses, has made most onlookers scratch their heads. Seriously, is this the best Stanford can come up with? We at the Clog set out to find why Stanford would pick ever-threatening foliage as its mascot and why its mascot is just so damn awkward.

Because trees are not racist. From 1930 to 1972, the university’s mascot was the Indian. Stanford’s athletic website reports that “the Indian symbol was eventually dropped … following meetings between Stanford President Richard Lyman and native American students (who) felt the mascot was an insult to their culture and heritage.” Did Oski ever get embroiled in political controversy too? Nope! Since 1940, Berkeley’s mascot has enjoyed incredible consistency in being a lovable, costumed bear.

It could have been fast food. Eventually, the question of what would be Stanford’s mascot was put to a vote. “Beating out a steaming manhole and a giant french fry,” the Tree was the ultimate pick among Cardinals in a 1975 contest.

What do snakes taste like? Every February, Stanford students engage in “Tree Week” — an eclectic competition to win the honor of being the university’s sports mascot. Anything and everything is on the table, as Yahoo! News reports, “In the past, the panel — consisting of band members and the incumbent tree — has seen contestants like the one who covered his back with leeches (and) another that bit the head off a live snake.” ESPN features one successful mascot who tried “hang gliding from a campus tower … before staging a mock shooting … outside the band building.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Tree Week’s winner is tasked to make his or her own outfit from scratch because “there aren’t any permanent costumes.” But year after year, the result manages to consistently push the bar for disorienting the public and scaring dogs. Past Trees include, “a feminine redwood … made of several layers of tutu-like netting in various shades of green … (and one) Tree … wrapped himself in white and orange sheets— he was a giant piece of candy corn.” At sporting venues, the Tree jerks, jives, freestyles and routinely succumbs to seizures by itself as a way of conveying school spirit. Contrast this to Oski the Bear whose “goofy grin, high-stepping gait and clasped hands” is embraced by Cal Day visitors and Golden Bears alike. Literally. Whereas Stanford’s mascot insists on solo gigs to attract attention, Berkeley’s mascot doles out bear hugs in batches. And this doesn’t surprise us at all.