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By Eric Weld   Date: 8/2/11 Bookmark and Share

Not Easy Being a Tree at Smith

If you’ve taken a walk across the Smith campus lately, you may have noticed: a few trees that once dependably cast yawning, cool shadows across familiar walkways are now gone.

A towering oak tree behind Seelye Hall was recently felled due to extensive root decay.

The towering oak tree behind Seelye Hall, for example, was recently taken down because of extensive root decay, explains Jay Girard, landscape manager in the Botanic Garden. “About three quarters of the root system was decayed, which could be seen on the stump. A large limb fell in late June, hitting two staff vehicles, prompting the quick removal.”

And the elm tree standing tall in front of John M. Greene Hall had contracted Dutch Elm disease, necessitating its removal. “It declined very quickly and could not be saved,” says Girard.

Several other campus trees are being monitored and tested, and may be removed, Girard says, either due to disease, or the fact that they could become hazardous once they are past their prime healthy years.

A college campus, with multiple construction projects and unnatural settings, is generally not an ideal place for a tree to flourish, Girard explains. “Often, construction projects cannot avoid damaging roots. When roots are cut they can rot back into the trunk, and although the tree looks healthy its support wood is rotten, and the tree becomes a hazard, sometimes five to 20 years later.”

Also, he explains, when trees are planted amid lawns or near sidewalks—unlike their natural forest habitat—much of their biological support system is removed. “Also, we take away the debris, such as fallen leaves and dead weeds, that would replenish nutrients into the soil and regulate soil temperature. We take away the natural shade and strip the soil of symbiotic soil organisms. In short, the act of putting a tree in a landscape setting is somewhat stressful for the tree.”

On the other hand, a typical tree at Smith receives intense ongoing scrutiny and care from Botanic Garden and grounds professionals, such as Girard.

Botanic Garden arborists may have recently saved a towering, shade-casting elm in front of Chapin House. Though it may have contracted Dutch Elm disease, like the John M. Greene elm, Botanic Garden staff quickly took action and removed the infected portion and treated the tree with fungicide.

“We believe we have saved that elm for now,” says Girard.

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