NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – When the director of the Botanic Garden is away from his telephone, callers hear a message encouraging them to “go out and plant a tree.”
With 378 trees on campus damaged by the October 2011 snowstorm – including about 50 that must be removed – there will be more planting than usual on campus this year.
“Normally our crew would be structurally pruning the trees now so that they are evenly balanced and resistant to damage,” said Michael Marcotrigiano, Botanic Garden director. “This year, it’s all repair work.”
The work of pruning the damaged trees and removing those that pose a safety risk is about 50 percent complete, according to Jay Girard, landscape manager. But, there is still much work to come. While Smith typically plants about a dozen new trees a year, that number will be closer to 70 in 2012.
Although snowstorms are a common occurrence on the New England campus, this storm resulted in a surprising amount of damage to trees that usually withstand harsh weather, said Marcotrigiano. Oak trees, which are the strongest wood, still had their leaves when the storm blew in and were particularly hard hit.
“A 110-year-old ginkgo lost a really big limb,” said Marcotrigiano, who now keeps the limb in his office as a reminder of the day. “I counted the rings. It was a limb that withstood 50 years of storms and snapped in this one.”
In the days following the storm, a group of students volunteered to help clean up the branches. Others took photos of all of the damaged trees, images that will go into the Botanic Garden database so that they can be a resource for others in the field.
“Years from now someone could call us and ask what variety of tree did the best in the storm,” said Marcotrigiano.
There have been some other positives related to this storm too. Since the pre-winter storm in October, the campus has not experienced any snowfall. That fact presents the ideal situation for the ongoing pruning operation, which often requires crews to climb the trees.
And, Smith escaped the worst scenario. Despite the fact students were on campus, no one was injured by falling tree limbs.
The Botanic Garden plans to distribute a list of Smith’s destroyed trees to nurseries to determine what can be replaced. An exact replacement may not be possible for some of the older trees, which are unusual varieties.
Marcotrigiano was in Providence, R.I., when the storm hit Northampton and learned of the damage through a phone call from his wife.
“I came the next morning and drove through campus,” Marcotrigiano said. “As I drove around every corner, I’d say ‘just don’t let it be that one.’ Luckily we didn’t lose any of the big oaks in front of Neilson Library.”
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