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Why was the oldest tree on the
Smith campus taken down?
On August 2, 2006 a storm hit Northampton. Springfield sustained millions of dollars in damage from downed trees. At Smith College, the oldest (we think?) tree on campus sustained significant damage when a huge limb broke off and hit the one below it, breaking it off. The tree is located near Tyler Annex across from the College Club. The limb was so heavy and long that it broke off a limb of an elm tree across the street. Fortunately, this was in the early morning hours when no one was present. Three independent arborists were sent in to examine and test the tree.

Unfortunately, it was not just the broken limbs that were an issue. The tree has several other limbs with significant interior rot. This was confirmed with a resistograph that measures wood density. The section over the College Club is very weak and the cable is stretched, indicating it is now supporting the limb. Tree cables are only intended to prevent excessive sway and unify the crown movement in high winds. They cannot support the weight of the limb. Additionally, a new crack was discovered where the major limbs fork off the trunk, indicating a split is starting in the main trunk. Unlike other species, oaks can look quite healthy when in a decline. Their wood is so strong that limbs remain on until the internal rot is extensive.

Given all of these indicators, it was concluded that the tree is a high hazard, especially being located on College Lane near two buildings, a busy road, and sidewalks. The decision to remove the tree was not one of cost-saving (the take down will cost more than any repair), but was made for safety concerns. Oak wood is extremely heavy and a large limb drop could be catastrophic. If standing in a field, the tree might have lived many more decades with limbs falling now and then until the entire tree rotted away. But this declining tree is not in an isolated field where limb drop has no consequence to humans. It is on a vibrant campus where faculty, staff, and students are ever present.

August 3, 2006
August 3, 2006
August 3, 2006

The campus landscape is often a stressful environment for tree health. We should let this tree remind us that if we wish to have large trees on campus we should do all that is possible to limit the amount of stress a tree receives. Stresses include soil compaction, construction, excavation, and foot traffic as well as drought and disease.

More information on Smith trees and tree health will be in an upcoming NewsSmith and in the next edition of the Botanic Garden News.

Michael Marcotrigiano,
Director, Smith College Botanic Garden


©2002, The Botanic Garden of Smith College
Northampton MA 01063
(413) 585-2740

Smith College

Last updated on Friday, September 01, 2006.