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August 16, 2006

One of Smith College's Oldest Trees Deemed Unsafe, Must Be Removed

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Three independent arborists have determined a northern red oak tree (Quercus rubra) located on the Smith College campus is a safety hazard and must be removed.

The tree, estimated to be about 200 years old, is scheduled to be cut down Aug. 21 beginning at 7 a.m. Considering its size—92 feet tall (more than seven stories high), with a 120-foot crown and a trunk diameter of more than five feet—the northern red oak is expected to require one full day to remove.

Arborists evaluated the tree, which is located along a main thoroughfare on the Smith College campus, after it suffered damage during a recent storm. A few of its largest limbs, those that stretch over College Lane, as well as the Smith Club and Tyler Annex, are severely rotted.

“This is a sad day for the Botanic Garden and the town,” said Michael Marcotrigiano, director of the Botanic Garden and Lyman Plant House. “This tree predated Smith College’s founding and was likely present well before Smith was even an idea.”

Arborists used a resistograph—a drill that measures open cavities in limbs—to locate several rotten cavities in the northern red oak, some of which likely resulted from poor techniques used to remove limbs several decades ago, Marcotrigiano said.

Cables that were once installed to assist the tree in swaying uniformly in the wind, now instead support the limbs, according to Marcotrigiano. Removal of the limbs will be technically difficult because of their proximity to the buildings and the fact that they may shatter during the process.

The tree is listed in the Botanic Garden’s campus guide to beautiful and unusual trees and is noted for its reddish wood and leaves that turn red in the fall.

Marcotrigiano is working with other college officials to determine a way to salvage the base of the northern red oak, which remains in good condition.

Once it is cut, arborists are expected to officially determine the age of the northern red oak by the number of rings in its trunk. Although there are no records to confirm the next oldest tree on campus, the most likely candidates are an American elm on Chapin lawn and a gingko near Lanning Fountain.

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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