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A Tangled Tree

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
March 3, 2018

A Tangled Tree

Yesterday, a genuine New England Nor’easter struck, with phenomenal winds and drenching rain, but fortunately for the trees, no snow. This storm brought to mind one of our old Japanese red pines (Pinus densiflora 16536*C), collected by Charles Sprague Sargent (first director of the Arnold Arboretum) in 1892 in Japan. It bears the scars of previous battles with high winds and heavy wet snows.

DirectorsBlog3.3.2018_a tangled tree

I reached out to Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum, to see what might be in the records on this wonderful old specimen. He wrote that “it was damaged by snow in February of 1969, but suffered major damage in the April Fools’ Day Blizzard of 1997. The crooked form you see now is from the 20-yr old battle!” (And yes, we do keep amazing records on our roughly 15,000 accessioned woody plants.)

Many of the Arboretum’s oldest trees show the evidence of long-standing battles with nature’s fury. The loss of a main leader (axis) results in the sprouting of buds that attempt to reestablish the tree’s journey skyward. Often, what results is a knot-like thicket of new shoots, as in this case. And the best time to see and reflect on the constant battle between tree and nature is now, when the leaves are off. So, take a walk in the Arboretum and look up!

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