More than 20 large trees in the Arnold Arboretum came down or were severely damaged in the brutal Nor’easter on March 1, including several centenarians with important provenance. Most of the trees toppled by the winds had significant rot or underlying structural issues; it was only a matter of time. Like us, trees age, grow old, become less resilient to disease, and eventually succumb.
Immediately after the storm had passed, propagation and curatorial teams were out in force to decide which specimens would be re-propagated as rooted cuttings or grafts to maintain the germplasm (our plants with important provenance live on as genetic individuals forever). Horticultural crews then began the cleanup. A week on, you would be hard pressed to find evidence of these fallen trees in the Arboretum.
Before these trees disappeared, I visited the wounded and dead, looking at the rotted innards, marveling at the tortured forms. The Donald Wyman flowering crab apple on Peters Hill (23254*A, upper left, the original from which all others are descended) seemed as if a scene of crucifixion. A downed white pine (Pinus strobus, 709-2008*A, bottom) in the grove on the back side of Bussey Hill appeared like a slain dragon, felled among its still standing peers. And as I gazed at the broken and rotted base of the Wilson spruce (Picea wilsonii 7599*A) collected by William Purdom in 1910 in China, my eye caught the very center of the trunk where the growth rings converged – the decayed and rotted remnants of its first year of life as a sapling some 108 years ago.