Nor’easter exacts toll on Arboretum trees

March 5, 2018

Picea x notha 13406-A

Nor’easter exacts toll on Arboretum trees

Picea x notha 13406-A

An accession of Notha spruce (Picea x notha, AA 13406*A) was among more than 20 trees lost at the Arboretum in the March 2 winter storm. Image by William (Ned) Friedman.

The renowned tree collections at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University felt the impact of Winter Storm Riley, the nor’easter that slammed Boston and much of the East Coast on Friday March 2. Over 30 accessioned trees across the Arboretum’s 281 acres suffered major damage, prompting a rapid response over the weekend from Living Collections staff to assess, document, and mitigate the impact of the storm. By Saturday afternoon, 22 accessioned specimens—primarily comprising pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock species—were identified as losses that will require removal. In the aftermath, staff have mobilized to not only clear the debris, but also to collect and preserve the germplasm of the lost trees for renewal.

Strong winds with wind gusts exceeding 50 mph and more than two inches of rain pelted the collections through Friday and into the night. The arboricultural and horticultural staff that arrived on Saturday morning immediately fanned out through the landscape to take stock of the damage, and record their observations for the Arboretum’s plant records. Many plants suffered minor damage, and further field checks and cleanup will continue through the week. Although more than 20 Arboretum trees will need to be removed, several will first have budwood taken and preserved by staff in order to attempt repropagation of their lineages. Fortunately, due to their value, several of the trees affected had already been duplicated as clones in the Arboretum collections to preserve their lineages.

Two painful losses for Arboretum staff are beloved centenarian accessions of dragon spruce (Picea asperata) and Wilson spruce (Picea wilsonii), collected by famed Arboretum plant explorers Ernest Henry Wilson and William Purdom, respectively, on separate expeditions to China in 1910. Another tree of particular importance in the Arboretum’s long history of plant development and introduction—the nearly 50-year-old, original accession of the Donald Wyman crabapple (Malus ‘Donald Wyman’), selected by and named for the Arboretum’s famed propagator—was severely damaged, losing two of the three leaders ascending from its trunk. Though initially recommended for removal, further inspection suggests that the remaining leader and its supporting trunk are structurally sound, and the tree will survive though in greatly diminished form.

Fortunately, ongoing preventative care of the collections through routine pruning and deadwood removal prevented the storm from inflicting more extensive damage at the Arboretum. The trees that could not be salvaged will nonetheless live on through their rich documentation as Arboretum specimens, as well as through any repropagated scions preserved through staff recovery efforts. “While notable and startling,” wrote Keeper of the Collections Michael Dosmann, “such events of the weather convince me that these museum collections are anything but stable, dynamic in their responses to time and space. We must manage them accordingly.”

The following is a list of trees lost in the storm at the Arnold Arboretum, with links to their map locations. Click on the plant name beneath the map to access further curatorial information on each plant, including any available photos. If you would like to donate to the Living Collections Endowment to support the Arboretum’s work to document, remove, and repropagate these trees, please visit our online donation page, and select “Horticulture and Landscape” from the fund drop-down menu. Thank you for your help!

3 thoughts on “Nor’easter exacts toll on Arboretum trees

  1. Sooooo sad….. as a Morris Dancer for many many Springs At AA…. and a botany minor… this brings tears to my eyes!

  2. Every loss is a real loss. Is there a map where all the above losses can be seen on one map?

    I enjoy every opportunity to visit the arboretum and explore its many beauties! I have so many “favorite” spots, from the lilacs on Bussey Hill (of course!), to the majestic deciduous trees and Azalea Border along Valley Road, to Conifer Path… just to name a few top pics (the list could go on and on!!!).

    I thank God for the cathartic and healing properties of nature… and for Harvard University maintaining this treasure (the Arnold Arboretum) free and open to the public.

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