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Death of a Champion

Nature goes in cycles: spring to winter, chrysalis to butterfly, acorn to oak tree. We’re now seeing the end of a cycle of growth for our State Champion red oak tree, Quercus rubra. We don’t know how long this giant has stood, but it was already a bristle of huge branches when Stokes Hall was built in 1963.

The red oak at the start of Stokes Hall construction in 1963

The red oak at the start of Stokes Hall construction in 1963

This red oak was crowned a state champion, the largest known measured tree of its species, back in 2007 when it stood at 100 feet high and nearly 25 feet in circumference. It spread its leaves across 306 feet.
But now, old age and decay have caught up with it.

The State Champion red oak on a summer's day

The State Champion red oak on a summer’s day

We’ve measured the interior structure at the base with a Resistograph—basically a long needle—drilled into the wood to measure the density. The readout showed a huge cavity at the base, with only 4 to 5 inches of solid outer wood in spots. The central trunk cavity rose some 84 feet.

Arboretum Director Bill Astifan by the rotted oak

Arboretum Director Bill Astifan by the rotted oak

The decision was made; we had to remove this potentially hazardous monarch. The John B. Ward Tree contractors spent several days on the task. Some of the top branches removed by crane were good-size trees in themselves. Wood will be saved from several of the outer trunks to be milled and eventually recycled into furniture for the campus.
~ Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

The Color Continues

Look past the oranges, golds and reds of tree leaves and you’ll find other intense spots of color on campus this fall. Perennials show off in their own way—the royal purples of oak leaf hydrangea, the golden spikes of threadleaf bluestar, the lavender flowers of asters.

Encore azalea 'Autumn Princess'

Encore azalea ‘Autumn Princess’

A recent newcomer to the world of gardening are Encore azaleas, so-called because they’re repeat bloomers that flower from spring through fall. Several young cultivars are planted out on campus, including this ‘Autumn Princess’ on the west side of the fieldhouse.

Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides

And even some conifers get into the act. The dawn redwood, a native of China, loses all its needles each fall. But first, the thin needles turn golden brown and shimmer in the late afternoon sun on a November day.
~ Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

A Bountiful Harvest Saved

Dinner decorations in Founders Great Hall.

Dinner decorations in Founders Great Hall.

The word autumn in our part of the world often brings to mind the phrase “bountiful harvest” as in, “time to gather the corn, the beans, the squash” and other plants that we think of as all-American.
But a recent speaker at the annual Arboretum Association dinner in Founders Great Hall gave a glimpse of an autumn lost. An autumn of 200, even just 100, years ago when the variety of vegetables available was mind-boggling.
William Woys Weaver learned to save seeds like his Quaker grandfather before him, long before the word heirloom was linked to a food source. He earned a doctorate in food science and can rattle off the names and pedigrees of thousands of vegetables. Foods that would have been lost if it were not for his non-profit Roughwood Seed Collection.
At Haverford on a recent evening, he spun stories of the sweet Tutelo strawberry corn raised by Native Americans and shared with the Quakers, the fish pepper from the African American community, the Arbogast sugar pea no longer grown in France, South African melons and gluten-free sorghum from Mongolia.

William Woys Weaver autographs his latest book, "Dutch Treats."

William Woys Weaver autographs his latest book.

While this food historian, author, gardener and epicure has written 16 books and appeared on both Good Morning America and Julia Childs’ cooking show, he sees food as a “cultural artifact” and is passionate about bring back the seeds, and therefore the plants, so these recipes and traditions are not lost.
—Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

It’s time to plant !

Now that the scorcher of a summer is behind us, and we’ve had a week of rain, the Arboretum crews are out planting. Fall is a great time to get those shrubs and trees out of their plastic pots and into the ground while the soil is still warm to stimulate root growth and the air is cooler so the plant is under less stress.

Brandon Sickel '18, left, and horticulturist Mike Startup stake a newly planted swamp white oak along Walton Road.

Brandon Sickel ’18, left, and horticulturist Mike Startup stake a newly planted swamp white oak along Walton Road behind Stokes Hall.

Filling in an open spot in the allée of trees along Walton Road behind Stokes is a young Quercus bicolor, swamp white oak. Another oak, the bur oak Quercus macrocarpa, has been planted between Leeds Dorm and the Morris Infirmary to replace a tree that was in decline and removed this summer. The latter had been a gift in 1984 to honor John Gummere, class of 1920.

A young bur oak has plenty of room to grow behind Morris Infirmary.

A young bur oak has plenty of room to grow behind Morris Infirmary.

A special tree, the dawn redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides, now looks out over the Duck Pond from the north side of the skate house. This tree was planted in memory of former Haverford College President John (Jack) Coleman (1967-1977) before his memorial service on October 2.

A new dawn redwood was planted in memory of the late college president, Jack Coleman.

A new dawn redwood was planted in memory of the late college president, Jack Coleman.

~ Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

Best Job on Campus

Opal Bednarik '19, left,  helps Carol Wagner with the weeding.

Opal Bednarik ’19, left, helps Carol Wagner with weeding.

This fall’s bumper crop of student Arboretum workers is now pitching in. With class schedules and athletic practice times in place, we’ve been able to assign work hours for a full complement of students. Each is teamed to assist one of our three horticulturists—Carol Wagner, Charlie Jenkins and Mike Startup.

The first task has been simple: water, water and water again. The weeks of dry and usually hot weather have bumped up the need to water containers and young trees well into fall.
When the weather does cool down, the students will assist in planting spring bulbs, replacing tropicals from summer beds and containers with mums and perennials, and learning how to properly plant a tree.

Then comes the massive chore of raking all those falling leaves off open lawns. If a pause comes in that cleanup process, there will always be weeding!
~ Martha Van Artsdalen