One of the most historic trees in the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden has had a major adjustment to its story.
Dawn Redwood, a beloved tree that was planted on MSU’s campus in 1954, was trimmed at its top by more than 20 feet Tuesday morning, when a major crack was discovered after the tree was struck by lightning a couple of years ago.
This historic tree came from a Chinese forester in 1940 who founded and distributed the seeds to university parks directors, including then-director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University Donald Wyman and then-Campus Parks and Planning Director Milton Baron.
It is one of the original trees grown from seeds gathered during a joint expedition to China by the Arnold Arboretum, Chinese professor Wan Chun Cheng and Hu Xiansu, founder of the Lushan Botanical Garden.
Assistant Curator of the Beal Botanical Garden Peter Carrington said the same tree seeds that were found and brought from China have been spread amongst 77 institutions around the world, partly to see if they would grow elsewhere.
“They were found in two little joining valleys in China and our tree comes from up there extensively,” Carrington said.
Carrington said the Dawn Redwood is one of those batches from the very first pouch from China and today the species is quite popular around the world and on campus.
“This is the oldest, the tallest, the original tree that came directly from the Arnold Arboretum,” Frank Telewski, director of the garden, said. “The history behind this tree is really fascinating.”
Telewski said a few years ago he noticed how tall the tree had grown and knew it could be damaged by lightning at any moment, so he requested that lightning protection be installed at the top of the tree, but he soon found out that it was too late.
The Bartlett Tree Experts told Telewski it had already been struck and there was a slight crack, which later decayed over time.
This fall, Telewski said he saw daylight peeking through the crack of the tree, and he realized something needed to be done before there was severe damage.
“I was very hesitant, and I was very skeptical of how bad things were,” Telewski said.
Campus Arborist Paul Swartz said in an email, this wasn’t a very difficult decision to be made because there weren’t any other options and the next high wind or ice storm would’ve broken it.
“We are trying to be proactive here, so by taking this out we’re going to reduce the probability of further damage,” Telewski said. “Hopefully it’ll recover and maybe even send up a new leader and maybe regain some of its original grandeur over time.”
Carrington said they aren’t sure how tall the tree could possibly grow, because the oldest known in China is still growing by 3 feet a year.
“Until the tree does kind of try to recover, it’s going to look a little funky, but it’ll still be a tree. It’ll still be that tree,” Telewski said.
Telewski said they’ve always cherished this tree and they make sure of teaching every group of children or people that tour the garden, the story of Dawn Redwood.
“A lot of people in this community love this tree and they know this tree,” he said. “We’re very very sensitive to it, we’re very aware of this and we don’t make these decisions lightly.”
As the director, Telewski said it hurt the staff to make the decision, but they didn’t want to lose the tree all together.
“Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever,” he said.
Telewski said they want the tree to last as long as possible for future generations of Spartans to know the story of the great exploration from China.
“Even after it is trimmed, it will still be a spectacular tree and a wonderful addition to the history of this university,” he said.
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