Arboretum torn from limb to limb

December 7, 2011 

Winds split the limbs of this Bodhi tree and ripped a bench from its bolts. Photo by Frank McDonough

Call it triage—or maybe, more accurately, “tree-age.”

Clean up crews at the Los Angeles County Arboretum &  Botanic Garden are just beginning to get a full sense of the destruction wreaked by last week’s raging windstorm. Home to some 10,000 species of plants, the 127-acre public garden in Arcadia lost hundreds of specimens, including a huge Bluegum eucalyptus planted in the 1880s.

“This is going to take weeks to assess—we still can’t get into some areas because we haven’t cleared them,” said Superintendent Tim Phillips.  “We have a three-member curatorial team mapping the damage and they’ve been working until dark since Monday. And that’s just for the general overview.”

Philips said that although “entire collections have been severely damaged”—including the garden’s iconic Ear Pod trees—there also were some spirit-lifting surprises.

“We have a native population of Engelmann oaks, which are the most northerly stand inCalifornia. The winds came down right over them and they came out unscathed,” Philips said.

The once-perfectly manicured grounds, now coated with limbs, leaves and debris, remain closed to the public. Arboretum officials said it will take at least two weeks before a small section of the grounds can be reopened. They expect that the place won’t be restored entirely until next year. Progress updates will be posted on the arboretum’s website.

Arboretum officials are appealing for the public’s help in restoring the grounds through a fund-raising drive that represents “the single biggest tree planting campaign in the institution’s history.”

“The most important thing folks can do is to help us replant the Arboretum,” said Chief Executive Officer Richard Schulhof, who expects the initiative to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“Many of the trees we lost were planted 50 years ago at the time of our founding. Now we have to plant the next generation.”

Fortunately, he said, the storm arrived just as the Arboretum had completed a strategic plan to update and improve the gardens.  Prior to last week, he said, there wasn’t much room for new installations.

Now, Schulhof said, the staff can increase the gardens’ focus on water conservation and gardening within the Southern California climate and maybe create new spaces featuring drought-resistant plants or lawn alternatives.

“It’s heartbreaking, but it’s also a godsend,” said botanical information consultant Frank McDonough, who has been photographing and helping inventory the damage. “This will allow us to curate more items, and curate with a policy that reflects the needs of L.A.” (Click here to see a gallery of McDonough’s pictures.)

McDonough said the windstorm was a reminder “that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

CEO Schulhof agreed

“There was a pink trumpet tree that was in just the most ideal location,” he recalled sadly. “It created a perfect vista in one part of the Arboretum. It was one of my favorites, and that tree got knocked down.

“But there are many wonderful specimens that survived. I’m looking at one now, a Philippine species of eucalyptus. It’s probably the greatest specimen of its kind in California, and here it is, still standing. Tall and beautiful.”

The windstorm damaged thousands of specimens at the Arboretum. Photo by Frank McDonough

Posted 12/7/11

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