Magill walk oak to survive attack by Ernesto

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Many students arrived on campus last weekend to the sad sight of a badly damaged tree in front of Parrish, at the top of Magill Walk. The remnants of Tropical Depression Ernesto were the immediate cause, but they were not the only factor, nor was this the first tree on the walk to suffer damage.

A large limb broke off from the swamp white oak tree on Friday night, completely blocking the walk only a few yards from its upper end at the steps of Parrish. The area was roped off on Saturday, and the branches were removed from the ground on Sunday.

The combination of rain and strong winds coming from the east proved fatal for one of the tree’s limbs, according to Jeff Jacbo, the director of grounds and horticulture coordinator for the Scott Arboretum. “Coupled with the wind was wind-driven rain that wets the foliage and makes the tree heavier and more prone to gusting wind,” he said in an email.

In addition, the tree was already weakened by some internal rot, which was “evidenced by discolored (dark) wood as seen in pieces on the ground,” according to Scott Arboretum director Claire Sawyers, though the gusting wind was the primary cause.

The oak trees that line the walk are one of the college’s most memorable sights, and the Arboretum inspects them twice a year and prunes them every three years on a rotating schedule. “We have tested trees in the past, looking at their internal trunk structure if we are unsure of how much decay there is to help determine if or when we need to take them down,” Sawyers said.

This is not the first time the trees have taken a hit. Many trees closer to the train station were severely damaged in a storm in the 1970s, and several have been replanted over the years, always with the distinctive swamp white oak. The oldest, though, are well over 100 years old, Jacbo said.

The damaged tree “will probably never recover a graceful form, and the cut where this branch came off will be open to decay, but the tree could last for some years yet, ” Sawyers concluded.

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