Photo: Vincent Verweij / Arlington County
The derecho storm of June 29 has taken down five notable trees already, and more may be on the way.
“I suspect we’ll have some others in the news yet to come,” said county natural resource specialist Greg Zell. “It’s obviously sad that these things go down.”
He said this week he will be walking the county looking at the various champion trees and taking an inventory of their health. There is the chance that some notable trees have fallen and they just have not been reported yet.
“The data might just end up confirming...that large trees in an urban area are at greater risk,” Zell said during a telephone interview last Friday.
Zell, who was employed by the county full-time for years, recently retired. He now works part-time. He was instrumental in creating the county’s list of “Champion” trees. These trees are the largest of their kind in the county or state.
The post oak that came down on N. 11th Street in Arlington was the state champion for that species. The southern red oak on the property of the county’s water treatment plant was a county champion. Three other centuries-old trees fell in Arlington National Cemetery. They were three of about 30 trees to fall, the cemetery reported in a press release.
The towering “George Washington Tree” at the water treatment plant, believed to date to the 1700s, was pruned back to about 30 feet high after the storm and will have just a few small branches remaining, the county reported last week. Designated a “heritage tree” by the county board in 2003 because it may have been surveyed by the first president, it had been in declining health for years, the county said. It had reached 130 feet tall, but other storms had shortened it to 80 feet and last year it lost a large limb.
Zell said that large, old trees in the county have the problem that any tree on the edge of a forest would have. It is exposed more to the weather.
On top of that, the county is hardscaped now, so the water cannot soak into the ground where a large tree’s roots could get it. Plus, this year’s heat and little spring rain have stressed old trees.
“A combination of all these factors, sort of makes it a bit risky to be a big tree,” Zell said.
He said he missed much of the storm as he was out of town, but when he came back he was shocked at how many trees broke halfway up the trunk, rather than pulling the roots out of the ground. That indicated dry ground and a fierce storm.
Zell said, “Hopefully, this was rare.”