Plant Talk

Tulip Tree Allée Replanting Update

Posted in Garden News on January 22, 2021, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections at The New York Botanical Garden.

Illustration of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building ca. 1904

Library Building and Allée, ca. 1904; Archives of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

Last February, we shared with you information about the need to remove five trees from the historic Tulip Tree Allée. We let you know that planning for replanting was underway and promised to keep you informed of progress. I am writing to you today with an update.

The New York Botanical Garden is fortunate to have 30,000 beautiful trees in its gardens, living collections, and natural landscapes. Caring for these trees is a top institutional priority. The trees in the historic Allée, planted beginning in 1903, are the most intensively cared for trees at the Garden. We inspect and prune them regularly and installed lightning protection and cables to protect them from severe weather. As a direct result of this care, the tulip trees have thrived and exceeded their expected life span in an urban setting. However, Garden curators, working with outside specialists, determined that the five trees needed to be removed due to natural degeneration.

Those five trees were removed as planned last winter, and we have continued our work caring for the remaining trees in the Allée. Unfortunately, nature and time have continued to impact the Allée. Last summer, the celebrated mother tree—which had been preserved during the construction of the Library Building (1899–1901) and inspired the planting of the Allée—lost several large limbs, and the strong southeasterly winds of tropical storm Isaias tore branches from every tree in the Allée.

Concerned by the loss of trees last winter and the damage to the remaining trees this past summer, and recognizing that the remaining trees will continue to decline in spite of all the additional care they have been receiving, the Tulip Tree Allée Committee of the Garden’s Board of Trustees, which is overseeing plans for the Allée, decided that it is time to replant the Allée. This decision lays the groundwork that will ensure Garden visitors will be able to enjoy this historic Garden feature for the next century and beyond.

Landscape architect Laurie Olin has developed an elegant replanting plan. Replanting will begin this month, with the removal of four trees, including the tree most significantly damaged by Isaias, and the planting of 10 new tulip trees. Replanting will continue in 2022 with the removal and planting of four trees and in 2023 when six trees will be removed and seven will be planted. The plan will be completed in 2024 with the removal and planting of five trees. In the first three phases, the remaining mature trees will provide scale and balance. We will preserve the mother tree until it becomes necessary to remove it.

The project will also include necessary drainage and other site improvements, which will begin in the coming weeks. Irrigation will be installed for each new tree as it is planted.

Curator Deanna Curtis and I had the privilege last September of traveling to a regional nursery to select healthy, matching trees for the first phase of the planting and vigorous young trees for future phases. We are grateful to the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, which has funded the project, and to NYBG Trustee Robert A. Bartlett, Jr., who generously purchased the new trees.

I am grateful for the expertise, creativity, dedication, and vision of everyone involved in this process. Together, this team has transformed a story of loss into a story of hope.

Thank you for your continued support.

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