A New Home for a Rare Tree

 

Written by Mari Farthing in the September 2013 Issue

Tree BranchesFor ten years, among a tangle of other trees and shrubberythriving in the red dirt of an abandoned nursery site, a rare tree waited patiently. Growing bigger and stronger, year after year, this rare Weeping Japanese Pagoda Tree reaches an impressive 13 feet tall with a 16-foot wide canopy.

This unique beauty was discovered when the plot of land just along the west side of I-35 was in the planning stages for building a new Mercy Health Center. Nobody knows how the tree came to be on the site or how it managed to grow to such an impressive size. Estimates put the age of the tree at anywhere from 20–100 years.

“Before the land was developed by the Mercy group, the city was working with them on tree preservation,” said Ryan Ochsner, City of Edmond Urban Forestry Coordinator. Before they even broke ground, there was a commitment by Mercy to include a nature preserve on the grounds of the new facility but the diversity of plant life came as a surprise to everyone involved. The site was opened to allow local organizations to adopt some of these unusual plants rather than simply bulldoze over them, and this led to the discovery of the rare tree.

Ochsner said he was first struck by the beauty of the tree. “I discovered how unique and relatively rare it is, to our area especially, once I identified exactly what kind of tree it was and did some research on it,” he explains. “This is a very rare species in the United States and I couldn’t find any to buy. They are available in China—much smaller trees, of course.” He knew this tree needed to find a home.

A Delicate Operation

Finding the right contractor to handle the safe removal of the tree proved to be a challenge. First, the tree would have to be hand-dug as it was too large to be machined. Luckily, a local contractor was located who was willing to do the work by hand and had also done this type of removal before. But that wasn’t the only challenge of this job.

After it was manually dug out, the tree was lifted out of the ground at the construction site using a crane to safely hoist the tree with minimal damage. “Finding a technique that would work on a tree of that size was tricky,” says Ochsner. “We drove pipes under the tree and lifted from there—a little bit of trial and error.”

The sheer size of the tree would also prove challenging during the transport. With the 16-foot wide canopy, the tree also boasted a root ball of about 14 feet wide. Transporting the massive tree down 33rd Street demanded a large, coordinated effort. “We worked with the local cable and electric utilities to lift lines, and the police came out to help direct traffic,” says Ochsner.

A New Home

Moving the treeThe Margaret Annis Boys Centennial Arboretum is at the south end of Bickham-Rudkin Park on 33rd between Boulevard and Bryant. While at the Arboretum, visitors may enjoy bird watching, a quiet walk in nature and a glimpse of the transplanted Weeping Japanese Pagoda tree.

It’s been nearly two years since the tree took that trek down 33rd Street to its new home in the arboretum, and by all accounts, the tree is thriving. According to Ochsner, “every year the tree is putting out new growth,” a sure sign that the new location was a good choice. Having this uncommon tree on open display is a wonderful opportunity for all to come and take a glimpse of a tree species not ordinarily found locally.

This Weeping Japanese Pagoda tree that nobody expected to find in the Oklahoma red dirt has become a metaphor for the strength and resiliency of our state and her people. Transplanted here, the tree has learned to adapt and thrive in our ever-changing climate—showing endurance and graceful beauty.

When asked about the future of the tree, Ochsner considers the question for a moment before answering. “It’s not uncommon for trees to live a hundred years, depending on species and care. With our investment in this one… we expect a long life for it.”

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