Hey, great trees of Long Island, it’s time for your big bough.
In celebration of Arbor Day Friday, April 28, we asked local arborists and horticulturalists to tell us about the noblest leafy giants that have captured the imagination for their longevity, beauty and significance to local history. Here they are, from Oyster Bay to Orient.
LOCATION Old Westbury Gardens, outside the west porch of Westbury House
AGE 170-plus years
HISTORY The American beech was already a mature specimen of 65 years old when the Phipps family purchased it in 1910 from Hicks in Westbury. Its roots were wrapped in wet fabric and it was transplanted to their estate. Nowadays, garden tours start under the beloved tree’s shade. “It’s at least 50 feet tall, but what’s most impressive is the diameter,” says Maura Brush, Old Westbury Gardens’ director of horticulture.
The Buttonwood Tree
LOCATION North side of Main Road at Youngs Road, across from The Candyman sweet shop in Orient.
AGE 240+ years
HISTORY This stately sycamore was a sapling when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It survived the American Revolution and went on to become a landmark, although not for anything particularly historic in a village known for preserving antiquity. “The people of Orient just love their old stuff, and everybody recognizes that the tree has been there since forever,” says Town of Southold historian Amy Folk. “Occasionally, someone will decorate it with a little American flag.”
SPECIES European weeping beech
LOCATION Great lawn behind the manor house, Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Great River.
AGE Over 100 years
HISTORY Planted by the Cutting family in the early 1900s, when the European beech sprouted on many a grand estate lawn, it now stands 60 feet wide at the base, and is circled by a 3-foot walkway. It’s said that temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees cooler under its canopy than on the adjacent arboretum grounds. The original tree was planted by the Cuttings, who had their own greenhouse and purchased plant material from the great horticulture explorers of the Gilded Age, says Nelson Sterner, arboretum director. As the tree aged, branches touched the ground and rooted, so now the original trunk is surrounded by multiple other trunks, Sterner said.
The Dawn Redwood
LOCATION Bailey Arboretum, Lattingtown, just off the walkway leading from the main entrance driveway to Bailey House.
AGE About 67 years
HISTORY At more than 100 feet tall, with a 27-foot-wide trunk, it’s the largest of the dawn redwoods on the arboretum grounds. It’s also a survivor. Dawn redwoods had been believed extinct until a 1941 Harvard University-sponsored exhibition found living specimens in Szechuan, China, and distributed their seeds to botanical gardens around the United States. The Bailey seeds were planted around 1950, says superintendent Michael Maron.
The Big White Oak
SPECIES White oak
LOCATION Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Oyster Bay. In the formal gardens near the rose garden and perennial border, just west of the main greenhouse and south of Coe Hall.
AGE About 300 years
HISTORY The largest and oldest tree on the 409-acre arboretum property, it started out as part of the forest. It became “a landscape tree” during the Planting Fields estate era, says Vincent Simeone, a horticulturist and the director of the state park. “It has survived every storm. It’s a very noble-looking tree, very stately, and just dominates the landscape around it.” he says. “Oak trees are among the most important hardwood trees in our forests, and this tree is a wonderful representation of this species.”
Readers’ choice: West Babylon landmark
Several Newsday readers answered our call for suggestions about noteworthy trees on Long Island, pointing out specimens revered for their size, foliage or overall grandeur.
The most nominated tree: A (very) giant beech, pictured, that graces the corner of Great East Neck Road and Southard Avenue in West Babylon, its branches arching over the roadways.
Susan Duffin of Cutchogue notes a copper beech in the center of Cutchogue Cemetery.
Landscape artist Joseph Finchum likes to paint a well-branched tree that’s on the corner of Islip Avenue (Route 111) and Alkier Street in Brentwood.