Chain saws buzzed and the smell of evergreens hung in the air this week at Bayard Cutting Arboretum as workers chopped up dozens of trees felled by last weekend's nor'easter.
More than 60 big trees were knocked down at the Great River arboretum, including 20 classified as "rare specimens" - decades-old pines, firs and spruces from one of the largest collections of mature conifers in the United States. The storm toppled more trees there than any since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, according to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
This week, uprooted evergreens from Europe and Asia lay in pieces around the 690-acre grounds. Others leaned at perilous angles, like broken masts on a ship. Many downed trees were more than half a century old; some had stood 60 to 70 feet tall.
"This is a real sad story," arboretum director Joy Kaminsky said as she surveyed the damage earlier this week.
She pointed to a fallen black oak with a trunk nearly 4 feet in diameter and jagged roots. "With the supersaturated soils, this just blew over and crashed," she said. "It was at least 100 years old."
Winds clocked at up to 69 mph along the South Shore and upended some of the arboretum's tallest evergreens, many of them survivors of the 1985 hurricane.
The conifers took a bigger hit than their leafless neighbors because their needles act like kites to catch the wind, Kaminsky said.
Those trees with roots still in the ground will be righted and re-staked, unless they are near a footpath where they could pose a danger. But many are too far gone, destined for the chipper or the woodpile.
Such towering trees are difficult to replace because of their size and maturity, Kaminsky said.
Their branches spread broadly, unlike modern varieties bred for narrow suburban yards. Replacement trees will likely come from other arboretums or specialty nurseries.
The nor'easter is a setback for the arboretum. Hurricane Gloria had wiped out most of the original conifer collection planted by 19th century financier William Bayard Cutting. It knocked over an estimated 1,100 trees and felled the cicilian fir from Asia Minor that was Cutting's first acquisition.
But over the past 25 years many trees lost to the hurricane were replaced, and the grounds remain a special place for those who love evergreens.
"The mature trees at Bayard are unique in the country," said Ridge Goodwin, a founding member of the American Conifer Society. "They do have a magnificent collection."
Over the next week, arboretum staff will continue to inspect trees for damage. Kaminsky said more will likely face removal to ensure the safety of visitors who walk the paths and wooded trails there.
"On Sunday I was crying," Kaminsky said. "For an arborist, it was like losing a pet. You can't replace these; they're all one of a kind."
Among the fallen
Veitch Fir (2)
Scientific Name: Abies veitchii
Native to Japan, these trees have two-toned needles that are dark green on one side with chalky white bands underneath. This pair was planted 70 to 80 years ago; their gray trunks were so pale they appeared white in some lights.
Norway Spruce (5)
Scientific Name: Picea abies
More than 75 feet in height and 25 inches in diameter, these mature spruces towered over their neighbors at the arboretum's Holly Walk and lent the area a "woodland feeling," said Joy Kaminsky, aboretum director.
Hybrid Fir (3)
Scientific Name: Abies hybrida
Each was a one-of-a-kind hybrid with unique needle arrangements and coloring. Also planted in the 1930s or '40s.
Black Oak (1)
Scientific Name: Quercus velutina
Native to the Atlantic states, this oak was about 100 years old. Its trunk had a diameter of nearly 4 feet and its branches spread some 50 feet across, forming a canopy during leaf season with other trees at the arboretum's Oak Park.