She’ll live. It may not be pretty for a time, but the grande dame of Simsbury — the Pinchot Sycamore — will live.
During the recent storm, as soon as he could get out of his driveway, Bruce Powell knew where he had to go. As caretaker of the largest tree in Connecticut, Powell wanted to see what the storm had done to the tree he sometimes calls “the old girl.”
The Sunday after the storm when he and his wife made it to the tree, he said his wife’s jaw dropped. Powell turned to her and said “We can fix it.”
“They don’t deserve this,” he said recently as he surveyed the branch and brush strewn on the ground underneath the tree.
The tree, which he said is between 450 and 500 years old, made it through the flood in August fine. But with the amount of water retained in the trees and leaves and then the wet heavy snow on top it, it was too much for many to bear.
The root systems are saturated, said Powell. He knew the heaviness would take a toll, and it did. Across the sycamore tree parking lot is another sycamore he refers to as “papa” and nearby some smaller trees he calls the “kids.” If not calling her “the old girl,” or “grand citizen,” he also refers to the Pinchot Sycamore as “mama.” Papa and the kids were not damaged during the storm. Not like mama was.
“Mama” has cables scattered among her branches helping her stay together, as the tree has seen its share of age-related difficulties. Trees have life cycles but can and do regenerate, he said. His job is to encourage that rebirth and re-growth.
“It’s going to look ugly for a while, but I think it’s going to be OK,” said Powell.
When he says “ugly” he is referring to branches that will be lopped off in spots versus removed entirely. Called “rehabilitation cuts,” the cuts encourage the growth of offshoots, or what are called “secondary sucker growth.”
“That’s what we want to happen,” he said, adding by managing the “suckers” you can develop a new crown on the tree.
“All trees have this ability to do this,” he said.
Powell has met with town officials and said they are committed to doing whatever it takes to get the tree through this period. After the town removes the debris from below the tree, his company will come in and start making methodical cuts. He said that would happen within a month.
“Me as its caretaker and the company I work for, we’re committed to doing what we can,” he added.
Powell is a certified arborist with Windsor-based SavATree, whose name says it all, he said. Powell, a Simsbury resident, said on a scale of one to five, with five being the worst, he would put the damage to the tree somewhere between 2.5 to 3.5.
It takes a tree a long time to look like the Pinchot and it will take some time for her to recover, but she can, he said.
Powell said part of the caretaking regimen includes injecting bio stimulants into the root system to keep it strong. The ingredients include things like sea kelp. Strong roots make for a strong foundation. Just like a house needs a strong foundation, so does a tree.
“I know she’s got a great foundation,” said Powell.
The Pinchot’s roots probably go across some of the parking lot, down to the river and under the bridge, as well as going down as deep as four feet, he said.
“Roots are always seeking out new places for water, minerals and elements,” he said.
During one visit looking at the damage, Powell said he has walked around the tree’s 23-foot-7-inch circumference 100 times. He was at the site during rush hour and a constant stream of people who know him, or the tree or both shouted encouragement from their cars. “Take care of her,” someone yelled, “Bruce you have to save it,” said another.
“A lot of people care about this tree,” he said, noting that visitors have come from across the U.S. and around the world to see the tree, particularly arborists.
“We have a duty to take care of this old girl,” he said.