Letter: After a century, a landmark tree comes down

Posted 8/11/21

A tree that has added beauty and grace to Chestnut Hill for over 100 years must be removed for safety reasons.

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Letter: After a century, a landmark tree comes down


A tree calms the spirit and enriches the soul, and we enjoy its beauty for many, many years……

In Chestnut Hill, we are lucky to have many, beautiful trees. Trees that shade us, calm us, beautify our parks and public spaces. Every tree has a life span in which they can intensify the beauty of the world around it. Now, a tree that has added beauty and grace to Chestnut Hill for over 100 years, must be removed, for safety reasons. 

This tree stands outside the Chestnut Hill Community Center at 8419 Germantown Avenue, and is an Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as the tree of heaven. The species is native to northern China and was brought to this country hundreds of years ago to be used in public areas, to provide shade in our cities, add character to our parks, and enhance our public spaces. During the 19th century, this tree was in strong demand for its ability to make a positive impact in the landscape. It adapted to different temperatures and environments and grew quickly, up to 5 feet a year. The tree acclimated well and was used for public walkways in large cities like Philadelphia and New York. Additionally, the Ailanthus altissima matures to almost 60 feet and lives an average of 75 years, though the tree on Germantown Avenue is over 100 years old.

Over time, however, problems arose, unknown at first, but well-known and common now. The Ailanthus altissima is weedy, invasive and does not last long in poor health. Its canopy is in decline. There is a large cavity in the trunk indicating rot and weakness, and the tree has been compromised in strength and stability.

After Paul W. Meyer, retired Director of the Morris Arboretum, expressed his concerns about the tree’s general health, dangerous state and safety issues, the CHCC Board of Directors voted reluctantly, but unanimously, to have the tree removed in mid August. There had been similar concerns about the tree earlier, from a structural engineer and a roofing contractor because of the tree’s encroachment on the 200 year old cellar foundation and portion of the roof, and these issues reinforced the need for immediate action.

While we are sad to see this tree removed, we must plan safely for the future. Together, we can celebrate this tree’s long life and the beauty it has given Chestnut Hill for many, many years.

Go with love and peace dear tree. We celebrate your beauty and thank you for all the years you have given us.  Here’s to you and to your memory!

Debra Malinics


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