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Christmas Tree With Long Local History Planted on Town Green

 

By Wiley Wood

Norfolk is a town that takes its trees seriously. In the nineteenth century, it endorsed a project to plant one of every native tree in Norfolk on the village green.

So when the town’s Christmas tree on the green across from the library started to show signs of needle rust two years ago, Town Hall took notice, consulted arborists and foresters and delegated the Community Association to find a replacement.

“It was quite sick,” says Joel Howard, co-chairman of the Community Association, a private nonprofit dedicated to the beautification of Norfolk’s public spaces. “It started dying from the bottom up. We had people coming to us saying ‘What’s wrong with the Christmas tree?’”

The association assigned Nash Pradhan, a horticulturist and the owner of Ginger Creek Nursery, to locate a suitable successor, preferably donated by a Norfolk landowner, and to oversee its planting on the green.

“It wasn’t so much a question of money,” says Howard, “because you have the expense of uprooting a tree and filling in the hole afterward. It’s more that we wanted to keep it local.”

Pradhan applied to Great Mountain Forest because of its long history of research and experiment with Christmas trees. Ted Childs, GMF’s founder, and Darrell Russ, its lead forester for many decades, shared a keen interest in evergreen species that might serve the Christmas tree market, collecting specimens from different parts of Europe and Asia for trial.

Great Mountain Forest, in turn, directed Pradhan to a plot of land along West Side Road where GMF had started a Christmas tree plantation in the 1960s. Scotch pines and Colorado blue spruces grew there, as did Turkish, Siberian and Manchurian firs—more than 25 species in all. Planted in the early 1990s and sheared annually until about 2010, most of the trees had grown too big to sell as Christmas trees.

In 2016, however, GMF had sold the plot on Westside Road to two abutting landowners, members of the Burr and Garside families. Both gave Pradhan their permission to scout the old plantation and take a tree for the village green.

Pradhan found a group of trees he thought promising and called on Russell Russ, GMF’s resident forester (and Darrell Russ’s son), to identify the species. A meticulous record keeper, Russ had made and kept a map of the plantings. The trees, he said, were King Boris firs (Abies borsii-regis), a species native to Bulgaria and the Balkans, where they can grow up to 90 feet in height.

“I wanted a native tree,” says Pradhan, “but what I found was one with a local angle.”

The chosen King Boris fir stood 16 feet tall and grew exactly on the property line between Garside and Burr land.

Russ was able to determine that it was planted from seed, that the seed had been collected by Darrel Russ in 1988 from a parent tree in GMF, and that the seedling had been transplanted to Westside Road in 1993, making it 29 years old today.

On May 16, while the stump of the old tree was being ground to dust, the new King Boris Christmas fir was inserted into the dirt of the village green by a 65-inch, truck-mounted tree spade, as Nash Pradhan and Joel Howard looked on.

About five years ago, the Community Association bought the new Christmas tree lights for the town. Last year, it renovated the pathways around the green and installed new benches by the war memorial. Supported by private donations, the association hopes this year to fix the fountain in Robertson Plaza.

“People are already saying to me, ‘Gee, the new tree is not as big as I thought it would be,’” says Howard, “but the reason it’s not bigger is that there’s more risk of stress for a bigger tree.”

Pradhan will truck in water to the tree during its first month, after which it will be left largely on its own—at least until Christmas.

Photo by Bruce Frisch.

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