“That was not nice. That was just mean and malicious,” said Rosie Kennedy, 46, as she stood looking at the aftermath of the carnage on West End Avenue and West 103rd Street. Kennedy returned from Miami this Thursday morning to the sight of a memorial on the sidewalk in front of her building. Touching messages and poems were posted about the victim, who had suffered what is likely a fatal injury. A white tape that read “Police Line—Do Not Cross” lined the crime scene.
The crime? A ten-year-old Ginkgo tree was hacked on March 24th, causing anger, outrage, and sorrow among the neighborhood residents. Kennedy, for one, an 18-year resident of the neighborhood, called the incident “an act of violence.”
An offender scythed a huge layer of bark off the Ginkgo tree, exposing almost a foot of its interior, and leaving it permanently damaged. The injury to the cambium tissue, which is responsible for a trees growth and development, has been fatal, according to the Parks Department, though some neighbors still hold out hope.
The act has not only angered residents, but also caused them to take action. They have notified the police and park authorities, invited experts to find ways to try to salvage the tree, and are hopeful of bringing the culprit to justice.
Paul Diamond, 48, noticed the massacre right away and was saddened. “Who could be angry at a tree?” he asked. “I don’t even want to know, because once you understand something like this, you become a little like the person who does them.”
“I was appalled. I mean look at it. It’s just sad,” said Howard Stoker, 57. “Have you heard of anyone killing a tree? It’s an all-time low. I guess you get to see everything in New York City.”
The surveillance video from the camera on a neighboring building shows a hooded man coming out of building 872 and chiseling away at the tree bark, said Stoker. Some residents have posted details from the surveillance video, and speculated about the identity of the perpetrator.
Stoker, however, does not think that’s a good idea. “Leave it to the professionals to find out the truth. People shouldn’t be speculating,” he said. Although Stoker can understand the resident’s anger, he feels some of the comments are a “little hostile.”
As for the reason for trying to kill a young, healthy tree, residents have a theory. Some of them said that the tree was attacked because it is a female Ginkgo, whose fruit gives out a pungent smell. Stoker bent down over the tree box around the Ginkgo and brought up a fallen fruit. “Not many people like the smell,” he said.
It’s become a symbol in the neighborhood, said Laura Doty, 60, “a symbol for conservation, for trying to save something that’s beautiful.” Doty, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years, said she has a personal attachment to the tree, which is right in front of her building door. “I love this tree in particular,” Doty said. “I like its form and the way its branches split. It looks so graceful.”
She has a friend on the Parks Board and is trying to pursue them to take quick action, Doty said. “They have to do it right away if they want to save the tree.”
Sam Biederman, from the Parks Department, said that the tree was “irreparably damaged.” Biederman added that the Parks Department plans to replace the tree. “Upper West Siders can expect a new tree by fall,” she said.
Officer Steven Jones of the 24th Precinct said that the criminal investigation has been handed over to the Parks Department. Damaging a tree is illegal and a punishable offense.
Castello Caldwell, who owns Costello’s City Gardens, just around the corner from the crime scene, built a tree box around the Ginkgo tree six years ago. Caldwell, who also runs a dog walking service, did not want the trees to be exposed to the canine’s urine, which he said was harmful to trees. “I was hurt to see someone chop at a tree like they did,” he said. “This was a deliberate act to wound the tree and kill it eventually.”
But he is determined to do all that he can to save the tree. He intends to start a grafting procedure by inserting small strips of bark at the section where the tree was chopped off, holding them together with tape, which will protect the wounded area from sunlight and wind. This, he said, will help the disconnected sections join together and keep the supply of nutrients flowing through the bark. If the procedure proves successful, the wound will be healed in a month, said Caldwell.
For the moment, though, Caldwell’s efforts have been stalled by the red tape that is the byproduct of a crime scene. Caldwell, along with a fellow resident, John Charger, has put in a request with the parks authorities to allow them to start work immediately, because time is critical, said Caldwell.
Caldwell is optimistic about the results. “I don’t think the tree is dead. And why not try and save anything that’s still standing and has some form of life. Why not?