Sad state for Bristol's Sequoia trees


The unsightly appearance of the Bristol Town Common's four noble trees is drawing concern from town administrators and residents.

Standing at nearly 30 feet tall, each of the four Sequoia trees are losing their canopy on one side, creating a less-than-appealing view.

"The shame of the situation is that these gorgeous trees were planted, then we popped trees all around them," Walter Burke told town council members during a July 17 meeting. "So when a deciduous tree grows next to it, it's canopy creates shade. That shade creates fungus. It's poor planning and we need to do a better job."

Mr. Burke, the director of the town's parks and recreation  department, was tasked by the council to figure out why the trees looked unhealthy.

The trees were planted in 1992, one in each of the common's four corners, to replace the original noble trees planted Sept. 24, 1880. The noble trees honor the four founding fathers of Bristol - Nathaniel Oliver, Stephen Burton, Nathaniel Byfield, and John Walley.

The original trees were not Sequoia trees. When the movement came to replace the older noble trees, a committee was formed to undertake that task, which current council member Halsey Herreshoff was a part of.  The Sequoia was chosen because of its long lifespan, ability to combat parasites and withstand fire. It's one of the tallest trees in America.

Working with Chris Fletcher, managing arborist at F.A. Bartlett Tree Experts Company, Mr. Burke compiled a presentation addressing the state of the trees and possible solutions.

"The fungus is secondary and doesn't usually kill trees," Mr. Fletcher told council members. "I think we've already got it contained."

However, Mr. Fletcher stressed, the damaged canopy of the trees will not grow back.

"Most conifers lose their limbs as they get older," Mr. Fletcher said. "But these trees are losing them much faster because of the lack of moisture and sunlight due to the surrounding trees."

If the Sequoia trees outlive the surrounding trees, any aesthetic benefit will be seen by future generations 20 to 50 years from now, he said.

Mr. Fletcher suggested removing some of the surrounding trees in order to rectify the noble trees' appearance, but that act would not guarantee a positive outcome. Other suggestions were to remove all four Sequoia trees and replant new noble trees that weren't conifers; or to simply leave the trees where they are and "accept the fact that they will always look unbalanced."

"My concern with taking too many trees out, is that you're going to change the town common," said Councilwoman Mary Parella.

The council voted to keep the Sequoia trees and attempt to fix them. Burke will also provide the council with an aerial photo of the town common's trees, making it easier to decide which deciduous trees to remove, should that be the next step.

If any Sequoia tree needed to be removed and replaced, Mr. Fletcher said that decision would come before council members for action.



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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.