Willow Pond2 6-8-04

The black cherry tree overlooked Willow Pond at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

On February 21st, the buzz of chainsaws bustled the quiet landscape at Matthaei Botanical Gardens–removal of the landmark black cherry tree near Willow Pond was underway. This tree served our community with grace and beauty for over 120 years.
“This tree, and other native cherry species, serve as host plants for over 400 species of butterfly, moths, and caterpillars in the Ann Arbor area (see Native Plant Finder).” Associate curator Michael Kost said.

Young black cherry anchoring the slope of Willow Pond.

“I have seen artists painting pictures of Willow pond under the shade of this tree. When teaching folks about trees, black cherry is one of my favorites to highlight the characteristic “burnt potato chip” bark. I miss this tree already.” recalled natural areas manager Steven Parrish.
“I really did love that tree,” Parrish continued. “Looking at the massive logs and the beautiful wood now outside my window, I still see a tree that is regal in its own right. The enormous stump is like a low table, and I imagine many children will use it just that way, or as a step or a platform for a play…still beautiful, still loved.”
“For many years the tree valiantly withstood advancing decay, storm and insect damage while continuing to serve the needs of countless pollinators, caterpillars and birds.

Time-lapsed video of the black cherry being removed. Video: Steven Parrish.

Unfortunately, time and the trials of life have caught up with this monarch tree and its structure has been compromised to a point of making it a hazard to any who would be drawn close to admire it and stand in its shade–at long last necessitating its removal.” Collections specialist Tom O’Dell explained.

The trunk of the black cherry has been withstanding decay for years. Photo: Steven Parrish.


Cross-section of the black cherry’s stump. Photo: Steven Parrish.

“I and many many others have truly loved this tree, and it was heartbreaking to see her go. But I have to say, the crew that took her down, Guardian Tree Experts, did so with such care, such patience, such respect. I am so grateful to them for that. They did honor her in that way.” Youth education coordinator Elizabeth Glynn said.

Guardian Tree Experts hooked themselves up to a crane to saw the massive tree into manageable pieces. Photo: Katie Stannard.


Progress photo of the removal. Photo: Katie Stannard.

Willow Pond is a natural welcome center for visitors at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Encircled by the main drive and most readily accessed from the parking lots, the black cherry’s natural community is explored by thousands every year. Youth groups, led by Glynn, often used the old cherry tree as a specimen for hands-on learning.
“Many stories were told about her to school age children, and we used her bark, scar, decomposing inner trunk, leaves, buds and sap to describe the processes of life. 
We pulled sticky bits of a golden resin from insect damaged bark, scraped fingernails against the inner scar and wondered about this tree’s life.
We never got all the answers–there were so many questions and it’s like she just let us push and pull, and wrap ourselves around her, pick up her leaves and peel just the tiniest bit of bark off. We circled her with arms outstretched 4-6 kids at a time to marvel at her girth and beauty, faces upturned to look into the branches and leaves.” Glynn recalled.

Black cherry blooms.


Kids wrap their arms around the trunk of the black cherry to gauge its size.

“Although I’m sad to lose this beautiful tree, I take great comfort in knowing that it’s replacement is a white oak, my favorite tree!” Associate curator Kost remarked. “May this young white oak grow to become massive, providing shade to our visitors and sustenance and shelter of hundreds of species of caterpillars!”