Hollow Tree To Be Removed Sept. 6; Wood Will Be Salvaged in Student Sculptures

September 01, 2006
Sept. 1, 2006 -- Arborists will remove a dead Paulownia tree near Washington Hall on the University of Virginia Grounds on Sept. 6, at approximately 7:30 a.m.

The broad, hollow trunk, which was declared a safety hazard by Grounds Supervisor Richard M. Hopkins, has attracted the attention of the studio art students in Brooks Hall. Students from William H. Bennett’s sculpture class will be on hand when the tree is felled to select sections that they can incorporate into their work.

“We’re planning to knock down a tree a lot of people thought looked like art,” said Hopkins. “Now pieces of the tree to continue on as art.”

“It’s a special tree, part of the University,” said Bennett, an associate professor who teaches in Brooks Hall, near the Paulownia tree.

The tree has been dead more than 10 years, Hopkins said, and hollow almost as long. A locust tree had been growing up within the hollow trunk and was both supporting and destabilizing it.
The university’s arborists are uncomfortable with the Paulownia tree because “it is not attached to the ground,” Hopkins said. “You can push on it and it moves.”

Both the Paulownia and the locust have to be removed, since each cannot stand without the other. The locust has already been cut out.

Although pieces of the tree will soon become art, the tree itself carried its own piece of art for several years. When pruning the locust tree, arborist Jerry Brown used his chainsaw to carve a bear cub from one of the locust stumps.

 “I think it’s wonderful that the tree would have a life after being here as part of our community,” said Nancy A. Takahashi, a former member of the University’s Arboretum and Landscape Committee. “This is one of those trees that everyone embraces.”

In anticipation that the tree would one day be removed, another Paulownia was planted near Washington Hall in 1987 as a memorial tree for Thomas Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone.
“It was agreed that the tree should be a Paulownia planted as an understudy for the ancient specimen near Washington Hall,” read the Arboretum and Landscaping Committee’s minutes from its Feb. 3, 1987, meeting. Takahashi said another Paulownia tree stands near the east side of the Rotunda.

Paulownia trees, also known as emerald trees and sapphire trees, are fast growing. They have light-weight, strong wood used for moldings, cabinets, veneers, furniture and musical instruments. In Japan, a Paulownia tree is planted at the birth of a daughter and the wood is used for a wedding chest when she gets married.

The trees are native it China and were brought to the United States in 1834.