Warrens Silk Cotton Tree – Gov’t Made Right Decision: Article & Photos by Dr John L. Webster

Let it be noted, on Monday 12th December 2011, {Dr John L. Webster} met with representatives of C.O.Williams Construction Co., the contractors for the Warrens Traffic Safety Improvement Program, to review the removal of the Silk Cotton tree from Warrens, and to examine, measure and photograph the salvaged trunk of the tree.

Warrens Silk Cotton tree: A closeup view of a cross section through the cut base of the tree. From the right side of the photo moving across to the left, we have: (1) the layer of bark (1/2 - 3" thick) | (2) the only living part of the tree trunk (about 6 " thick) and | (3) the area of decay, dead mushy material (up to 3" thick) | (4)surrounding the hollow cavity of the core of the tree (4.5 - 5 ' in diameter)

The tree, which was removed during the night time from 9.00pm Friday December 9th and dawn Saturday December 10th, 2011, was loaded onto a Low-loader after being felled, and transported to a “holding site“, where it remains under lock and key in the contractor’s possession until further instructions are received from Government/MTW as to its final fate.

Warrens Silk Cotton tree: Looking at what was the crown of the tree. Note the large hole in the centre of what was originally a branch and another on to the bottom right of the photo.

Let me preface my comments by stating that, the Government of Barbados made the right decision in removing the Silk Cotton tree to make way for the road improvement project and thereby not incurring substantial additional costs. From the very beginning of this issue re the removal of the tree I spoke out clearly that I considered the tree was unhealthy and if to preserve it was going to be a significant cost, then Government should remove the tree and replant replacements in an appropriate area nearby. I have maintained this stance throughout, even with several other supposedly “knowledgeables” claiming the tree to be healthy, and with latest information based on my analyses yesterday I feel vindicated.

Sadly this reveals that the tree was indeed a very unhealthy tree tree ...the entire centre of the tree had long since died and rotted away. Mark Atwell, Works Supervisor with C.O.Williams Construction Co. stands next to it to give a sense of proportion. The tree trunk has a diameter of approximately 6 feet. Note the large hole in the upper section of the trunk, where once a branch existed, but had been removed or broken away. There are two such holes in the upper section. It would appear that the centre of the cut stubs of the branches became infected and died and over the years rotted/decayed further into the heart of the tree, allowing water to penetrate the heartwood and eventually eat away at the very core or heart of the tree.

A member of the C.O.Williams team took me to the site where the trunk temporarily resides. I observed about 2/3rds of the top of the original trunk lying on the ground, uncovered from the elements. It measured (approximately) 20′ long by 6′ in diameter at the bottom of the trunk. However, the entire centre section, the core/heart of the tree is missing creating a large hollow trunk. Inside the layer of bark (1/2 – 3″ thick), is the only living part of the tree (about 6 ” thick) and the area of decayed, dead mushy material (up to 3″ thick) surrounding the hollow cavity of the core of the tree (4.5 – 5 ‘ in diameter). As you look into the hollow towards the crown of the tree, two sizeable holes are visible, where branches would have originally been attached. the same two holes can be clearly seen externally when examining the top or crown of the tree.

...the entire centre of the tree had long since died and rotted away. Inside the layer of bark (1/2 - 3" thick), is the only living part of the tree (about 6 " thick) and the area of decay, dead mushy material (up to 3" thick) surrounding the hollow cavity of the core of the tree (4.5 - 5 ' in diameter)

The demise of the tree appears to have started years ago when the tree may have been pruned to provide enhanced road clearance or clearance of utility wires, or the branches may have been broken off by a storm such as Hurricane Janet in 1955. However it happened, ended up creating a wound in the tree which was subsequently infected with a fungus or some other pathogen. This resulted in necrosis and decay of the core . As decay deepened the holes, more rainwater would permeate into the core of the tree further exacerbating the problem. The photos tell the story well!

Warrens Silk Cotton tree: A closeup view of the rotten and decayed inner layer of the trunk of the tree. This layer varies up to 3" in thickness.

My concern now, however, is that the trunk is lying uncovered, flat on the ground. In order to protect the trunk until a decision is made as to what will be done with it, it needs to be raised off the ground and a structure be placed around/over it to protect it from the elements, whilst allowing a free flow of air around it to minimize any further rot and decay. Some care here will allow the wood to dry out and cure with reduced checking and splitting. It will also be necessary to take whatever precautions are necessary to ensure it is not attacked by either termites or the Wood Wasp.

In my discussions with the C.O. Williams representatives, it appears that there were very few roots of any significant size supporting the tree, another indication of a very unhealthy tree, for one of this age. It is my opinion that this tree was an accident waiting to happen, so it is a blessing it has now been removed.

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