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Extreme weather topples champion trees at Hagley, spawns new life

Delaware News Desk

Although Tropical Storm Isaias spared Hagley Museum and Library, the extreme weather that plowed through northern Delaware on Aug. 8 left a path of destruction across the 235-acre property with its powerful straight-line winds. 

Downed trees, including three state champions, followed by a massive cleanup effort, forced the museum to close to visitors from Aug. 9-14.

One of the trees toppled by the storm, a centuries-old Osage orange, was named a Co-National Champion Tree in 2011 and has been featured in the Delaware Forestry Service’s “Big Trees of Delaware” book as the largest of its kind in the state. Located on the upper property between the E.I. du Pont Garden and the Hagley Barn, the age of the tree has been something of a mystery to arborists and historians. There has been speculation that it was 300 years old, or that it was introduced to Delaware by seeds brought back from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Now that it is down, arborists will begin the task of counting the tree rings to determine its true age. Portions of two additional state champions were felled by the storm’s winds including a 90-foot-tall sugar maple and a 62-foot-tall shingle oak.

Now the Osage orange lays on the ground with the identification tag visible through a tangle of branches and exposed roots. 

“One third of the root system is still in the ground with signs of stable life,” said Director of Gardens and Horticulture Paul Orpello; that means the “main tree still has life to it.” He plans to make a reduction to the existing tree in order to keep it alive.

And the Osage orange’s legacy will continue in other forms. Orpello plans to “utilize the wood in all aspects,” and will commission commemorative handcrafts such as bowls, plates and utensils to be made from the Osage. There is even a possibility furniture will be made to display around the E.I. du Pont Garden.

Visitors who wish to see the tree before it is cleaned and reduced may do so this weekend during regular museum hours, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 15 and 16. Hagley Museum and Library is located at 200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington. Tours begin at the Hagley Store and buses depart for the upper property every 30 minutes. Due to the storm, the garden is closed as damage to walkways is repaired. 

For more, visit hagley.org.

Hagley Museum and Library